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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

More Than Just a Video Game

Marketers at various corporations have always tried to think outside the box and develop innovative strategies to advertise their products to their target market. The massive growth of broadcast media meant that it was only a matter of time before most messages communicated get lost in the clutter and it was only a matter of time before marketers thought of alternative mediums to get their advertising message across to their desired audiences.  It is there, it is very real and it is probably here to stay. For those of us who have grown up playing video and computer games over the years or have ever even casually played them are well aware of the fact that In-game advertising is a part of every day life. Though it is not a recent phenomena, in the recent years In-game advertising has become an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to an estimate by Massive, Inc, it is expected to hit the billion mark in a few years time. It is not surprising considering the phenomenal growth the gaming industry experienced particularly at the hands of gaming on smart phones. 

To define In-game advertising we can say that it is advertising that appears in the video game over the duration of the game play. In-game advertising can appear in the form of adverts in the corner of the screen to billboards and hoardings in the background to the actual use of the product within the game. To put it more simply, In-game adveritising is more or less product or brand positioning inside a video game, similar to how products and brands are intentionally positioned through film and television. In-game advertising has provided marketers with an opportunity to position and promote their products to their desired audiences by targeting gamers especially in the age of high definition and three dimensional video gaming experience. Various products and services, particularly those belonging to major multinational corporations have managed to make a place for themselves iinside video games through In-game advertising. These include the likes of Google, Wal-Mart, Nike, Coca Cola, as well as Fast Food giants like KFC and McDonalds. 

Game developers such as Electronics Art have benefited a great deal due to In-game advertising, as their developers are the brains behind some of the best selling titles across major gaming consoles such as Sony's Playstation 3 and Microsoft's XBOX 360. Some of their best selling titles feature FIFA, which is the best selling football videogame in the world and Need For Speed, a racing game which features some of best modern day sports cars available in the market. Need for Speed provides probably the best platform for an Automobile manufacturer to showcase their brand as well as their best and upcoming models. Fifa on the other hand gives its gamers the opportunity to play as their favourite team such as Manchester United or Arsenal where on occassions brands associated with the team, as well as the specific tournament league are prominently visible throughout the game. These include the official sponser of the league itself, the official sponsers of the team and the logo of the apparel manufacturer to every micro detail. Not to mention the hoardings that on the edge of the pitch that display various brands as they do in real life during an actual game. This is especially relevant, if the video game is based on an actual event like the Summer Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, where all official sponsers of the event are present in the official video game as well. In a way, advertising messages are being recommunicated to the audience by breaking through the clutter.

Many companies and brands are attracted to the idea of In-game advertising as not only are they able to innovatively break the clutter, but also because most gamers when engaged with a video game can play continously for hours with total undivided attention.Those passionate about gaming are rarely involved in multi tasking while playing the game. However there are limitations to what marketers can achieve through In-game advertising and their efforts to communicate their message might prove to be in vain. Marketers must be fully aware that their audience might not be mature enough to understand the signals communicated to them or responsive to the message. This may likely result in the message going un noticed.

A country like Pakistan is a good example of where inspite of the popularity of video and computer games, In-game advertising might not currently be the ideal medium for advertisers to spend their budget. Most current generation gaming consoles such as the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 and their games are very high priced for the affodability of the average Pakistani. Though there are affordable alternatives available such as pirated games being played on home computers, advertising that appears in most video games are relevant to developed markets where the purchasing power of most consumers is relatively high or game's country of origin where those brands are a part of local culture. In order to yield full utility of In-game advertising, messages communicated through the video game needs to take into account not only the socio-economic climate of the gamer, but also what brands are familiar and relevant to the desired audience. 

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