by CheekyGuy, HSM guest contributor
Let’s face it: advertising is practically everywhere you look. If it’s not on a wall in some public space in the real world, it’s on your TV or iPhone. It’s hard to get away from.
Video games have increasingly begun to explore in-game advertising. Real-world commercial companies caught onto this new media as a powerful tool for their marketing campaigns; not only were there billboards strategically placed in the games that you played, but entire product placements — such as hugely recognisable Coca-Cola cans that you collect in Data East’s Bad Dudes vs DragonNinja Arcade game.
These days, Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo masterpieces have become huge talking billboards for car manufacturing companies worldwide — and thanks to a small show over here in UK called Top Gear, have introduced car brand names into the public consciousness.
Which now brings us to virtual worlds, and ultimately Home. Home could very well soon be the next breeding ground for real-world companies in which to advertise their wares; to some extent, this has already started with brands like Billabong, Diesel, Ford and others. Given the installed user base for the PlayStation 3, and the sheer number of people who pop into Home at some point, I’m frankly a bit surprised there isn’t more of this going on.
How effective can real-world advertising be in Home?
When you first log into Home, you’re suddenly thrust into the marketing area known as the Hub. Granted, it’s a bit obvious that Sony wants you to browse and buy something, which can be viewed as a distasteful hard-sell tactic right off the bat — but there are merits to such an approach. Of course, Sony currently spawns you to your navigator, which is a softer approach instead. How much does this hurt visitor traffic numbers for new content releases? Further, while I do love being able to now shop for virtual commodities without having to leave a private estate, does this convenience further hamper in-world advertising efforts, since you don’t have to go to a public space and proceed from one commerce point to the next?
As an aside, I’d love a core update that allowed users to “favorite” a particular brand that they tend to shop for, such as Lockwood Drey or somesuch. Everyone has their favourite clothing or item brands in Home. And it seems like a logical place to introduce targeted advertising; if you go to your Drey bookmark on your navigator, why not an ad for real-world clothing companies next to it, which the user can click on and open up to an external site?
Granted, not every form of in-Home advertising works well. Billboards in private estates tend to be met with near-universal negative feedback, and with good reason: psychologically, we link personal estates with privacy, and thus commerce points or ads in a personal estate are viewed as intrusive. Yet given how personal estates are where Home users tend to spend a fair amount of time, how can advertisers reach them without it seeming intrusive?
What’s rather conspicuous is Home’s lack of in-world advertising for non-Home content, either from the rest of the gaming universe or elsewhere. Whereas in Home’s earlier days you’d find game developers launching in-world tie ins (such as Street Fighter avatar costumes and such) — making Home feel like part of the larger gaming universe — Home today feels like a self-contained entity with little to no outside influence. This is a bit disheartening, if we’re honest; you want to see AAA-game developers creating tie-in content for Home that relates to their game titles, and indeed using Home as an advertising platform to reach a target demographic. As this sort of cross-pollination is exceptionally limited, you can’t help but conclude that it’s just not worth enough to major game developers to invest in such a Home tie-in — which can shake the faith of the hardcore Home user, who bought into the concept of Home as the central axis where all of the PlayStation brands and worlds collide into a wonderful mishmash of color and billboards. Instead of Home occupying such a central position (as it was arguably designed to do), it feels more like an afterthought in the Sony pantheon that they grudgingly support and would rather divest themselves of. Why are there not more Total Game Integration events? More full-blown avatar costumes, public spaces and estates dedicated to gaming franchises? More advertising content everywhere, including the navigator interface? Such absences are conspicuous.
Ah, well. Let’s shift gears and discuss marketing techniques that do seem to work well in Home.
Arguably the best advertising approach in Home itself is the use of the public showcase; it’s a golden opportunity for a developer to communicate its ethos to the consumer, and divert attention from the broader commercial options of the navigator to the more specific wares of just that developer. Some public showcases, such as Heavy Water’s new D2O District or nDreams’ Aurora, are full-blown experiences unto themselves. Others, like the Lockwood Publishing Showcase and perhaps even LOOT’s Space Station, are much more overtly commercial. Both approaches are valid.
What I personally like about any sort of public showcase, regardless of how it’s dressed up, is when you can see the dimensions and proportions of what it is that you are buying. Rival virtual world Second Life has been doing this for years, so it is a welcome sight to see in Home as well.
Trailers are another way developers or designer companies can advertise in Home; I’ve seen some fantastic advertisements and trailers for games (Granzella’s Desert Island space sticks to mind), but it is a question of finding the right balance as to how much advertising we should all be exposed to while on Home. Not enough advertising would mean less awareness of any products and services available to us, whereas too much can become a turnoff for any interested virtual consumer.
If there was one question I had for Sony itself on this matter, it would be how closely they study the consumer habits of Home’s user base, and from what sources they gain their demographic marketing data. It would be nice to know that while Home has evolved into its own self-contained world which provides sufficient revenue to attract developers to keep making content for it, it is still appealing to the larger parties in the game industry who really have nothing to do with Home but nonetheless view it as an attractive method of advertising.