Advertising has been the beacon showing the mainstream & critical media alike where gaming currently exists in relation to all other forms of entertainment. With that very clinical description out of the way, doesn't it seem like advertising in the gaming market has grown exponentially in the past decade? According to TechCrunch's Robin Wauters, a study conducted by NeoEdge Networks -- in-game advertising shows the potential to spend from 738 million dollars to 1.8 billion by this year. Aside from in-game advertising, the elephant in the room is how successful Modern Warfare 2 has been for Activision. The advertising muscle has even expanded to what I would consider 'smaller games', or at least smaller in the shadow of an Activision franchise, the original Left 4 Dead was a game that had an advertising budget of about 10 million dollars. Left 4 Dead 2 had an advertising budget of at least twice the amount. If it were never more apparent than it was last year, gaming is officially big business. To open up a dialogue, let's talk about how this could be good for the gaming culture. Though it is quite easy to acknowledge how this could be a negative, we won't be dodging that bullet either.
One of the main reasons I started writing about games was because of the mythical video game crash of the 1980s. The crash interested me in my college years, because at the time of the crash I was probably learning how to walk, or puke and form sentences about the colors. Be that as it may, the [first] death of Atari seemed to be none without warning. Consoles and their respective games flooded the market by 1982, after one of the most notable movie-to-video game creations flopped; that game was E.T. The Extraterrestrial. Today, playing a sub-par licensed movie video game is quite normal. Occasionally, you'll get a passable Spiderman 2 or a Peter Jackson's King Kong, but for the most part -- licensed video games seem to function as further advertisement for a product and not wholly accepted in the gaming community.
Something strange has happened in the past fifteen years. Games have grown to the status of garnering the attention of Hollywood. This shows a complete switch in business models. Though I am a fan of Mortal Kombat and the Resident Evil movies, I would argue that there has not been a 'great' movie based off of a video game ... ever. Nope, not even the Super Mario Brothers movie. In one of the most 'back-assward' displays of money grabbing, the Street Fighter: The Movie [The Game] remains one of the funniest video games based off of a movie I have ever played. It also serves as linchpin for one of my questions. When do we have enough games? Naturally, the gamer inside says, "Never! There is always room for more games! More variety!" Far be it for me to try and institute a limit on the creative output of gaming studios. However, in regards to publishers, should their be some sort of limit? Maybe limit is the wrong term. There should be a standard at this point in our vast gaming culture. Even some of the big wigs agree, this machine has gotten quite large. Publishers like Electronic Arts are planning on releasing fewer games in 2010.
We can't talk about advertising without talking about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. If there is a positive, in advertising budgets for games getting larger, it would be that a large sum of these games are of a higher level of quality. These Uncharted's, Halo's and Final Fantasy's have to be. There are more eyes watching the development process and more hands testing the game to make sure it is what the publisher wants. Note: I did not say, "What the designer or the developers want." Though we got a great game in Modern Warfare 2, I can't help, but think what numbers the game would have done had that $200 million dollar production budget was halved -- or even quartered. Aside from numbers, how would the quality have shifted?
Because of the economy and the limited dollar in consumers' hands, publishers have to decide if a game like Rogue Warrior is worth advertising. Advertisers and marketers have to decide then what is the most effective way to advertise a game. Though the budget of a game may be substantial for development, this may not equate to being advertised fairly. But what is fair? I'm not a market analyst. I would have no idea how to promote a game like Brutal Legend had Tim Shafer plunked that down in front of me. My hat is off to people who are able to promote to specific demographics in gaming. I am sure it is a harsh industry to be working in -- especially if you have to promote a Wii title. As a gamer, we are dealing with the result. Advertisers and publishers only have projections and estimates as to how a game 'may' succeed. Advertisers, who had to push Assassin's Creed 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum probably had the weight of the gaming world on their shoulders. The original Assassin's Creed may have been the largest selling new intellectual property at the time, but when those reviews rolled-in there were probably a few nervous suits. Conversely, Batman doesn't have the joy of having a "Dark Knight" or a sequel attached to its title. Luckily, a game with great word-of-mouth and critical acclaim functions as its own advertising. Just like in the age of Atari and Colecovision.
What about the smaller game? What happens to all of those PETZ games released on Nintendo? How do you advertise a downloadible game in an arena that seems to be drowning in title saturation? It is of my opinion that games such as the Imagine series and the PETZ franchise really do not need advertising. It would be like advertising WoW or Farmville. The people who play those games will probably never stop playing them, and when they do, they are looking for games of similar content. Since we live in the age of Metacritic and an era where companies are not willing to take foolish risks, games like Critter Crunch and Shadow Complex will attain widespread success the old fashion way; through word-of-mouth.
Advertising in the gaming community is not restricted to the games we play. What about how we imbibe the information about said games has changed? Plenty of the websites and publications I read thrive off of a healthy [or necessary] relationship between the publication and the endemic advertiser. Doesn't it completely make sense to see a Bayonetta ad in Maxim magazine issue? I often wonder how common it is for, not only, print media to get consistent non-endemic ad support, but for gaming advertisers to reach out to other forms of print and media outlets. Maybe Cooking Ma Ma could find a new audience on Recipes.com? Be that as it may, for gaming publications to rely so heavily on game advertising it does present issues of brand and journalistic integrity. I will say as a youth, reading an EGM and seeing that glossy Mortal Kombat II symbol with a date under it kept me checking every month for more information. Don't get me wrong, advertising in games journalism has its place, it would be nice to see a ridiculous "Got Milk" ad from time-to-time.
So my questions in this edition. How can game advertising both in-game and promotional-wise improve? There were 1,099 games released this year and a noticeable decline in overall sales, should more studios be prepared to eat their hats?
***This article comes complements of The Brog & TSS***