Q&A: Ed Bartlett of IGA on in-game ads

Firm's cofounder answers questions on how the creative and commercial can work together in rising industry trend.

BRIGHTON, UK--The Develop Conference & Expo in Brighton is a chance for the development community to not only reflect on past achievements, but to look forward to the future. The recurring themes of this conference include user-generated content, persistent online worlds, and in-game advertising, all of which are expected to have a significant impact on the gaming landscape in the coming years. While in-game advertising may not be quite as welcome as the other two in the gaming community, there's no doubt that its financial rewards are of great interest to publishers facing spiralling development costs.

One of the biggest firms in this area is IGA, which has worked with publishers including EA to create billboard ads in games such as Battlefield 2142. The firm's participation in that particular title wasn't without issues, mainly due to the way it collected and transmitted user data, but it was a reasonably successful venture that piqued the interest of many other publishers. GameSpot spoke to Ed Bartlett, IGA's cofounder and European vice president of publisher relations, to find out more about the current state of in-game advertising, as well as where we can expect it to go in future.

GameSpot UK: Let's start with a bit of an update. Tell us about the current landscape of in-game advertising, and how IGA fits into the equation.

Ed Bartlett: Yeah, sure. IGA is the leading independent [company] in this area. Obviously Microsoft recently bought Massive and incorporated it into the MSN group, and Google bought another smaller company for what looks like its technology. From what we can tell, though, they're going for the casual end of the market, and there's another independent called [Double] Fusion who's been around a similar length of time to us. In terms of a dynamic ad network, though, we're certainly the leading company in this area.

GSUK: So when you say Google's focussed on the casual end of the market, does that mean that you're focussed on the hardcore?

EB: Well I wouldn't say hardcore, I'd say mainstream. Our focus is on the big EA games, the big retail games, the massively multiplayer stuff, anything with a significant reach and contextual relevance for advertisers. We're not out there looking for a new fantasy game, for example--we specifically search down sports, racing, and realistic city-based games.

GSUK: And is that focus going to carry on down the line? Will we ever see in-game advertising in World of Warcraft, do you think?

EB: Well, there are ways and means of doing these things. One example of a company we've been working with is Acclaim, which is bringing in fully featured massively multiplayer online games from Korea. We're effectively subsidising the cost of the game by players watching the advertisements. That's slightly different, as the core of our business is placing adverts contextually within the gameworld, but the difference with the MMO games is that we use preroll videos and prestitials (ads that are served before content is shown). In Nine Dragons, if you actually watch the advertisements [your character] levels up quicker, so it's giving the player a reward for watching. They're basically getting premium content for free. In that model, you usually have the option to turn it off if you want to.

GSUK: The majority of in-game advertising has so far tended to be quite static. It seems to be lagging behind in a world of Web 2.0 interactivity and user-generated content.

EB: Absolutely, and I think it's all about scalability. When we started out with Team 17 on Worms, all we had was a Red Bull power-up. Those things are fantastic and offer great value, and they continue to happen, but we're now working on a portfolio of 30-plus games with a reach of over 10 million unique users and we're able to update that on an hourly basis and based on city. When you're buying into a game you're buying into that game itself, in the same way that an advert shown during Friends on TV becomes associated with that show.

GSUK: The last time GameSpot spoke to IGA it was about Battlefield 2142 and how it fed data back about advertisement consumption. Is that where the real value of in-game advertising lies, in giving you feedback about what's being consumed?

EB: Exactly. Five years ago we were limited by static advertisements and we couldn't really tell who was seeing the media. You could see how many copies were being sold in different territories, as well as the approximate demographics. But with dynamic technology, we can measure the time and the size of an advert onscreen, so from an advertiser's perspective there's no wastage. They also have the advantage of knowing that it's an interactive media, whereas a TV viewer could be making a cup of tea or talking to friends. Same with magazines--you can skip through the first 10 pages of adverts and get straight to the content. With games, the adverts are part of the content. And independent research has shown that gamers like to see the ads there, as long as they're contextual.

GSUK: So specifically, what do gamers actually say to you about in-game advertising?

EB: We're actually conducting probably the largest study of this that's ever been done along with Nielsen Interactive, EA, and Activision specifically to look at this issue. There have been other studies done in the industry and there's been no real negativity as long as it's been done contextually. At the end of the day, you play games to be entertained and taken to another world, and in racing games, for example, you want your teams to have the real player names. You want to see Nike and Adidas on a [football] pitch, and if it doesn't have those things it's just not as realistic as it is in real life.

GSUK: Publishers are beginning to experiment with sponsored downloadable content. Is that something that interests IGA?

EB: Yeah, we have a couple of announcements that we're making soon that we've had incredible feedback about. At the end of the day, DLC is bringing new content to gamers that's subsidised by the advertiser, so it's extending the life of that game. That particular brand is also demonstrating to gamers that it's supporting their passion, and gamers are very good at creating positive chatter around that.

GSUK: Do you feel that there are many more publishers to sign up to in-game advertising now, or are we reaching saturation point?

EB: We're working with new people all the time, but most of the major publishers have listed in-game advertising as one of their top three long-term strategic activities. When you look at the analyst conferences, particularly in America, every CEO talks at length about in-game advertising. However, gamers don't really understand the dynamic of retail or producing these games nowadays, and they think it's all about greed. It's actually about sustaining a creative industry. Publishers and producers don't want to keep making the same games every year, but the financial risks involved at retail as well as the fragmentation caused by four different platforms means that it's a tricky business. Go back a few years and over 50 developers and publishers went out of business in the UK alone in one year, so it's all about making the sector sustainable while keeping the creativity.

GSUK: Do you see your role as a facilitator between media buyers and content creators, or are you involved with implementing the adverts as well?

EB: We do both. If you look at a company like Viacom, they go out and deal with the [London] Underground as well as with key real estate owners. They aggregate all that together and are then able to go and sell that to agencies and do long-term deals, and effectively we do that for games. We also have an in-house production team who are all seasoned games producers who understand the dynamic of gameplay and what gamers want, but they're also commercially savvy when it comes to advertising. They work with the content providers to make sure that the placement of the adverts is appropriate. It's all about having the ads in-game but making sure you impress the players or else it's useless. It's about making the adverts standardised too, so that the advertisers don't have to continually change their artwork. They can come in and buy an advert in a game much like they would in a magazine. It's about taking that level of confusion and smoking mirrors away from gaming and giving the publishers and developers one point of contact.

GSUK: "New media" spending is on the rise--is there any indication that the same is true for in-game advertising spend?

EB: I think the Yankee group has said there will be a $1 billion annual spend in this industry by the end of the decade, with other reports saying $1.8 billion to $2 billion by 2012. We're around the $100 million-dollar mark this year.

GSUK: Ed, thanks for your time.

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33 comments
Lord_Nightmare1
Lord_Nightmare1

As game developers require more and more cash to make games I think we are going to see more and more in game adverts. I don't mind them really as it adds a sense of realism to the games. In 2142 they are on billborads were you expect to see adverts they are not plastered on every wall like some people think. Advertising is a fact of life whether you like it or now. If people don't like in game adverts then don't play the game simple as that really.

pencilpusher69
pencilpusher69

You'll all be wishing this never happened, when Pepsi, Coke, or Walmart start funding every big franchise out there. "What do you mean you can rip off testicles in Manhunt 2? That's not the kind of imagery that our company wants to endorse." Yeah, it seems benign right now, but anybody who doesn't see the obvious lunacy of this likely has no idea of how soft censorship works. The other MASSIVE problem with this is, that all of the corporate sponsorship will go to games that are established franchises, like GTA, Halo, and Mario. New games and ideas are going to be squelched, and we then face even more cannibalising and inbreeding of old concepts. Thanks to efforts like this, new franchises like OKAMI and KILLER 7 will be even less likely to ever exist. Anybody who claims they believe videogames should be concidered art, should be horrified at what this industry is setting itself up for.

Warfighter3000
Warfighter3000

Advertisements are great. They provide information about incoming games, movies, product, cars and more. The ads in battlefield are practically invisible. You can only see them if you try hard enough. They also fit the game, for example, you can see plenty of recruitment posters on the billboards, and sometimes you can see information about the next booster or expansion pack. And the only other kind of ad I saw was a Ghost rider DVD advertisement. It was a bit too clear, but if they cover it with more snow it's okay. And really, all those ads are okay because Battlefield 2142 is based on an apocalyptic earth. It would make more sense if there are billboards with real advertisement.

Poshkidney
Poshkidney

i don't mind the advertisement as long the ads are advertising products in the counrty i don't want it to be telling me to watch a channel i can't get in the place i live

rusty_ghia
rusty_ghia

Show me a game with ads, and I'll show you a game that I won't buy. Simple as that. Same reason that I don't watch television or listen to the radio.

Joe_Combat
Joe_Combat

ingame ads are stupid. instead of ads, they should put nude chicks on them billboards.....

pinewood2
pinewood2

I think that advertisements in games aren't a big deal. Seeing a billboard for Nike on the wall in a football stadium makes sense. In a racing game seeing an ad for Goodyear tires seems in place. In game ads get ridiculous sometimes though. In Fight Night 3 for instance you can see some good ads and some bad. Like I think it was okay to have an Underarmour sponsored fight, but when they put in the BK King as a trainer that was ridiculous, there is no way having the BK King train you would make you stronger. Having Dodge sponsored fight was okay as well, and it made sense to give away a "new Dodge Magnum" in a fight because they do that quite often. Didn't Peyton Manning get a car for being Super Bowl MVP, and no one was like "OMG teh in SuperBowl ad was terrible" Ads are good, they reduce gaming cost and hopefully they produce better games, but even if they don't they are creating a lot of jobs for people like this Ed Bartlett guy.

Carton_of_milk
Carton_of_milk

Personally if it's well implemented and makes some sense within the context of the game, I don't mind so much. Sure i'd prefer it not to be there but it was only a matter of time before it became prevalent. Advertising will always work its way into anything that's really popular and frankly im surprised this didn't start much earlier. It really started with companies making games with their products though. Like the 7-up Spot game or Mckids or whatever that was called. These were bad but at least if you bought them it was with the knowledge you were just buying an ad disguised as a video game. But things like Intel ads in BF 2142 are retarded. They could probably have found a better game in which to advetise their product (better in term of it would have fitted better within the context of the game) or done it in a different way. Like loading screens. This wouldn't be so bad. The companies would be sure you couldn't miss their ad and that you'd be exposed to it for a reasonable amount of time and it wouldn't be intrusive to the gamer because it wouldn't have anything to do with the game's universe (although loading screens are becoming rarer and rarer so it's not gonna be a viable way to advertise for much longer probably). It's like i'd probably like it better if at the beginning of movies there'd be presentations like "This movie is presented to you by Coke. Coke, make it real. And by Sony. Sony, Like.no.other." Instead of shoving Sony products and Coca-cola trucks in my face at every corner throughout the movie. It would almost be MORE subtle this way.

comthitnuong
comthitnuong

He does have a point that in game ads do add realism. But it is sometimes overdone.

Ghostin-Dashell
Ghostin-Dashell

Hateful... far from it. Realistic. I have absolutely no problem with any company (or individual) making money, no problem at all. I think what you might be missing is that many of the examples you give are of those moviemakers and musicians who have indeed sold out... They are all about making money and very little about their craft. I do take exception to this line that times are hard in the world of video games. I have been there since it's inception and no matter how you cut it business has never been so good. I will conceed advertising will become more prevalent (however this is less to do with developers needing the money and more to do with the advertisers seeing an opportunity to tap a growing and captive audience), to simply allow it to happen without any resistance makes cynically branding games to real life products that much more easy. All you need to do is look back a few days in gamespots news to read the madden article about selling worthless rings in game for $100's for achievement unlocks. This is something that should be resisted as much as possible until it can be at least regulated with some degree of competence. There is also a great deal of difference between an artist aligning their work with a product and putting a burger king ad halfway through their music video. If they do indeed find a way to subsidise production of games whilst removing some of that burden from the consumer in a truly non-obtrusive manner then all well and good... but I think we both know that won't happen anytime soon.

fluffebunnie
fluffebunnie

"Can they tell if I empty a few clips into the add to show my disgust with the way they are raping the gaming industry?" Good point. However, by emptying your clip into the ad the game experience has already been compromised by you noticing it. Frankly I think it may be too late for gaming. When they are tracking how much you are looking at an ad it is gone way beyond the point of repair.

MrSickVisionz
MrSickVisionz

@Ghostin-Dashell Films have had advertising in them for a long time. All the Transformers are GM cars, all the cars in Matrix Reloaded are GM (Cadillac) as well. Spider-Man had Peter Parker practicing his web shooting on a Dr. Pepper can and the little girl gave E.T. some Reeses Peices. All of these things had ZERO effect on the artistic quality of the game or movie. Whats there to complain about? Musicians license their songs to companies all the time. Thats a MAJOR form of income for any big artist. The majority (upwards of 99%) of artists form their own publishing companies or sign with pulishing companies for the sole purpose of collecting fees when their music is licensed for usage. Goto wikipedia and look up BMI, SESAC and ASCAP and then open up the album booklet (assuming you buy albums) and see how all of your favorite artists are signed up to these companies. Getting paid for your hardwork isn't "selling out" and even if it is, EVERYONE does it despite what you seem to think. Whats so bad about companies makign money? Especially if it has no negative impact on the consumer? You seem very hateful of video game developers, they should spend way more on making games yet they don't deserve make more money off of this? In fact, they should make less profit per game? Who's being greedy in that situation, the consumer or the producer? LOL @ Milking downloadable content. Why do you feel you should get this for free? You already bought the game. In the past, there was no DLC. If you wanted more levels than what the game came with, wait until the $50 sequel comes out. Now you can get more for $5 or $10 dollars. Who's being greedy, the guy who sells new content or the person who expects to get everything for free? And don't make an argument for developers withholding content to charge for it later. I have goldeneye, perfect dark, and halo (ie games that came out BEFORE DLC), those games come with the same amount of levels and weapons as new games do. DLC is pure bonus material. If you don't want it, don't buy it. If you do want it, understand that people spent time and money to make the product and it will be sold. Theres nothing weird or wrong about it. If a company wants to give it to you for free, thats cool. But that doesn't mean that those who sell it are greedy? You expect that if you buy a game, you should get every bonus feature released for free, even if it was developed long after you purchased the game and is clearly e newly created. Isn't that greed? Do you buy Windows Vista and expect to get every Microsoft product that runs on Vista for free? Do you buy a car, and then expect to get free gas, free oil changes, etc for free? When they release a convertible version or a luxury version, do you expect to get that for free? Stop being greedy man. Its laughable how people who call themselves gamers are so adverse to game companies, who make the product that they allegedly love and enjoy, making a profit.

BirdofP
BirdofP

Funny though because the only BF2142 advertisement I have noticed so far is the Intel one. If it really does collect data it should know I like AMD. But seriously I can only read the cloak faster bilboard so many times

Ghostin-Dashell
Ghostin-Dashell

I'm getting tired of companies giving us the spin about the spiralling cost of development. What they actually mean is simply their profit margin is smaller than it used to be. However the market is larger. They have already added a large chunk onto the price of games and are milking DLC for all it's worth. There is more money to be made in the games industry than ever before. In fact I would perhaps have a better time accepting this if it was the smaller development houses making these deals, making these arguements... but it isn't, it's EA, Microsoft and Sony. Levelling up faster by watching an add, Red Bull power ups... What next? Michellin man epic armour in WOW perhaps or improved special tricks in Tony Hawk for using a specific board? You could double points in Rock Band for playing songs currently being charted or Loco Roco could have a yellow Peanut friend and a red Chocolate friend in the sequel... there's a money spinner (urghhh). The list is endless and disgusting... This is quite simply an excuse to make more money, and this is how they think they are best served to make us accept it... not cool. Not cool at all. (...If developers see themselves in the same vein as filmakers and musicians, why do they have so little notion of selling out?...)

surppo
surppo

sounds cool for some games like sports. but if developers want make or save money they really should license a game engine and try to make an unique title instead of another fps with ads.

mrklorox
mrklorox

I fully agree with VegetaMaelstrom about some sort of label/logo noting that a game explicitly uses in-game advertising or real-life product promotion (rather than does not use... until the majority of games do use in-game ads). There is always plenty of room on the back of the box for something like this. I am fully against whori... er advertising in games that do not explicitly need it for realism. Developers that are clever will create fake, humorous ads that provide the realistic edge without compromising the game ( see GTA series vs Tony Hawk Project 8 ).

SlikNik27
SlikNik27

If this is working so well, where are all of the new creative games? Where are the lower prices? If it brings those things, then bring on the advertising.

Merl57
Merl57

Shame in game adds shame. I'm going crazy by the number of adds I see.

VegetaMaelstrom
VegetaMaelstrom

I'm hoping the industry comes up with some label that states a game is ad-free right on the box cover, kind of like how lots of potato chips now have a label that says "No Trans Fat". I would take note of any developer that refuses to put ads in it's game because it will compromise the integrity of the gaming experience. From the sounds of it most publishers are too busy courting the advertising money when they should be after their real targets, us gamers. Companies that put gamers first will enjoy my support in the future and the rest will see me buying their games second hand so they don't benefit as much.

Carton_of_milk
Carton_of_milk

schu: "the thing that everyone who has posted seems to be missing is that in game advertising will ruin games as an art form completely...you cannot have an axe ad in a work of art..unless its mocking it..its just pathetic.." Well its not much different than product placements in movies. Although the kind of movies that do it are mainly movies with lots of money behind them like blockbusters and its debatable wether these kind of films are works of art or not. Anyway, didn't you get the Ebert memo? Games aren't and will never be art. ::rolleyes::

Diernes
Diernes

In some games I think its a good idea as it would actually add to the immersion, as it would feel closer to real life. Games such as sports and driving. However, the minute I see a Scotch brite billboard in my latest medievil RPG I will be extremely angry.... As someone else said, its an annoyance and i would rather pay full price than get a discount off the game becuase of advertising. (as if that would happen anyway)

TongLong
TongLong

The thing I remember sucking most when Criterion was picked up by EA besides the change to EA's generic pop music in the Burnout series (specifically Burnout 3) was the inclusion of in-game ads pedaling other EA crap. Seeing Tiger Woods and those battlefield ads was a real eye-sore, and a pretty greasy tactic all around. I think one of the WORST offenders was Fight Night Round four, a GREAT game diluted with SHAMELESS product whoring, and if the game weren't so well done, the ads would make you feel like a boxing game was an afterthought. Get rid of the in game ads, please, or start DROPPING THE PRICES of the GAMES!!!

LoneStranger
LoneStranger

So the wall at the other end of that excellent sniping corridor is an ad.

justinleo
justinleo

I'm not surprised nor shocked at the recent move towards in game advertising really... it's the direction the world is moving towards. I can picture loading screens with ads right now... I will however start to have reservations when the context is off or the ads are intrusive to the game play itself. Then we've got a problem.

TintedChimes
TintedChimes

This is annoying, THANKS! Stupid piece of....money grubbing....

darkchaostitan
darkchaostitan

There really be no point unless the games had a price drop, which there won't be. So it would only be an annoyance.

schu
schu

the thing that everyone who has posted seems to be missing is that in game advertising will ruin games as an art form completely...you cannot have an axe ad in a work of art..unless its mocking it..its just pathetic..

ookiig
ookiig

"One example of a company we've been working with is Acclaim, which is bringing in fully featured massively multiplayer online games from Korea." Acclaim? They're back? God help us all.

rokkuman09
rokkuman09

If they made games cheaper like Pete5506 then that would be cool... I also don't mind in game advertising in some games, like racing games where they have advertising for real racing companies and such, that just makes it more realistic.

ghsacidman
ghsacidman

The problem is that we will never see a discount on games due to in-game advertising. They will continue to be 59.99 while we have to sit through an "axe" ad.

Pete5506
Pete5506

If games are cheaper mabe they should do it

EPaul
EPaul

If it doesnt hinder in my gaming experience and makes the game cheaper at same time im for it

Sam_Lowery
Sam_Lowery

"But with dynamic technology, we can measure the time and the size of an advert on screen" . Can they tell if I empty a few clips into the add to show my disgust with the way they are raping the gaming industry?