In-game advertising has come a long way since Pizza Hut hit gamers over the head with falling billboards in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game for the NES, but it's never been clear exactly what impact such product placement has on gamers. A new study from game publisher Activision and media research group Nielsen Entertainment suggests that not only do in-game ads work, but ads tied in to the gameplay (as in the Ninja Turtles example) work especially well.
The study is the fourth part of an ongoing attempt by Activision and Nielsen to quantify the effect of in-game advertising with a standardized set of tools. The big finding the pair are reporting this time out is that just having a product in a game is good, but having a branded product tied in to the gameplay somehow (as in the Puma sneaker hunt in Activision's True Crime: New York City) is better. More pervasive advertising like this, the study suggests, improves brand awareness and can actually improve a gamer's perception of that brand.
The study also found that integrated advertising often improved the gameplay experience for players. Activision and Nielsen surveyed 1,350 male gamers ages 13-44, having them play MTX Motortrax, Tony Hawk's Underground 2, Need For Speed Underground 2, and NHL 2K6, some with ads enabled, and some stripped of advertising entirely. Activision and Nielsen report that "many" of the study's participants said that advertising enhanced their enjoyment of the games, and that gamers remain generally receptive to the practice.
The principal goal of the Activision-Nielsen partnership is "to demonstrate the ability of video games to build and enhance brand awareness, association, and appeal by conducting an in-depth evaluation of various levels of advertising integration within games." Previous reports from the pair have found that video games are eroding TV viewership in the 13-to-34-year-old male demographic and that in-game ads improve brand awareness, recall, and interest.