After burning its bridges with former publishing partner Activision, Call of Duty: Finest Hour developer Spark Unlimited is taking a page out of the publisher's book and embracing in-game advertising...on its own terms.
Today the developer announced it has cut a deal with in-game ad network Massive Incorporated.
In what the two parties are calling "a long-term, strategic partnership," Spark will deliver "several to-be-disclosed AAA titles" to the Massive network. The Massive network is an opt-in technology that allows ads to be streamed to PC games that are played online.
The Massive SDK is added to the game's code before release. Massive then manages the sale of in-game ad space to marketers of the ad imagery code and to billing. Ordinarily, revenues are split with the game's publisher. Today's announcement is noteworthy for the fact that the deal is between a developer and Massive, not a publisher and Massive.
Whether it foreshadows a distribution model that excludes the publisher, or one that makes Massive the de facto publisher, wasn't specified. However, with no mention of a publisher in the value chain, the implication is that there will be none.
[UPDATE] Spark Unlimited CEO Craig Allen addressed this point, saying this didn't necessarily mean that the company was trying to circumvent the traditional publishing model (there are allowances in the deal with Massive that would allow any potential publisher of Spark's games to receive a cut of the ad revenue), just that the developer is better suited to decide what will and won't sell to its target audience.
"We as Spark developing games know the gamer we're targeting that we want to provide content for," Allen told GameSpot. "Working collaboratively with Massive, we can better tailor the experience to bring in associated products, services, and like-minded partners in a way that can help the revenue model, help the business plan, and add value to the core audience."
Allen said there were artistic reasons for making the deal as well.
"From a content-creator standpoint, the more that you can try to control and shape and define the user experience, the more comfortable you're going to feel that you can reach your audience and connect with them and fulfill their expectations."
It remains to be seen how comfortable publishers will be with a developer that has that amount of control over products advertised in the game. Allen notes that in any case, the deal would open up a dialog between publisher and developer about such issues, and could even allow for deeper integration of advertising into gameplay.
Longano lent his own spin on the unconventional news. "What this also brings to the forefront is for other development teams, you don't have to be an enormous developer with limitless access to cash to develop titles," he said. "We want to be in a position to help the smaller development teams exercise their creativity."
The potential for Massive to act in ways traditional publishers do remains unclear. Longano did not disclose whether or not such deals with Massive provide funding up front for these smaller developers, or if they would only be paid after a product had shipped and Massive had begun serving ads. [END UPDATE]
The companies made no mention of games that may fall under the scope of the agreement.
Massive boasts of relationships with a number of high-profile brands, including Coca-Cola, Comcast's G4 network, GameFly, Honda, the US Navy, NBC, Nokia, Panasonic, Paramount Pictures, Sci-Fi Channel, The WB Television Network, T-Mobile, Universal Music Group, Verizon DSL, Warner Bros., and XFM Radio.
Spark made headlines in August when it brought a lawsuit against Activision, accusing the publisher of fraud, breach of contract, and stealing both employees and sequel ideas. That complaint is still pending.