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  • Book Excerpt: Game Design Complete: Advergaming and Sponsorships

    - Patrick O'Luanaigh
  • Selling Your Soul?

    From my point of view, it's up to you as the game designer and person responsible for the “heart and soul” of a game to be careful about what kind of in-game advertising you allow into the product. As I just mentioned, I feel that it's a balancing act. You need to be careful that any advertisements you include don't tip too far in one direction. If people pay $40 for your game, they don't want to be bombarded by blatant product promotion. Don't sell your game's soul, but keep an open mind, and try and find the balance that is right for you.

    A Gray Line: Licensing vs. Advertising

    You might encounter a rather gray area when it comes to licensing. At one end of the scale, you'll likely need to pay to license any major brand for inclusion in your game, and at the other end, the brand holder will pay you to feature its brand in your title. This gray area usually depends on how much clout you have with your game or brand, the relative skills of your licensing team, and the attitude of the company involved. By and large, the distinction tends to be about who really benefits the most. The question becomes: Does the addition of the advertised brand significantly improve the quality and overall impression of the game, or does advertising the brand in the game mainly benefit the owner of the brand?

    Let's look at an example. Assume that you're creating a racing game and you want to include a Ferrari. This brand of car is probably much more widely known than your game. It increases the attraction of your game to consumers, so it's clearly a great thing for you. It makes your game feel special, and players want to drive the best cars. But the benefit Ferrari receives for being in your game is much smaller. The folks at Ferrari might feel that being in your game isn't going to help them sell very many cars. In fact, the risk of being in your game (which from their point of view might not be very good) is probably much more important to them than the reward of seeing their cars in yet another video game. Because of these circumstances, you may well have to pay Ferrari a considerable sum to include its car in your game.

    On the other hand, including Red Bull drink cans within your game environment is unlikely to add much to your game at all. In fact, you may feel that unless you also include Coke, Pepsi, and a host of other brands, having a specific brand may look like an obvious advertising ploy and therefore make your game weaker rather than stronger. However, the makers of Red Bull, providing that your game is a high-quality one, might view your game as reaching an important demographic that they can't easily reach using other advertising vehicles. The message of linking fun quality entertainment with their drink could be an important one. Clearly, in this case, you'd expect them to pay you to feature their brand in your game. I'm using Red Bull as an example only because it has been in a large number of games (hopefully this has been successful from the company's point of view), and I'm sure the company would agree with me that its product is very different than Ferrari's in terms of what kind of advertising deals it could command. Unfortunately, neither company is paying me to mention them! (I wonder if you can get in-book advertising deals?)

    Reality Check : Most licensing calls are rarely very clear, so it's worth pushing the brand owners by explaining just how many copies of the game you expect to sell and highlighting your track record and the demographics of the people who will purchase the game. Even if you don't manage to get some money for in-game advertising, you may end up with a deal that doesn't cost you anything and benefits both parties greatly.


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