Ed Bartlett was originally in the development business at Bitmap Brothers, before breaking off to establish his own ads firm Hive Partners - quickly acquired by IGA Worldwide in 2004. This week, the former vice president of Europe announced his departure from the company to pursue other interests both and in and outside of the games business.
GamesIndustry.biz took the opportunity to catch up with Bartlett and discuss the current state of the in-game ads market, and here he discusses the biggest growths, misconceptions, and most importantly, the future of the sector.
I've had a number of projects I've been wanting to turn my attention to for some time both in the games industry and beyond. With new investment secured for IGA, now felt like the right time to make that leap.
I guess there is a different answer depending upon the reasons why it was important. Obviously signing up the first investors was most critical to the business, since the model for the industry demanded significant upfront investment, pre-revenue. You certainly couldn't launch this type of business in the current financial climate.
However, without class-leading inventory we also would never have built the necessary reach or profile needed to turn the heads of the big brands, so signing up the likes of EA and Valve was also key.
But if we are talking purely personally, then my involvement with Trackmania Nations was definitely my proudest moment, and also a very important product for the company.
Well, 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.
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.
Naturally there has been an increased focus on casual and social games, where you have a higher turnover of eyeballs and can do more aggressive placements such as pre-roll video and complete brand takeovers. It's closer to online advertising, which the agencies already understand and have metrics and buying patterns for, so it's been easier for them to adopt than what I would call core in-game ads, where you are buying contextually relevant billboards within the game environments. What we will start seeing more of is the blurring of those two offerings into single larger media buys.
I think there were a few surprised faces at some of those forecasts at the time, even from us. However, the reality is that those figures are in fact a fraction of the latent value, which should give everybody great confidence for the future.
At IGA we had some unbelievably detailed modelling spreadsheets mapping out potential inventory and sales, and to be honest it's hard for even the most conservative person not to get carried away when you look at the figures.
The biggest issue early on was that in-game advertising fell between two stools with the advertisers. Although we were answering lots of major problems for brands, their agencies just weren't set up initially to buy what we were selling. Unfortunately by the time all that got put into place, the economy took a tumble and advertisers started reeling in their budgets. Thankfully that's now bouncing back.
The fragmentation of the industry also played its part. Nobody expected Microsoft to buy Massive, at least certainly not that early in the market, and it became very confusing for advertisers wanting to buy the audience of a specific game title and not being able to do so from one vendor.