Video Games and Marketing

Video game marketing and TV commercials have come a long way since I’ve been a gamer. We’ve gone from these “corny” Zelda commercials (I say “corny” lovingly, because at the time I thought they were pretty awesome) to having a “World Premier Trailer” show up during an NBA playoff game. We’ve gone

As I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve also been thinking a little about marketing these games to kids. To be fair, those Zelda commercials were targeted to kids (albeit older kids) and maybe that’s why, twenty-five years later, they appear corny to my jaded eyes. But now, during the holiday season, I have become more acutely aware of how kids are targeted from all sides with commercials and marketing geared specifically for their attention. And it works. With the date of a hot new game release approaching, you can bet that the promotional efforts for the game will seemingly become more amplified. It seems like every time you walk into electronics section at Wal-Mart and other major stores, there are employees and displays with various products to offer as a promotion resource for the latest new videogame. If I were a kid, how could I resist.

They are effective. I recently read this good article by JP Sherman at the Escapist and suggest everyone go read. What struck me the most telling was that web advertising is still the wild frontier. While there is hardly any marketing of violent video games to kid audiences, websites that kids frequent still routinely show ads for M-rated games. Even shows that cater to the younger teenagers have decreased their advertising of violent video games, which was a surprise to me.

In the end, it’s still about monitoring not only the content our kids are consuming, but what is on the periphery as well. We let our kids use sites like Kizi, which houses tons of flash-based games, but the ads are still troublesome. We still look to find ways to let them have fun online but maintain that safety net at the same time.

I’d love to hear any techniques you guys use. Or sites you have found to be mostly safe.

Virtual billboards

So most gamers hate the idea of advertising in games. Me, I’m okay with it, if it fits into the game without me noticing. I’d be upset if I saw a Pepsi banner flying from a flagpole in Guild Wars. It doesn’t fit. If I happened to pass by one of the floating animated billboards in EVE Online sporting a Pepsi ad, I don’t think it’d bother me. Especially if the ad was done in a way to “fit” into the world of EVE. You know, a futuristic looking font spelling out “Pepsi: The choice of the Minmatar generation.” I think I’d be okay with that.

After reading this Business Week article (ignore the mostly irrelevant title), it looks like I’m not alone:

In American Wasteland, from gamemaker Activision Inc., for example, Jeep learned that all players were shown the 3-D vehicles an average of 23 times in 20 minutes. And 96% of those who recalled seeing the Jeep felt the vehicles fit well in the game. Feedback even more welcome to Jeep: 51% of American Wasteland players, including some not yet driving, said they would recommend Jeep to a friend, and 65% would consider eventually buying one.

I’m no marketer, but you don’t have to be to interpret those kind of numbers. American Wasteland needs cars in the street. There’s nothing wrong with making them realistic looking Jeeps (full disclosure – I own a Jeep and love it). In this case, it fits. The Jeep isn’t out of place.

Here’s the rub I have — if Jeep is going to pay to have its products placed in a game, that effectively increases the budget of the developer and publisher of the game. Simple mathematics would mean that the game would cost less to produce, a savings that could be passed on to the customer. They could even give us a choice – pay $39.99 for the ad-supported version of the game or $49.99 for the “pure” version. I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that. I know I wouldn’t.

Of course, this won’t happen. But I am ever the optimist.