Reasons why videogames are always going to struggle as an advertising medium


I just stumbled upon this brilliant blog piece by Michael Drucker Why Your Loved Ones Hate Videogames and I realised that nearly all of his reasons why my wife/mum/boss doesn’t understand why I play videogames are the exact same reasons that most of my colleagues/clients will struggle to understand how to use it as an advertising medium

Please do read the original article if you are a gamer – it will help you understand the attitude of your partner. In this piece however I want to examine these reasons and what they mean for clients/colleagues and how we can help present gaming as a medium they can understand

Reason 1: The Media

If you are not a gamer then the majority of your opinion on gaming is formed by the media, and the media need newsworthy dramatic stories. If you look in the right places then gaming can provide that in spades. Look at Manhunt – a game about making Snuff movies, or Grand Theft Auto – a game about running over prostitutes isn’t it? And didn’t those kids somewhere in America go on a rampage after playing Call of Duty? These things do exist, and they make for sensationalist news stories and you never hear the other side of the story, so it is natural to believe that gaming is all about that, just like Daily Mail readers believe that all Asylum seekers are bogus job stealers and every Big Issue seller makes £3000 a month.

Understandably, clients don’t want to associate themselves those kind of themes and those kind of news stories and so their natural instinct is to reject the idea of advertising in games.

What can we do about this?

In an ideal world we’d find a way to get our media to run positive news stories about gaming, but truly newsworthy positive news-stories about games are no more common than the equivalent story about TV programmes or the positive power of radio on people’s lives. The simple fact is that most gaming is just good entertainment and there’s not much news in that. One possible approach is to find a celebrity angle – Nintendo have created an entire marketing campaign around the idea that Ant and Dec, Nicole Kidman and all of Girls Allowed all happily play Wii together. The problem here is (a) people don’t think of Nintendo Wii when they think of gaming and (b) those ads are so nauseatingly fake that not even your gran believes it.

What we actually need is more real quotes from normal, well adjusted role models talking about their love of Guitar Hero or Splinter Cell. Those people are definitely out there, we just need to get them to admit it. If you find a quote or a story, capture it, compile it and send it to your clients. Eventually they will get the point.

Reason 2: Games are about killing people.

This point is obviously related to Reason 1, but as an advocate of gaming we have to be honest with ourselves. There are an awful lot of games that involve significant amounts of violence. “First Person Shooters” ” Hack and Slash” “Beat ’em ups” are just a few of the most popular genres of videogame that focus on violence. Non-gamers therefore think that people who enjoy such games must harbour some deep seated desire to enact those murderous activities for themselves – and to be honest, when you hear some of the kids on xbox live I sometimes wonder myself.

Michael Drucker (the inspiration for this piece) makes two strong analogies. When a gamer “shoots” another gamer or computer controlled character it is like playing “tag”. It is about testing your skills and reactions against those of another player. Kids in a playground don’t wish that the other kids died when they tagged them and neither do Call of Duty afficionados. To a gamer this is obvious, but to someone who hasn’t played these games then you can understand their discomfort at seeing people re-enact episodes of extreme violence.

What can we do about it?

We need to demonstrate the wide range of motivations that people have for playing games which include

Competitiveness
Structure for success
Expressing Individuality/Creativity
Buzz – Adrenalin
Relaxation
Escape
Entertainment
Exploration/discovery
Social currency

These motivations are incredibly useful for many of our clients brand campaigns and something we would want to harness. If we can demonstrate that these motivations are central to videogaming and that it is not just about killing people then we will be a long way towards getting mainstream acceptance for the medium.

Reason 3: Games are for kids

a) Yes some games are for kids – see Mario, Sonic, Wii Sports etc
b) Some games really are not for kids and if parents are letting them play them they are bad parents – see Gears of War, GTA IV, Bioshock, Limbo etc.
c) Sometimes grown ups play the games that are meant for kids, just like grown-ups enjoy watching anything by Pixar – because they are just great and have been created by visionaries

The fact is that games are no more “just for kids” than TV is just for grown-ups. The medium is incredibly diverse with an audience to match. Just like we wouldn’t recommend advertising beer in Ben10, so you probably don’t want to advertise Cheesestrings in Medal of Honour 12.

What can we do?

Firstly we need to be vigilant in recommending the right vehicle for the right product. If you mismatch the audience for the product you are trying to sell and the audience for the game then you won’t generate the response you are looking for and your client will consider the campaign a failure.

Secondly we need to keep rolling out the ever increasing number of statistics that show the rapid growth of videogames amongst non-traditional audiences. Farmville is played by your mum, Angry Birds is played by everyone.

Reason 4: Games are complicated to play.

I’m stealing directly from Michael here

This is how gamers see game controllers

This is how your clients see game controllers

A gamer finds interacting with a gaming world to be second nature. They are usually able to play a brand new game within seconds of picking it up – usually without even looking at instructions. In this mental state they have plenty of time to immerse themselves in the gaming world and enjoy everything that they are seeing and anything that is new. If a non-gamer however spends all their time trying to remember which button to press to stop looking at their toes or is struggling to drive in a straight line, then they can’t possibly appreciate what else is going on in the game and so the idea of absorbing an advertising message seems ridiculous to them.

What can we do?

This is the hard one. How do you explain to someone what the mental state of a gamer is to someone who has no hope of ever entering that state themselves? The closest that I can come is to compare it to something like driving. To a non-driver the idea of controlling pedals, gear sticks, steering wheels, indicators at the same time as orienting yourself with 3 different mirrors seems incredible, but to the experienced driver it is so natural that they can move between cars with virtually no trouble whatsoever. We don’t express surprise that drivers can notice road-side advertising whilst they are driving or that they can listen to and enjoy the radio, so we just need to persuade our clients that playing games is just like this.

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