In-game ads pivotal in changing perception of games business

Few people recognise ads convinced global brands that games aren't just for kids, says Bartlett

Ed Bartlett, the outgoing European VP of IGA Worldwide, believes that the in-game advertising sector has been pivotal in changing mainstream perception of the maturity and diversity of the games-playing public.

In an exclusive interview with, Bartlett said he found it frustrating that many in the games business have failed to recognise the role in-game advertising has had in convincing everyday brands that consumers weren't just an isolated, young audience.

"Aside from the tens of millions of dollars of new revenue it's brought into the industry, I think that collectively the in-game advertising companies have done a huge amount, possibly more than anyone else in fact, to challenge media misconceptions about gamers and the games industry," commented Bartlett.

"That assertion might cause a few raised eyebrows, but the fact is that the success of the entire in-game advertising industry hinged upon convincing the world's leading consumer brands that the gaming demographic was no longer made up of 12 year-old boys in their bedrooms.

"Part of the strategy for that was also educating the press across multiple categories, and getting them to write positively about the industry. Between IGA, Massive and Double Fusion we pretty much turned that perception on its head in a remarkably short space of time, which has ultimately led to much broader and more even-handed coverage of the industry as a whole."

"Probably my biggest single frustration is how few industry people even know or recognise that," he added.

Bartlett also offered some ideas on where the in-game advertising market can continue to grow, in particular alongside videogame business models that have evolved to become services.

"I think there is scope for some interesting stuff around transactions, particularly as game's transition to a more service-based model. Brands could help subsidise costs and services, which would be received very positively by gamers."

"The industry is much more stable now. There is a standardised common currency for advertisers and agencies, a good understanding from developers and publishers on what is required regarding inventory generation in their games, and the market continues to make headlines and break records which gives brands confidence that they are involved with something which has longevity and reflects positively on their products."

Having left IGA Worldwide this week, Bartlett hinted that he is considering a move back into game development, after spending his days before in-game advertising as business development director at UK studio The Bitmap Brothers.

"I can't say too much except that I plan to get back closer to my roots in development again," he commented.

"It's been incredibly inspiring working with so many of the leading developers and publishers, however it's hard sometimes not to get frustrated with the missed opportunities. I also still really miss the buzz of putting out a new game."

The full interview with Ed Bartlett can be read here.

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Latest comments (17)

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 11 years ago
Hmmmm... I thought that in game ads and other forms of product placement were also supposed to drive the prices of games with these ads DOWN at some point...

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Bob Hands senior game designer, Codemasters11 years ago
look forward to seeing where Ed turns up next.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 11 years ago
If the setting of the game goes beyond reality, advertising will seem odd. If the narrative of the game is strong, advertisement will be as misplaced as in a book. Since the consumer will not have a tangible gain, he will not like intrusion into something he feels he has paid for. If the ads remove a layer of monthly payment, the players will get the feeling the ads are only there to annoy and coerce them into subscribing. If the ad covers a loading screen, or something which is there anyway, the effect will be the same.

That's just from the perspective of the gamers and developers. From the perspective of the people advertising, the ad is often little more than a "Hi, we exist" billboard, where as modern advertising does a lot with limited offers, for which there is no way to update them and be sure. What will the company do if the game is delayed? How far in advance will they need to commit to their campaign? Aside from being restricted mostly to being a useful item in a game, or a billboard, how is the ad reaching the customer? It is hard to imagine a gamer listening to a radio spot, or watching a TV ad in a game.

Not even the publishers themselves, in whose best interest it would be to advertise more of their products, put a lot of trailers and demos on a BluRay disc, or in the game. EA might have a Shift trailer on Need For Speed, but seriously? Advertising another racing game when I already bought one and before I even play that for the first time?

Maybe if the next generation of consoles come with UTMS or LTE built in. Maybe if the platform is very open to advertisers about how many people they will reach. Then there is a way to ensure every user gets the updated ads. Then Coca-Cola might be interested to run an ad for two weeks. Before that happens I file it under "does anybody remember that Amiga game?"
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Ed Bartlett Business Development 11 years ago
Klaus - IGA and Double Fusion actually have advanced technologies built into the games which actually allows them to swap out the various billboards and campaigns in real-time, meaning not only can they localise the ads, they can also sell them multiple times as well as tracking how many times they have been viewed so the viewer doesn't get oversaturated.

This has been happening for many years now, although not quite as far back as the Amiga...
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 11 years ago
I noticed some of that to a degree in Burnout Paradise, but as long as I do not connect to the Internet, the ads do not update. Which is why I gave the UMTS example. I doubt the interest will really be there, if a game developer cannot ensure beyond a shadow of a doubt that anybody playing the game this week will get the updated ad space.

Which made me think about Onlive, now that is a service which could dip more than a foot into advertising.
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Ed Bartlett Business Development 11 years ago
I think you'd be surprised just how many modern games have this technology built-in! If you play a console game with billboards in it, it's a pretty safe bet they are dynamically updating. The game itself does not need to be played online, as long as the console has a connection, which the majority have these days. Even if it only connects intermittently, the system will cache the next batch of ads. It's remarkably sophisticated.

OnLive definitely has very interesting potential, and it will be interesting to see the direction they take. Certainly it's important that the platform owners help the content companies to monetise wherever possible.
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@klaus "If the setting of the game goes beyond reality, advertising will seem odd. "

Just to note that in 1996 I worked on Syndicate Wars and it had a fully animated TV advert for Manga Publications and the Ghost in the Shell movie running on billboards in the city. Ads can work if you match it to the games IP smartly.

And sure the Amiga was passed it's prime but still knocking around even back then :P
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Martyn Hughes Managing Director, Staggan Interactive Ltd11 years ago
I am going to go with Ed on this, having known Ed for quite some time, he does know his stuff... I am sure the sector will miss him.

Many games, incuding ours, require an internet connection to play, therefore being able to update the ads is not an issue. Also, given the detail of the reporting for these systems, any advertiser knows precisely where their ad is seen, how many people see it, how many views the ad has, the size of the ad onscreen, the angle it is seen at and much, much more. I think both IGA and Double Fusion also allow frequency caps, as Ed mentioned, meaning a single user does not get saturated with a single ad and get fed up of it.

IGA, Double Fusion and the now defunct Jogo Media, all spent a lot of time when we were speaking to or working with them making sure ads in our game were contextually relevant. The users expected ads in those places and the addition of those ads added to the realism. Ours is a football game which does make it easier, but I know context was very important to all these guys.

Our game also has a half time video spot where we play what does indeed amount to a TV ad whilst the players chat and review the first half of the game. This is exactly what happens in real televised games and fits well with the games general feel and it IS contextually correct.

All in all I think in-game ads done right, in the right game, can add to the game and in many games is expected... it's all about context and player experience..

Well, that's my 2 cents worth...

Good luck Ed!

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Christopher Willis11 years ago
As a consumer I wonder what is in it for me? Can I turn these ads off, and if I have the option then honestly why should I keep them on?

If they offered the consumer something in return for allowing in game ads that might be nice. But when it comes to playing a fantasy game and seeing an advertisement for Coke or who knows what it might be really odd. I can see how this might lead to more funding for developers. If they want you to put ads in your game and you know it will sell millions of copies, then it is only fair that they pay you for the right to advertise. Unless that it already occuring.

I saw these subtle adverts placed in Mercenaries 2 when playing that a year or so back and they were okay the way they were presented, but would disapear if I wasn't online. This might also mean that games might need to be online at all times in order to continue showing these ads, otherwise you could be sued or have to deal with some issues with the advertisers.

Sounds like one hell of a headache really, but hey you guys are the Devs not me. I just play your games, and like the design and artistic aspect mostly.
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James Ingrams Writer 11 years ago
Another nail in the coffin......
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David Bachowski VP Business Development, Babaroga11 years ago
I find it odd that no one has mentioned blatant advertising in iOS games. Full screen and banner ads keep the cost of many apps down to 99 cents or free. I know many people, including myself, would rather download a free app with a couple ads in it than spend 3 dollars on the same game with ads removed.
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Ian White Animator, Rebellion Developments11 years ago
As a Animator at quite a large studio, I see no reason why ads (If presented in the right context) are even an issue. Say for instance, In a Racing game, if you see an ad on a billboard as your whizzing round a track/street, and it's advertising a Tyre Brand or a new air filter, for me this adds realism to the experience, but of course seeing a big ad for the latest "My Little Pony DVD" would be annoying, I think at the end of the day, keep it relevant, keep it subtle and dev companies shouldn't expect to ever have the same slice of the pie that more traditional advertising methods have, because put simply, most people just want to play a good game without being offended by irrelevant material.
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James Knight QA Manager/Game Design 11 years ago
I think the first in game advertisements I saw where on a Judge Dredd game back around 2003-4, it wasn't done that well at the time and I don't think I agreed with it in game advertising then. Found this in relation [link url=
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Attitudes to games have changed a lot over the last 5-8 years in the population but that's probably more to do with all the 11year olds growing up with xbox and wii rather than nes, snes and megadrive. But you're talking abut the perception brand companies had of games not the public or gamer perception. So sure, in game advertising would have changed brand labels perceptions.

I think it would be cool to have a game where you have a world full of billboard advertising with the aim of spray painting over/destroying them, perhaps could tie it into They Live. :P

Edited 4 times. Last edit by James Knight on 24th November 2010 7:24pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 11 years ago
^ Hell, someone NEEDS to make a They Live game, period. I've had an idea brewing for ages, but a "sequel" to the film set in an open world would be a nice start (billboard tagging min-game included).

"Quick, get Carpenter on the horn before he keels over!"

Of course, I can always dig up the Dreamcast and play Jet Set Radio again...
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Graham Simpson Tea boy, Collins Stewart11 years ago
I stand by my previous comments that in game advertising is fine as long as the game retail price drops to zero or is heavily subsidised. If it's used to screw more cash of the consumer then NO NO NO.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Graham Simpson on 25th November 2010 8:13am

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Oliver Slviotti Studying Digital Media Development, University of Brighton11 years ago
I'd like to re-iterate the fact that as long as the setting and the mood of the game is matched and there is a trade-off to the consumers (lower prices) then I'm all for in game advertising. In some cases it can help with the immersiveness of the game - if I was playing the latest GTA and saw a Coca-Cola billboard it would give the fiction a root in reality. Now if that exact same billboard showed up in Mass Effect 3, or the new Dragon Age game had a 'Ye Olde Coca-Cola' stand in it, it would break the fiction and the game for most people.

I think the main problem with ads is that, by their nature, they don't like to be in the background - for an ad to be considered effective it needs to sit front and centre and be rememberable. We've seen this fail with movies (remember that 2 hour Sony advert that was released a couple of years ago? I think it was called Casino Royale or something) and, as we're rightfully precious and protective of our hobby/job, we don't want to see the same thing happen with games.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 11 years ago
That is another thing I am wondering about. At which point will it be part of the sports licensing process to accurately reflect every stadium. After all, it would be in the interest of the big leagues to disallow game publishers altering their stadiums. By doing this the value of the ad increases for the team selling it and not the publisher repainting a stadium.

After all, there is no way EA could change the jersey ads and get away with it. Let alone for the censored version of Fifa11 which had to remove some jersey sponsors due to advertising sports-bets not being allowed.
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