Ed Bartlett, VP Publishing Europe, IGA Worldwide
The comedian, Bill Hicks, once said, "Do a commercial, you're off the artistic roll call, every word you say is suspect, you're a corporate whore and eh, end of story."
In-game advertising attracts just such venom from areas of the gaming community.
Some see it as the devil's discipline carried out by 'bottom feeders' who merely live off the creativity of the developers.
Others, agreeing with Hicks, see it as compromising exactly that creativity in order to shoehorn unwanted ads into what should be an immersive world.
A third group, however, is starting to think that maybe, just maybe being able to underwrite the rapidly and massively expanding cost of making games with well-placed adverts could lead to other - less corporate, less branded, less predictable and repetitive - being created within an industry more risk-adverse than NASA.
SPOnG's Adam Hartley wants to discover whether the reality lies somewhere among these opinions. He starts his exploration of in-game advertising at the source - with specialists IGA Worldwide.
I quizzed ex-Bitmap Brother, now IGA Vice President in Europe, Ed Bartlett (pictured) about what the company does and where he sees the 'exploding' in-game advertising industry heading in the future.
It turned out to be a far more interesting and enlightening chat than I had initially envisaged. So, if you care in any way about what your games are going to look like in the future and, specifically, about how advertisers are going to be increasingly a part of that - read on...
: Firstly, our readers want a potted history of IGA Worldwide ? who are you? How long have you been in business? Who are the key founders/directors and what are their backgrounds?
Ben Sherman in Test Drive Unlimited
: Well, basically IGA was the merger between two companies and the acquisition of another company [Hive Partners, founded by Bartlett back in 2003]. The merger of the two companies was a US company with the technology and a European company that had the advertising experience and the vision. Justin Townsend is now our CEO of our company and he had a real vision early on of a dynamic network and an integrated approach and he pulled all the strands together.
Then the technology guys in the US came from game development, those guys set up a company that was a THQ acquisition for the PC market. They came from the games market originally then moved into blue-chip communication tools which is where the collaborative and the network model came in and they could see the use of this in a gaming sense. Our technology effectively is a digital content delivery system, it just happens we built it for advertising it could have many uses in the future.
: Who are your major clients? And your competition?
: Our main clients are EA and Valve, then we also have people like Codemasters, people like Acclaim... In the advertising sector people like Intel, T-Mobile and Orange. A fairly significant list of people.
The market's really built up: 2004, 2005 and to a certain extent 2006 was really a time for educating people, educating the agencies, bringing the publishers up to speed and doing the deals for the inventory. Kinda like stocking a shop, you stock the shelves before you let the customers in. It was then a case of getting the advertisers doing test campaigns, proving the value of the mediums.
So, this year now we've done all the ground work, we've sized up the network to about six-million and that?s going to be up to 10-million a month each month by the end of this year, which is a significant reach for an advertiser.
Our main competitors are Massive and Double Fusion - and they're the only two people actually selling in-game space that have technology solutions. Massive obviously has Xbox and Xbox 360 locked up at the moment.
The real question there will be in three or four years time when there is a big enough user-base and once the PS3 has had enough time to generate an audience will bigger companies want to split their SKUs?
The worst case scenario, I suppose, would be a customer having to go to Massive for a 360 game and then go to a different company for a PS3 version of the game. That fragmentation effect is bad for advertisers.
Red Bull in Worms
: On your website you bill yourselves as having a ?unique fusion of agency experience, video game culture, and proprietary technology? ? can you say more about this, specifically about the types of proprietary technology you can offer? What, for example, is your recently announced Radial 2.0 tech all about?
: We are unique as our technology has been developed specifically for our purpose, the other people in the market have adapted technology from other media to be used for this. Ours has been developed since day one specifically for in-game advertising - and the advantage of having people coming from a gaming background is that they've known some of the unique challenges faced by the gaming audience.
Things like latency, things like not using bandwidth, things like hacking, that kinda stuff. So we've had a lot of unique things in our software which has made us stand out; things like cache-ing or bandwidth issues, so we only cache our ads between games, never during live gameplay. So those kind of things really make a difference. Also our integration rate, it only takes two hours for us to integrate our technology. Our software has been pretty robust from day one.
Version 2 is our first complete re-write so we've been able to learn a lot...from people such as EA and take onboard a lot of their feedback . I think our biggest single update has been to the back end of the system, which is the report end and as this becomes more successful our reporting will make us stand out to publishers. They're going to be able to log in and see exactly how much imagery has been utilised and sold. We could also see which territory has been most popular so companies will be able to allocate stock to retail.
You could have say an automotive company only buying advertising space on a racing game, or a telecom company only interested in 18-23 year olds, and so on...
: Why would a game publisher or an advertiser choose to use IGA Worldwide instead of employing in-house in-game advertising specialists?
: It?s taken us the best part of three years, an awful lot of money and having people leading from each different field in the company to reach the stage we are at now. Why would someone who produces games suddenly move into the advertising business? It just doesn't make any sense. Even a big publisher doesn't have the reach in all of its titles to be able to aggregate down particular demographics.
It's the fact that we aggregate across different games, people are happy to be in the same space as a competitor because the more titles we have the more in benefits everybody. We also have neutrality, advertisers need to know they are getting what they're told they are getting and the media owner isn't the right person to report and verify that. It needs to be an independent person in the middle to do that.
: Related to this, how do you go about measuring the impact and effectiveness of a campaign?
: There are several things. From a campaign point of view, we have three different levels. The pre-campaign targeting, which is where we look at being really specific with the demographics so we know we are targeting the right people and that the companies know who is going to be targeted before they sign-up.
The second step is as a game is being played the technology measures the size of the ads and - importantly - the time they are actually viewed on the screen. So if you're playing a racing game and speeding down a racecourse the signs on the side of the road are going to be going past too fast and at too acute an angle to be seen.
The final part is post-campaign analysis, where we'll do a follow up to see the affect [a campaign] has had. This will be organised in the traditional way, with panel based surveys with a controlled group.... focus groups.