- January 28, 2009

It's time to close the loop for gaming ads

It’s not that big of a history lesson, but online ads have evolved from novelty to absolute bedrock; they are now a part of many major brands’ ad spend. As soon as this became status quo, advertisers began to demand planning tools to find the right audiences for campaigns, and the industry responded. Then, the next logical demand was issued: give us the ability to evaluate the results of these campaigns – and by the way, please do this with measures consistent with what we use in traditional media.

Lo and behold, several mainstream solutions now exist to do just that. It’s closed the loop on advertising in the digital space: plan, buy, evaluate results.

We’ve just released data indicating that while the economy may be slowing, people’s tendency to play games has increased dramatically. The reasons are fairly elementary. People are seeking a diversion from the economic storm clouds as they watch their bank accounts dwindle and credit card debts rise.

Games, as it turns out, are a great diversion. Lost your job? Kill some trolls. No pay raise this year? See how far you can whack that penguin into the void. Pressure on because fewer people are having to do the same or more work? No problem, Bejeweled will take your mind off of it.

Many pundits out there have said that gaming is recession proof, but as much as demand for diversions like games might be increasing in this economy, discretionary income is nevertheless in decline. Which means that if you don’t have the money to go out to eat or the movies or vacation, you are probably short on the cash to buy a cartridge game or a PC game as well.

I predict that, if gaming remains recession resistant (my term for it), it will only remain so with a shift in the monetization model. Thirty to fifty bucks for a game is a hard pill to swallow if you aren’t sure you’ll have a job next month, and while micro-transaction models might act as a buffer, discretionary income is still just that -- discretionary.

Which brings us to an alternate monetization model, not so directly dependent on discretionary income: ad-supported games. Over the next 24-36 months, game sales may suffer along with the rest of retail. But as gaming demand increases and people turn to free alternatives, the window of opportunity for ad-supported games is getting bigger. Meanwhile, as our data has indicated, ad impressions targeting gamers and in-game ads will continue to climb.

There is a caveat; pressure from the agency and planning community continues to drive demand to evaluate the effectiveness of campaigns. The gaming audience is no longer a niche, as many mistakenly think – rather, it is decidedly mainstream. So measuring who was reached, how frequently, and what happened as a result of the campaign must be evaluated.

And not only must campaigns be evaluated, but they have to meet basic conditions; the measurement has to be from a third-party, the methodology needs to be rock solid and the measurements taken need to be compatible with the same metrics used in measuring traditional media.

Close the loop. Plan, buy, evaluate. Gaming ad impressions are on the rise when many other categories are down – but it won’t last unless everyone gets on board and starts providing the measurement and metrics that are status quo out there on Madison avenue.

Game on!

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