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Dynamic In-game Advertising in 3D Digital Games

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A Threat and a Possibility
  93  Nordicom Review 33 (2012) 2, pp. 93-102 Dynamic In-game Advertisingin 3D Digital Games  A Threat and a Possibility Olli Raatikainen Abstract Lately, digital games have developed concerning their use as a marketing medium. The present article is part of a study aimed at building a theoretical model for measuring andanalyzing dynamic in-game advertising  in 3D digital games. The study is explorative innature, because it intends to build a new model of a real phenomenon based on one or moreexisting theories. Dynamic in-game advertising can be implemented in a 3D digital gamewithout harming the gameplay experience, while still being effective from the marketer’s point of view. An optimized dynamic in-game advertisement is realistically and repeatedly, but subtly placed and interactive advertisement of a low-involvement product. Keywords: in-game advertising,   dynamic in-game advertising, gameplay experience, mar-keting communication, digital game Introduction The prole of a typical digital game player has changed remarkably during the past 5years. It is no longer only 15-year-old boys who play. Instead, women over 18 years of  age are the fastest growing demographic group in the digital games industry (ESA 2010).The shift in the gender and age distribution has made digital games an increasinglyinteresting media also for marketing purposes (Edery 2006). Today, there are severaldifferent types of advertisements found in digital games. The term in-game advertising   generally covers all marketing-related actions in digital games, including advergames(game exists solely for marketing purposes), advertising in synthetic worlds like Sec-ond Life, static in-game advertising (SIGA) and dynamic in-game advertising (DIGA) (IABUK 2007: 12-15; ESA 2010: 1-2). There are three major worldwide companies that offer in-game advertising – IGA Worldwide, Double Fusion and Engage (Double Fusion 2008, IGA Worldwide 2007, Engage 2011). Almost all the biggest digital game publishers including EA, Activisionand Ubisoft have already signed advertising contracts with one of these companies (NetworkWorld 2008, Gamasutra 2008, Engage 2011). Nowadays, using digital games as a marketing medium is better characterized as a rule than as an exception.During the past ten years, digital games have developed in huge steps along withcomputers, consoles and other related hardware in general. One big step in the evolution  94  Nordicom Review 33 (2012) 2 is that the majority of digital games today use 3D graphics (Natkin 2006: 82). Another   big step in the evolution of digital games has been on-line gaming via the Internet, whereseveral players play in the same virtual environment regardless of their geographicallocation. In addition to this technically oriented evolution, and at least partially becauseof it, digital games have also developed in terms of marketing inside the virtual environ-ment of the digital game.One important marketing-related change has been the possibility to implement dynamic in-game advertising, which means in-game advertising for a  predefned    time frame , which in turn means that the advertisements are changeable. The game publisher  can sell “virtual advertising space” inside the digital game’s ctional environment. In  practice, these advertisements can be billboards integrated into the virtual environmentor product or brand placements. The advertisements can be changed when needed(according to the contract between the advertising company and the game publisher), because the game can be made to load new advertisements (to check the current stateof the advertisements) every time the player connects to the multiplayer session via theInternet. Dynamic in-game advertisements have already been used in several campaignsin recent years, one of the most remarkable examples being the presidential campaign of Barrack Obama in 2008, which included 18 game titles (GameSpot 2008). The aim of the study is to build a theoretical model for measuring and analyzingdynamic in-game advertising in 3D digital games. A model is either a model of a real phenomenon or a model of data (Frigg & Hartmann 2006, Routio 2007). The presentstudy targets a real phenomenon – dynamic in-game advertising in 3D digital games.However, because the model is completely based on both earlier theories and researchdata, the term theoretical model  is used. These earlier theories then selectively becomeelements of the new model. The elements are chosen through a detailed literature sur-vey on the basis of their relevance to the research topic. The purpose of the theoretical model is to nd an optimal balance between the gameplay experience and the dynamic in-game advertising in 3D digital games. Thus, the scope of the study includes both theadvertiser’s and the player’s point of view.In-game advertising, gameplay experience and consumer information processing wereselected as elements of the theoretical model for measuring and analyzing dynamic in-game advertising in 3D digital games. All these elements are “present” when a player  plays a 3D digital game that contains dynamic in-game advertising. In the present study,the gameplay experience is seen as an “ensemble made up of the player’s sensations, thoughts, feelings and actions” (Ermi & Mäyrä 2005: 2). This is what the playing is all about. One really cannot play a digital game without gameplay experience. Then again, consumer information processing acts as a “lter” between the player and in-game ad - vertising in a digital game and thus inuences the gameplay experience. In the present study, the gameplay experience consists of the sense of presence and ow. Both of these concepts have been used in analyzing and measuring the gameplay experience (see, e.g., Ravaja, Salminen, Holopainen, Saari, Laarni & Järvinen 2004: 340, 346; Sweetser & Wyeh 2005). In short, sense of presence means a mediated experience that does not  seem to be mediated (Lombard & Ditton 1997). The concept of “ow” coined by Csikszentmihalyi (1990), in turn, has been widely adapted to different kinds of  domains to assess enjoyment (Sweetser & Wyeh 2005: 3). The second element, consumer information processing, is a well-known eld of study related to marketing (see, e.g.,  95 Olli Raatikainen  Dynamic In-game Advertising in 3D Digital Games Schulz & Kitchen 2000). The third element, dynamic in-game advertising, is the maintopic of the present study, and thus the other two elements are viewed in relation to it. Based on the three elements, the study focuses on two themes. The rst concerns den -ing gameplay experience in relation to dynamic in-game advertising. The second theme concerns dening consumer information processing while playing a 3D digital game. Gameplay Experience The gameplay experience is an essential part of a digital game and therefore also an es-sential part of the present study. Here, the gameplay experience is analyzed using toolsfrom cognitive psychology, because a digital game is “a mediated experience that createsfor the user a strong sense of presence” (Lombard & Ditton 1997). Additionally, theories from different elds of study such as social and consumer psychology, human-computer  interaction, and mass communication have suggested that the virtual environment of adigital game helps to facilitate more engaging interaction between consumers and ad-vertising stimuli. This is due to the heightened levels of immersion and presence (Lewis2006: 20). In addition to the sense of presence, the gameplay experience is also analyzed using the concept of ow (Csikszentmihalyi 1990), which has been widely used for as - sessing enjoyment (Sweetser & Wyeh 2005: 3). The concept of immersion is often seenas a synonym for sense of presence (Ermi & Mäyrä 2005: 4). Because 3D digital games can be compared with the virtual reality applications from which the concept of sense of  presence srcinates, the concept of immersion is not used here (MacMahan 2003: 69-70).Earlier studies have shown that the most important factors contributing to the senseof presence in a digital game are interactivity and realism (cf. Lombard & Ditton 1997).In this context, interactivity refers to interaction between the player and the virtual envi-ronment, including other players in the same virtual environment. Realism refers to the perceived realism of the virtual environment, which can be further divided into  social realism (social interaction matches the interaction in the real world) and  perceptual real-ism (how real do the objects and events appear, including graphics and sound) (Lombard& Ditton 1997). Based on these suggested factors, the following hypotheses have beenmade to form a theoretical model for dynamic in-game advertising in 3D digital games.  Hypothesis 1: The level of interactivity of dynamic in-game advertising affectsthe sense of presence in 3D digital games. An interactive in-game advertisement can be, e.g., a vending machine or a car of a certain brand in the virtual environment that actually works as it is supposed to work in reality.The realism of a dynamic in-game advertisement means the way the advertisementhas been placed inside the virtual environment of a digital game. This can be done roughly in two ways (Edery 2006; IABUK 2007): 1. Realistically, i.e. such that the advertisements integrate nicely and realistically withthe background environment (e.g. a single poster on a wall).2. Unrealistically/intrusively, i.e. such that the advertisements do not integrate withthe background, but are constantly excessively displayed (e.g., most of the virtualenvironment’s walls are covered with the same kind of a poster).  96  Nordicom Review 33 (2012) 2 Both approaches have a connection with realism that affects the sense of presence. Ear-lier studies from Nelson (2002), Book (2004), Chaney, Lin, and Chaney (2004), Nelson and Ronald (2004) and Activision (2005) all show that players can accept advertisements in digital games when they are placed relevantly/realistically. A study from Lewis (2006: 44-45) conrms that the realism concerning the time (era) of placed advertisements compared with the time (era) of the virtual environment affects the perceived overall realism of the digital game. Di Cesare (2005: 15) too states that in-game advertisementsneed to add to the experience the digital game offers. Based on earlier ndings on sense of presence, this leads us to the second hypothesis:  Hypothesis 2: The realism of the dynamic in-game advertising affects the senseof presence in 3D digital games. An example of a realistic in-game advertisement in a 3D digital game would be, e.g.,an advertisement for McDonalds in a present-day setting. An example of an unrealisticadvertisement would be, e.g., an advertisement for McDonalds in a medieval setting. Csikszentmihalyi (1990: 6) denes ow in the following way: “Flow is the way peo - ple describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake.” Ermi and Mäyrä (2005: 2–3)note that digital games are generally excellent for providing opportunities for ow-likeexperiences. Sweetser and Wyeh (2005: 4) compare the elements of ow and the cor  -responding elements of a digital game. The comparison suggests that the elements of  a digital game are indeed almost identical to the elements of ow. When the elementsof a digital game and ow (Sweetser & Wyeh 2005: 4) are compared in context  with  previous ndings on the sense of presence in 3D digital games, two common elements   can be found: control  (element of a digital game) and deep but effortless concentration(  element of ow) .  Control means, e.g., interaction between the player and the virtual environment (Desurvire & Caplan & Toth 2004, 3; Gee 2004). The sense of overall control over the player’s actions contributes to the experience of ow (Sweetser & Wyeh 2004: 8). Players should be able to feel in control over the movements of their character and theway they explore the virtual environment (Federoff 2006: 17). The player should alsofeel a sense of control over the user interface of the video game, because mastering thevideo game controls is an essential factor in most games (Johnson & Wiles 2003: 2).Customizing the video game controls should be made possible (Federoff 2006: 13).The player should perceive a sense of impact on the virtual environment (Desurvireet al. 2004: 3). A feeling of co-creating the virtual environment is important (Gee 2004). This corresponds to the ndings presented in the previous chapters on the key role of  interaction with the virtual environment as an important contributing factor to the senseof presence. The virtual environment should react to the players and remember their  passage through it (Desurvire et al. 2004: 3). Also, the more restricted the player’s op-tions are, the less the player feels in control (Sweetser & Johnson 2004: 2). This has also been reported by Kiili (2005: 93), who notes that the game should at least create an illusion that the player decides the progress of the game. The second common element to both digital games and ow, deep but effortless concentration, often translates to (sense of) presence, which in the games literature im-
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