A few years back, gaming platforms were touted as a virgin territory to be conquered by advertisers. And they have been reasonably successful. According to Wikipedia, in 2005, spending on in-game advertising was $56 million, estimated to grow to $1.0 billion by 2014.
Typically, these messages have been embedded in console games and dedicated Internet platforms such as virtual worlds and MMORPGs.
These delivery systems limit the audience to gamers, stereotypically a very specific demographic (young, a bit asocial, nerdy, tech-minded and glued to their computers). Recent studies have shown that the gamer demographic is more complex (see e.g., Gamer demographic complex.) But the audience is still limited.
The explosion in the past couple of years of social games, most notably on Facebook, has opened up a wider demographic.
One company to step into that gap is Playfish, which produces some of Facebook’s most popular games. In late 2008, the company launched their first in-game ad campaign with Procter & Gamble and Herbal Essences via the Geo Challenge Facebook game in the UK.
But the company has been slow to introduce in-game ads into its varied product range which includes two spots in the top 15 list of games.
But that might be changing. In this screenshot, a billboard ad discreetly placed on the road just outside the owner’s restaurant (from Restaurant City, which claims 15.5 million users) encourages users the chance to visit ProFlowers.com. Moreover, the ad incentivizes the click by offering the user in-game “cash” that can be used to purchase game items.
Playfish’s caution is well-founded. Their primary business model is based on the game experience itself. The users are hooked by the game’s novelty, high quality and social interaction. Then, as loyalty and numbers grow, the game monetizes aspects of play. So a significant ad presence would detract from the user experience.
Although usage of its products is trending downward, Playfish is surely smart enough to continue this delicate balancing act. In the above example, the company is cleverly using its tactic of seasonal game themes. During, say, the Christmas season, new in-game items are added that are available for a limited time only. In this case, the ad coincided with Playfish’s increased options for Valentine’s Day. Money can’t buy you love, but it seems love can buy you money!