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Ad-Supported Gaming

One of the most influential business models – for web companies at least – over the last few years has been ad-supported publishing. So it is not surprising that adverts are also being used to generate revenue in the context of computer games. (Advertising also contributes significantly to underwriting the costs of traditional publishing. If you have ever wondered why many glossy magazines have so many high profile adverts, that’s why!)

How do you think advertising could be used to provide an income stream for the publisher of a computer game? Think about whether any games you have played brought you in contact with adverts from other companies, or browse through some of the posts on Business & Games: The Blog, to give you some more ideas.

Making Games Pay the Advertising Way

Looking across the ad-supported gaming market as a whole, there appear to be three dominant ways of using adverts to support computer games:

  • “Ads around the edges”;
  • Advergames;
  • In-Game Advertising.

Let’s look at some of those models in a little more detail.

“Ads Around the Edges”

Many online casual games are hosted on websites such as Kongregate or games.co.uk that contain adverts. The games are the hooks that pull people into the websites where they are forced to view adverts. The ads may appear as banner ads along the top of the screen, or in a sidebar alongside the game. Alternatively, the advert may appear as a “pre-roll” advert that plays in the game window before you are allowed to play the game.

Not surprisingly, Google (which is an advertising sales company…) has got into the game advertising business with its Adsense for Games product that operates in both these ways, providing opportunities for publishers place “appropriate” adverts alongside Flash games on gaming websites, as well as ‘embedding’ pre-roll and interstitial (“ad-break”) adverts “within” the game.

Advergames

Advergames are games that are heavily branded and as such essentially “are” the advert. Advergames typically present a game world that reflects the advertiser’s branding, or at least the message the advertiser wants to communicate, and in so doing potentially engages the interest of the player for many valuable minutes in what advergame developer Skyworks calls “branded interactive entertainment”.

Advergames are typically casual games, although two extremes are possible: for example, a pre-existing game may be bought “off-the-shelf” and rebranded with a particular company logo (a digital equivalent of company branded giveaway pens!); or they may be custom designed for a particular campaign.

The custom design route is particularly evident in large corporate advertising campaigns, where the advergame is just part of a wider campaign, and is likely to have production values as high as the other parts of the campaign (photo ads, TV adverts, and so on). As you might expect, such advergames can be very expensive to develop.

A good example of a game developed as part of a wider campaign is the Honda Problem Playground website. The rationale behind the website – and its role in the campaign – is described here: Honda Joy of Problems and how it got there.

Visit the Problem Playground website and play some of the games there. How would you know that this game is an advergame if you came across it whilst looking for a new online game to play? What message is the Problem Playground trying to communicate? Post your thoughts as a comment back here.

Now read through the “How it got there” article – does the rationale for the game described there fit with your interpretation of the game?

Have a look round for some other high profile advergames and see if you can identify what sort of message they are trying to communicate. Here are a couple of examples to get you started: Stella Artois advergame and Guinnes “Legend of the Golden Domino” advergame.

In-Game Advertising/Product Placement

In-game advertising places adverts within the game itself, either as an advert inside the game, or via product placement (giving a particular make or model of car a prominent place in a racing game, for example).

Watch the following promotional video from IGA Worldwide, a video game advertising agency. As you are doing so, note down the different ways that adverts are placed into the games. Does the setting of particular genres of game make in-game advertising more or less appropriate? What would be a good example of “in-context” advertising within a game? And what might an inappropriate advert be?

For more examples of contemporary in-game advertising, see the Case Study showreels from the IGA Worldwide advertising network.

Revenue streams for in-game advertising are determined in different ways for the different modes of in-game placement. For example, adverts shown on in-game billboards might be paid for using a “traditional” internet advertising model – “CPM” (cost per thousand impressions). For every 1000 views of the advert, the advertiser will be charged a certain amount.

For each of the three modes of ad-support described above, write down the pros and cons of each approach, either in a blog post that links back here, or as a comment to this post. Some of the things you might consider are: time/cost to produce the ad; time spent by the viewer watching the ad; likely reach of the ad (how many people are likely to engage with it, is it amenable to a “viral” (word-of-mouth) distribution model); and so on.

Further Reading:: if you would like to learn more about ad-supported gaming, this History of In-Game Advertising is well worth a red (it includes video walkthroughs of several early advergames), as well as the more comprehensive Advertising in Computer Games MSc thesis (MIT), both of which are by Ilya Vedrashko.

Friday Fun #18 Let’s Go F1 Racing

It’s coming up to the end of the Formula One Grand Prix season, so what better way to spend the weekend than doing a bit of F1 driving ourselves?

Enter the Puma Racing advergame, a game designed to promote the Puma all-in-one racing suit, apparently…

The controls are “typical” racing game commands:

So get suited up, and let’s go :-)

If that’s not to your liking, how about this F1 racing game from Intel?

First you have to check your reaction times…

Then try a pit stop:

Then you can drive….

Err, only I couldn’t – because I couldn’t make the pit stop… and even after repeated tries, it didn’t seem to get any easier and I gave up… So does this mean the game failed insofar as I would have spent longer playing it if I’d actually made it as far as the game proper?! ;-)

For more advergames, check out the Vanksen CultureBuzz Advergame blog or this AdvergameBlog.

PS I’ll be writing a post or two about advergames – and ad-supported gaming over the next week or so – so I thought I should get a little ad in for those too… ;-)

The Language of Games – Player Types

In the post ARGs Uncovered I described several different types of “player role” that could be taken on in an alternate reality game.

What different roles were described? What role do you (think you would) fall into, and why?

Another way of categorising player types comes from Richard Bartle, who you might remember was responsible for maintaining MUD, the original online Multi-User Dungeon (Text Adventures – The Evolution of an Idea).

The “Bartle Types”, or roles that players of adventure games are claimed to fall into, are described in Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs, by Richard Bartle. Read at least the first two sections of the paper (“A Simple taxonomy” and “Interest Graph”), note down the four different player types and the characteristics that define them. How do they compare (if at all!) to the different roles players might fall into in an Alternate Reality Game? Do the “ARG Roles” map onto the “Bartle Interest Graph” in an obvious way? To what extent do you think the Bartle Types might apply to participants in any multi-user virtual world, not just multi-user adventure games? Note down your thoughts in a comment to this post, or in a blog post of your own which you should link back here.

Based on your reading of “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades”, what “Bartle Type” do you think best describes the way you (might) interact in an online multi-user adventure game? Now try out this online Bartle Test – does it categorise you in the way you expected?

Text Adventures – The Evolution of an Idea

For many years, one of the most popular game genres has been that of fantasy adventure games. One of the first computer adventure games – Will Crowther and Don Woods’ “Colossal Cave Adventure”, first released in 1976, and written in the FORTRAN porgramming language – was presented in a textual form, essentially as a form of interactive fiction. Players were presented with a written description of the location around them, and a prompt where the player could enter a simple command about what to do next, using phrases such as “go north”, “enter building” or “kill monster”.

If you’ve ever read (or should that be: ‘played’?) a “Choose Your Own Adventure” or “Fighting Fantasy” gamebook, you’ll be familiar with the form, although in the case of these text adventure books, rather than a prompt you are offered a series of options about what to do next:

You are stood in a large cavern. There are exits to the north and west. In front of you is an old chest. Do you:
– go north (turn to page 23);
– go west (turn to page 17);
– open the chest (turn to page 41).

As you might suspect, this type of structure is easily replicated in a computer programme (and even more easily in a hypertext environment such as the world wide web!).

If you would like to try out an interactive fiction game along the lines of Adventure, there is a good selection of classic games that can be played, for free, online at: ifiction.org). An online version of Colossal Cave can be found at: The Annotated “Colossal Cave” Adventure.

To what extent would you say “interactive fiction” counts as a game? What sort of narrative structure might you expect to find in such a “game”, and what sort of structure would be inappropriate?

Towards Multiplayer online adventure games

With the rise of computer networks, the adventure game genre soon moved online, and 1979 saw the release of the first MUD – or multi-user dungeon – created by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle of Essex University (you can read about the origins of the game in authentic form here: Early MUD History, with a timeline here: Incarnations of MUD).

In contrast to Colossal Cave, a game that was run on a “mainframe” computer and then played via a terminal by individuals with an account on that computer, MUD was an online game that could be accessed by many people at the same time via an early incarnation of the internet (this was a time years before the advent of the world wide web…).

What do you think are the major differences in terms of gameplay and technology requirements between a single person adventure game such as Colossal Cave, and a multi-player adventure game such as MUD?

The Interface Moves On

Although notable in that it did come with illustrations to support the text based descriptions, (and in doing so opened up the possibility of using visual puzzles to enrich the game), “The Hobbit”, a game based on JRR Tolkien’s book of the same name, and first released for some of the most popular home computers of the time in 1982 took the next step in text gaming with a parser that could cope with far more complicated grammatical expressions than most of the games of the time.

[A parser is a particular sort of computer programme that can "parse" - or understand - a sentence in terms of certain grammatical structures. That is, give a simple sentence, it might be able to identify the subject and object of that sentence, what the verb is, whether there is an adjective, and so on. Parsers lay at the heart of simple "chatbots" - for several examples, see Chatterbox Challenge, or have a go at scripting your own chatbot.]

From Text Games to 3D Worlds – Is There a Link?
Although many of today’s contemporary online role playing games such as World of Warcraft are based in fantasy worlds that may be reminiscent of the worlds conjured up in the earliest text adventure games, it is arguable that their gameplay owes little to those earlier games. However, as we shall see in a future post, many of the social roles that individual players can fall into when playing a multi-user adventure game from 20 years ago are the same roles that exist in today’s multimedia, immersive 3D fantasy worlds.

Although today’s fantasy role playing games are very different in style to the early text based adventure games, some commentators have tried to see them as a developing genre. The following video shows just how far massively multiplayer online roleplaying games have come in a visual sense, from the original MUD text adventure, to the 3D persistent virtual worlds of today.

To find out more about the latest massively mutliplayer online role-playing games, check out the MMORPG Center – Massively Multiplayer Online Games Portal or this MMORPG Online 100 Chart.

Further Reading
If you are interested in reading more about the evolution of computer based role playing games, you might find the following series of articles on Gamasutra interesting:
The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part 1: The Early Years (1980-1983)
The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part 2: The Golden Age (1985-1993)
The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part III: The Platinum and Modern Ages (1994-2004)

Friday Fun #17 – Getting Your Eye In

One of the more popular gaming fads over the last couple of years have been the various “brain training” games, that provide a handheld game console vehicle for a variety of mental arithmetic, logical and verbal reasoning tests, and timed perception/response activities (such as the Stroop task (try it here), which typically tests how quickly you can disambiguate colours from colour words (here’s an explanation of the effect on open2)).

So I was quite intrigued to see a perceptual reasoning ‘game’ today (on a woodworking website of all places!) which presents you with “a series of geometries that need to be adjusted a little bit to make them right. A square highlights the point that needs to be moved or adjusted. Use the mouse to drag the blue square or arrowhead where you feel it is ‘right’. Once you let go of the mouse, the computer evaluates your move, so don’t let up on the mouse button until you are sure.”

The context of the game is described as follows: “If you are somebody who is into woodworking or construction, its good to be one of the people who notice when things are crooked. But I suspect the ability to notice that things might be just a little off square, off centre, or not quite straight, varies greatly. I thought it would be fun for people to try to test their abilities to see if things are straight or crooked in a little game.”

So for example, in the following example, you have to move the corner to create a parallelogram:

You can find the game here: The Eyeballing Game (instructions).

If you give it a go, post how well you did back here ;-)

If that’s too, err, quirky(?) for you, how about a round of golf – in a browser? World Golf Tour.

See you in the clubhouse… ;-)

The Future of Gaming: A Video Game Addict Speaks

With every year that goes by, more and more children are born into a life where they will always have known about interactive video games and social, online gaming. Educationalists are still trying to come to grips with a world in which today’s school children were born “after Google”, and have never known life without the web, never known life without search engines.
So what sort of relationship might our children expect to have with interactive media in the years hence, and how will this affect their lives and their beliefs?

The following presentation by games designer David Perry at the TED conference in February 2006 includes a video sequence put together by Michael Highland.

Watch the sequence through – it’s about ten minutes long and starts 9 minutes 49 seconds into the video and ends at 18 minutes 32 seconds (or watch this unofficial edit of the sequence directly).

So what do you think? Did you find the sequence thought provoking? And if so, what thoughts did it provoke?

Here are some of the things I took away from it: Michael Highland suggests that he can’t help but be seduced by the pull of media that is been finely crafted to produce an emotional response in him as a viewer or as a participant. He suggests that the increasing fidelity of game worlds will increasingly lead us to come to to believe that the skills and experiences we have in those worlds are transferable to the real world (which is surely a claim that the developers of serious games would also make?). But more than that, he also claims that by manipulating our emotions, game developers can help us reconnect with a world in which the news media continually fails to engage us in emotional terms.

Michael Highland also raises some concerns, such as that real life is coming to more closely resemble game life, as this Business Week article reporting from the Farnborough Air Show in July 2008 suggests (Raytheon Taps Video Games to Pilot Drones):

Based around a multiscreen console complete with on-screen health and weapons updates, Raytheon’s UCS [Universal Controller System] has cherry-picked elements from the gaming industry to give pilots more control over their unmanned aircraft. The UAV’s [unmanned aerial vehicle's] onboard camera, for example, has been augmented with digital images similar to Google Earth that give the operator an almost 180-degree view. That lets Raytheon overlay other data, such as where troops are located, on top of the enhanced view in the same way video games offer players extra on-screen information.

“Gaming companies have spent millions to develop user-friendly graphic interfaces, so why not put them to work on UAVs?” says Mark Bigham, business development director for Raytheon’s tactical intelligence systems. “The video-game industry always will outspend the military on improving human-computer interaction.”

The video clip also raises the point that the video game addict might well have spent more time driving in virtual worlds than driving in the real world – my immediate thought here was in the case of an accident, would muscle memory take over in controlling the driver’s actions? And muscle memory acquired where?

The video clip closes with a mention of the responsibilities of games developers as they become increasingly adept at manipulating our emotions. Where do you think those responsibilities begin, and end? Post your thoughts a comment to this post, or post them elsewhere and link back to this post.

PS the full TED video contains another video sequence that is well worth watching. If you didn’t watch the whole presentation through and only what Michael Highland’s sequence, the other clip (with a tint bit of qualifying commentary at the end) runs from 6m11s to 9m33s and shows in 3 minutes just how far video games have come in graphical terms over the last 20 years.

Making Moving Pictures Stop

In Making Pictures Move, I briefly referred to the “time lapse” photography technique made famous by Edward Muybridge, in which a series of rapidly taken still photographs could be used to freeze the motion of moving person or animal.

Technology moves on, of course, but sports TV in particular now makes use of similar technique to show how international athletes piece together their performances.

The above movie gives an example of the StroMotionTM effect developed by video engineers Dartfish. The technique can also be used to create static, composite images, as this example demonstrates:

stromotion skateboarder

In addition to augmenting sports broadcasts, the technique can also be used to support the training of athletes, or as a more general educational aid.

The StroMotionTM name presumably takes inspiration from the word stroboscope. Explain in what way(s) this is appropriate.

What video clips can you think of that might reveal some insight if they were processed using the StroMotionTM approach?

Sports broadcasting also makes use of ‘augmented reality’ techniques, for example in the use of digital “overlays” on top of a video image where lane numbers may be overlaid on top of the pool lanes in a swimming competition (or indeed, as a moving ‘world record pace’ line showing how close the actual swimmers are to a world record pace), or distances may be plotted from the ball to the flag in a golf broadcast (see for example the Vizrt VizArenaTM system, which “enables broadcasters to superimpose static and animated 3D graphics over the live coverage of a sports event”).

As another example, the BBC “Piero” system can be used to add ‘tied-to-pitch’ graphical overlays and 3D views of recorded sports action by placing players in a virtual stadium within which they can be viewed from different angles (Piero, also described here: Piero sports graphics system wins two awards).

What other examples of ‘digital overlays’ can you think of in the realm of sports broadcasting? Add any links you find – particularly links to video examples – as a comment below.


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