From In-Game Adverts (-ising) To Expanding Your Emotional Experience, Identity and Behavior

In-game advertising (a.k.a. IGA) is not new in the gaming industry. However, it still has its challenges and victories. It is considered to be a very effective channel as you as an advertiser are inserting your messages into the experiential process – “when the user is in the process of consuming the pleasurable experience of the game”, thus more predisposed to react positively to your communications. It goes without saying that you should avoid being too overt in your pitch to make your offer make a smooth transition into the consideration set of your user. The message needs to fit seamlessly into the experience to be acceptable by the users. This is the advantage of the channel. The challenges vary from the decisions being made on how to make the communication process “seamless’, how to get the best conversion rate and still keep the user loyal and very engaged in the game.

With the idea to brush up on the latest trends, I went onto my search in the latest articles on the topic, which led me to a number of even more amusing discoveries that I would like to capture and share.

To visualize the structure and evolution of in-game advertising, it helps to list the types of the adverts you can see in the games. According to the Wikipedia, there are 4 types of in-game advertising:
1. Static adverts (billboards, dashboards, static “banners”, and product placement) – that prominently display the message on the user’s dashboard. I call them “the pre-evolution stage ads.”
2. Dynamic adverts follow next -(tailored ads to the geographical location, time of the day and time-sensitive offers (a new movie launch as an example)) that advertising agencies produce outside the development process. Very effective feedback can be collected due to the ad-tracking analytics available that can be re-communicated to the development process to enhance the game design based on the user behavior. Mental note to research more on that!
3. Online communities (like Second Life and other virtual worlds and Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games ( MMORPGs)are able to display persistent online adverts, with advertisers acquiring the space and providing their brands consistent online presence in-game.
4. Incidental adverts” billboard-like advertisements or blatant product placement for the single purpose of creating a more realistic gaming environment”, which seems to be almost the advertisers “la-la land” – as the gamers request those ads. I wonder how rates differ for this type of ads and who is the decision-maker here – the game developer or the advertiser? What is the compromise dollar-wise and content-wise reached in the transaction?

It is worth mentioning Nick Yee’s extensive research for the past two years on the psychology of gaming. We all heard about the wonders of Second Life and Linden economy , but my immediate fascination includes his study on the emotions and experiences gamers have, how much time they spend on what, etc. In Yee’s research, known to the public as the Daedalus Project, he shares his findings on the psychology and sociology of MMORPGs, (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) that are based on the survey data from over 40,000 game players. Some of the interesting comments from the actual participants can be found on his site.

As an example, the most memorable experiences gamers live through include:

- First were the ones that have high achievement elements in the process of competition (usually in the battle) and collaboration.
Relationships and memorable interactions with another person came second (with acts of occasional kindness, romantic interest and evolving friendship).
– The third was the near-the-death- or death experiences. I can see why! Scary!
– There is a forth aspect as well, that is classified under miscellaneous that included role-playing out of boredom or the initial euphoria of the new game (“stepping into a new world”) , being surprised or taken aback and meeting the guilds.

What entertains me most – is how similar our in-game most memorable experiences with a real life (aside meeting the guilds); we all can see the common trend: we take pride in the challenges that competitive experiences provide; we engage in relationships and we do remember our surprises, scary moments and fun roles we manage to play. If you add the fact that a healthy life is when you take it as a playful game, then the borders merge even closer (both Einstein and Edison played games to give a break to their brilliant minds). Plus, childhood psychology and development scholars proved that play helps develop thinking capabilities. We human beings do need fun to be able to live fully engaging and long lives. I am not saying let’s all start playing video games, as play can be found in various activities. But, what keeps me thinking (all that research sowed more questions!)– What effect gaming activity can have on our minds, let’s get rid of the other role playing to make it simple. Do people who play video games develop more capabilities to expand their roles in real life? Are they more resistant to stress? Do they live longer? How does the behavior change in the process? Do we change our personalities? To the last question, Dr. Yee and his colleagues already wrote a paper that describes well this process, also called as the Proteus Effect (the effect of transformed self-representation on behavior). Here is the link to the respective research paper for your leisurely reading.

Other top three interesting findings suggest:

1. Many people have expanded their emotional range by exploring the many different roles (including gender identities) that MMORPGs allow a person to explore. See the research by clinical psychologist, Sherry Turkle.

2. Gamers spend a considerable amount of time (often a third of their total time investment) doing things that are directly-related to, but outside of, the game itself - which explains the popularity of virtual worlds and online extensions of the games. (from the Daedalus Project)
3.Many players report that the emotions they feel while playing an MMORPG are very strong, to the extent that 8.7% of male and 23.2% of female players in a statistical study have had an online wedding.” (from Nardi, Harris, Strangers and Friends)” Talking about the drama in games!

Talking about the relationship and loyalty they (the gamers) have with the game! The commitment in terms of time, money, emotional and creative energy represents abundant opportunities for loyalty programs, creative content generation throughout the gamers’ lifetime and extensive market research that is applicable to everyday outside the game-human behavior.