Shooting game study: Aim for your exact target group!


Another special report by Morten Geertsen from Latin America!

While trying to survive in a hectic, futuristic war zone, would you pay attention to a small soccer ball sponsored by Nike? Or something bigger, let’s say a billboard by McDonalds saying “I’m lovin’ it!”? Dutch researchers recently studied these examples to get an idea of the effect of in-game advertising through such and similar in-game brand placements.
The researchers modified one of the most played First Person Shooters, Half Life 2. First Person Shooters are games played from the viewpoint of the characters eyes. The main goal of a (multiplayer) FPS is to have more points than your opponents (level after level) to become the leader of the leaderboard. The player has to find his way through a certain amount of maps (levels) while making sure he doesn’t get killed (or at least less than his opponents). Why did the researchers focus on this particular game genre? The answer lies in its popularity. Each year many new First Person Shooters invade the screens of enthusiastic players. It is among the absolute most played game genres.

Subtle product placement of Nike as part of study

In the modified version of Half Life 2, several brands where exposed to the players throughout the multiplayer part: McDonalds, Red Bull, Nike, Transformers 2 and Street Fighter IV. 32 participants were invited to play: Some were experienced players. Some were beginners. Finally some players had barely ever touched a First Person Shooter before. Each participant played 20 minutes and were then asked questions to uncover the effect of the branding process.
Study: Players remember brands
The outcome of the study provides information about the effect of in game advertising. The study shows the in-game advertising was indeed effective – in fact more effective than previous studies have shown. Of 32 participants, McDonalds was recalled 22 times (non-primed). Nike and Red Bull were both recalled 18 times. Transformers were recalled 15 times and Street Fighter 7 times. Only three participants didn’t recall any brands! Older studies have shown limited effect of such branding, but this recent study shows that the value of in-game branding should not be underestimated. We would like to repeat the study under a larger audience. If there is a student out there that would like to pick this up for The Netherlands – let us know!

Brand recall in absolute numbers

Advertising is improving realism, not destroying it
The study shows that in-game advertising was not perceived as intrusive by players. Questionnaire results also show that participants do not find that the advertisements go against the realism of the game. In fact quite the opposite: The study interestingly shows that most often in-game advertising enhanced the realism of the game! This might be the most intriguing and surprising result of the study: That there exists a unique situation, where advertising actually enhances and improves the customer experience! Some quotes from the respondents highlight this:

·       “With moderate use it adds to the game realism.”
·       “It makes the game experience more realistic because in real life there’s also much advertising.”
·       “In the real world advertising is everywhere so no advertising would be weird.”

Most respondents states that they think in-game advertising increases the realism of the game. However, they do have some conditions. The game should be based on the real world and not on a fantasy world, and the advertising should fit the game environment and not be excessive.

Prominent billboard of McDonald’s

Game experience: A factor when recalling brands
The study states that the game experience of participants unlike what previous studies has shown, greatly influence the effect of the branding exposure. A comparison regarding brand recall shows that every form of in-game advertising was recalled more by experienced gamers. Experienced gamers together recalled 47 advertisements compared to 30 for inexperienced gamers.
A participant of the study comments: “Because I wasn’t known to First Person Shooters I had to focus on the controls and movement not to die. I think I missed some of the environment because of this.” Most likely the inexperienced gamers were more focused on learning the game than the environment, where the brands where positioned, therefore causing the difference in brand recall. Game experience is therefore a factor that strongly determines the players’ ability to recall a brand.

Types of in-game advertising – and their effect!
Before the survey was conducted, the research group identified several types of game advertisements, and they applied five forms to the experiment: Prominent and subtle billboards, prominent and subtle product placements and an interactive placement were implemented in the First Person Shooter game environment. As the table below illustrates, all, except the prominent product placement, were found effective:

The most recalled form of advertisement in-game was found to be a prominent billboard with 69% recall. The interactive and subtle product placement followed by 56% recall. The subtle billboard placed fourth with 47% and the prominent product placement with 22%. 91% of the participants recalled at least one advertisement.

Reasons why the prominent product placement didn’t perform as well as the others could be: The selected place of the branding exposure was inappropriate (it was placed on a corner); it was the wrong product form (respondents saw the model but referred to it as a refrigerator). Yet another reason could be that the target was wrong (the respondents might not care about a fighting video game).
When such factors are corrected, the researchers expect the prominent product placement to be much more effective. For an advertisement to be effective in a First Person Shooter, the research shows that it should:

·       Fit into the game environment
·       Be placed on a location where the player can’t miss it.
·       The product should be relevant for the gamers

Each form of advertising tested of course has its advantages and disadvantages. Billboards are easy to implement and can be dynamic. But having massive amounts of billboards will probably start to annoy the player. Product and interactive placements, although harder to implement, can help create a mixed balance of advertisements.

LINK: Top 14 First Person Shooters of 2011

Avoid the negative attitude towards advertising
An overall positive attitude towards the tested brands is highlighted in the study. The participants did not find the in-game advertising misleading. Neither were any of the advertising forms found intrusive. In other forms of advertising, such as television commercials, the advertisements often damage (or at least interrupt) the customer experience. However the in-game advertising did not interrupt the game experience. In fact quite the opposite: This type of advertising was seen as strengthening the game’s realism and therefore overall quality. This makes for a unique method of promoting companies’ brands without running into the negative attitude, which many consumers have toward advertising in traditional media.

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