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Using Biometrics to Measure Ads in Video Games: What Works, What Doesn’t

Posted by: Reena Jana on July 24, 2007

Nike shoes.jpg

The effective design of in-game ads – billboards, product placements (like the Nike shoes, seen above), or scoreboards sponsored by car companies within popular video games – is again becoming a much-debated topic. Sure, in-game ads aren’t anything new. But what is: researchers are using biometrics to measure how and why in-game ads are grabbing eyeballs, quite literally. Using infrared eye-tracking devices, they’re able to observe where gamers are looking when playing, and for how long. Are gamers paying attention at all? Or are they too busy shooting basketballs and enemies to notice real-world brands?

A study released on July 23 by Double Fusion, a company that creates and places in-game ads in popular games by publishers such as Take Two Interactive’s 2K and 2K Sports labels, provides pretty interesting data on what types of ads work and which tend to fail. I sat down with Jonathan Epstein, Double Fusion’s president and CEO in New York last week, to chat about the study’s results (it should be noted that the company looked at ads that it didn’t help produce or place, as well as those that it did).

The San Francisco-based company, which partnered with with Santa Monica, Calif.-based consulting firm Interpret, enlisted San Diego’s Eye Tracking, Inc., to test the retinal movements of 100 young, male “moderate and enthusiastic” gamers between the ages of 13-34 as they reacted to in-game ads. The players were based in three cities: New York, L.A., and London. They played for 20 minutes, and were taped for only ten minutes of their play time. The gamers were told the researchers were simply observing game-play patterns, but not that they were observing them to see how much attention was paid to in-game ads.

Some valuable bits of info I took from our talk:

1.) Location, location, location. Ads place on a gamer’s eye level attract more attention, even if small in size. Placed as such, gamers look at them 38% longer than large ads not placed at eye level.

2.) Newbies notice. Novice players are 76% more likely to pay attention to in-game ads than experienced gamers, who are more absorbed in game play.

3.) Simple is better. Gamers look at ads placed on simple screens within a game three times longer than those placed on cluttered screens with a lot of text.

This is just a small sampling. While the data is targeted for potential advertisers – to prove that in-game ads do work – game designers can certainly pay attention, too. On one level, they could design games that are more conducive to effective ads, which would raise revenue for the gaming industry. On another level, they could use this data to design better games, by placing key objects in areas where gamers are looking, or apply the observation about simplicity to overall design. (Coincidentally, the August issue of Wired magazine features a story on biometric research on in-game ads in Electronic Arts' new racing game, Need for Speed: Carbon, conducted by Bunnyfoot, a behavioral research firm. The article points out that gamers don't really pay attention to in-game ads. Gamers of all ages and experience levels: what are your thoughts?)

Reader Comments

Michael G

July 24, 2007 1:05 PM

I think that there are significant problems with advertising in games, and relying on information that someone SELLING this advertising gives you is awful. This would be similar to asking a Ford dealer if you should buy a Toyota. Of COURSE the very same people who want your business are going to create data that backs their claims.

Unfortunately what REALLY happens is you get a company like Massive who has some very strict guidelines for placement (to the point of dictating what objects a developer can have in it and WHERE that object is) to intrusive streaming media. And I only say this of Massive because I have worked with them, though I am sure the others have something similar in their code.

Unfortunately in reality, what happens is some guy from one of these annoying ad placement companies convinces some VP at a publisher at how incredible this technology is, and how their ad placement can offset some costs of the game developement. And this VP with little knowledge of the PROBLEMS with this kind of software sees dollar signs in his eyes and a bonus in his future.

I don't know a single developer who enjoys putting this software into their code, either. They are nagged constantly by the ad placement people, and bluntly, they feel like they are whoring their game out for a few bucks they will never see.

So while this fancy contrived data from someone selling this junk may sound interesting and impressive to someone who has never had to deal with this junk, it is universally abhorred in the development industry.



November 20, 2008 9:35 AM

I love this picture of this nike shoes;i lve nickeys.nikeys are my favorite style of shoes.that is totaly me

Shaquaille Smith

January 26, 2009 2:27 PM

I agree when big ad companies like nike put their ads in video games they would persue the video game fanatics.

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