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In-game music, adverts for video games

We do not live in a virtual world. We live in a world of greater and lesser realities, such that they are. Take for example a telephone conversation. Such communication is no more nor any less real than talking face to face, nor is it virtual. What we have instead are varying degrees of reality that extend at once one sense or ability while restricting others.

So while in Second Life, you may act out whatever impulse you feel appropriate and never suffer for it. By way of an example – crude though it may be – what you can’t do is have sex in there for real.

Well, not yet at any rate.

“As Google expands its lucrative ad network to new markets, industry watchers increasingly believe the search giant will buy its way into the nascent market for advertising inside video games.”

I remember playing football (soccer, if you’re American) video games when I was a kid, and I remember the advertising boards around the pitch, which added a sense of realism.

Fast forward .. ahem, several years and if you’re familiar with International Superstar Soccer then you’ll have seen real advertising going on.

Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the authenticity of that insight, I checked with my nephew Jack, who’s oft to be found kicking the crap out of fellow ISS enthusiasts from around the world from the comfort of his living room via his Xbox 360. So there you are, proper research for a change.

In-game advertising, courtesy of Google

Fast forward to, ooh, about last week, and you’ll have read the rumor concerning Google and in-game advertising for video games:

“Google has reportedly looked at acquiring AdScape Media, a small company, founded in Ontario and now based in San Francisco, that specializes in so-called in-game ads.”

For the likes of Google, who will have some very clued up people on their payroll, ‘immersive’ video games are a growing industry:

“In-game ads may sound like a niche, but it’s a growing one that reaches a choice demographic for advertisers. A recent Nielsen Entertainment study found that men aged 18 to 34 are spending more time playing video games (12.5 hours on average per week) and less time watching television (9.8 hours per week).”

After all, with the likes of Second Life drawing in the Swedish Embassy, of all people, it’s not so much about gaming anymore, but about socializing.

However, getting the adverts in there is the easy part. Actually doing something with them will be the challenge:

“If a gamer opts in, AdScape’s Real World Virtual World Gateway will deliver messages via SMS or e-mail from the advertiser,… When the game detects that a player has reached a certain level in the game or that a player is having problems getting beyond an obstacle in the game, for example, the advertiser could offer hints, rewards or coupons.”

And let’s be honest, those are crap ideas. Which leads me to think that the need to get adverts into video games has superseded the needs of the gamer.

Mortal Combat: Google versus Microsoft

For some time, Google have gotten things there own way, and with nary a hair out place in doing so. But what if Microsoft had the upper hand? Now that would be a challenge, wouldn’t it? Then the game really would be on:

“Old foe Microsoft, which last year acquired a similar [company developing in-game advertising] … In-game ads, however, are one place where Microsoft would have a rare advertising advantage over Google thanks to thriving sales of its Xbox 360 gaming console and a long list of gaming titles.”

So let’s skip ahead. Let’s assume that Google win this one. But at what cost? Assuming they’re looking beyond video games for desktop computers, in what version of reality would Microsoft strike a deal with Google to let their advertising platform sit atop games titles developed for the Xbox?

I’m sure Google could go direct to the games developers, but Microsoft have the more established relationship with the games developers, so Google would have a lot of ground to make up.

The sweet sound of success: in-game music

Aside from in-game advertising, there’s also the prospect of in-game music, too:

Electronic Arts has begun selling music from its games through Apple’s iTunes Store. The music also appears on the company’s own website, with links to the music downloads through iTunes.”

For me, this kind of thing makes more sense than in-game advertising. While you can see things like in-game advertising adding a sense of authenticity to a video game, in-game music makes for a more engaging experience, and offers a more scalable platform for revenue.

For instance, if you have a preference for a particular artist or genre, and the game permits, or is thematically adaptable enough to allow for the choosing of music, then the sky is the limit.

And speaking of Second Life, Richard Branson seems intent on taking Virgin territory and carving out an empire all of his own:

Sir Richard Branson [announced] a new platform … The new service is a partnership between Virgin Games and Game Domain International, and it will be known as A World of My Own (AWOMO). As a title, this has nothing on “GameFly,” for instance, but it does indicate that the service will be more than a simple game launcher; it will be an entire virtual world as well.”

Which I imagine is no mean feat, either.

Virtually guaranteed success for in-game music and advertising?

So what we see is that in these so-called virtual worlds, there’s real money to be made. However, none of this kind of thing is for the faint of heart.

For the likes of Richard Branson, such endeavors are but another heartbeat to him. What with wanting to be the first fully commercial space liner operator, ambitious projects are his game.

However, even for those like him, these new worlds are an unknown quantity, despite what any number of analysts might try and tell you.

Yes, we know people like escapism, but that escapism from the rigors of the real world usually includes getting away from the adverts, too. So some planning is needed here.

Additionally, we’re fast approaching a point in time when these truly enormous socially-interconnected video games will begin to demand some kind of policing.

What then?

Maybe that’s another topic. I’m virtually certain of that…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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