In-Game Ads: Quick Q&A with Mike McHale (Konami)

Michael McHale, Senior Producer at Konami, kindly answered some of my questions about his experience working with in-game advertisements.

Please describe how you made use of in-game advertising in Karaoke Revolution Party.

KRP for the Xbox includes technology from Massive, Inc. If the player is logged into Xbox Live, new ad-containing textures will stream into the game.

We made sure that the advertising spots appear in logical places in the game environment. We were very careful, so the ads are not constantly “in your face” and they integrate nicely with the background environment. We believe that it adds to the gameplay experience when the environment changes dynamically.

Did you reach out to advertisers who you thought would “fit” the game’s theme, or did you work with advertisers who reached out to you, or both? How did that affect the design and development process?

Massive’s sales team sold the ads. We retain approval over all ads before they appear in the game. The content must be appropriate for the audience (the game is rated E10+), and we expect the ad art assets to be high quality, and to fit the general art style of the game.

Did you experience any conflicts with your advertisers? How did you negotiate the process of integrating their ads into the game in a highly visible but tasteful way?

We created a guide that shows where the ads would be placed, with screenshots of the game environment. This hopefully helped the ad agencies. There was a set of ads that we felt did not meet our quality standards and did not fit the art style of the game, so we rejected them.

What surprised you most about the process of embedding advertisements into the game? Would you do anything differently?

There are currently two different types of advertisements you can run, and they each have limitations. Static ads are placed on the game disc and are visible whether you are online or offline. The issue with static ads is that you can’t track how many times they are viewed, and you can’t refresh the content, so the user sees the same ads for the life of the product. The ads have to be placed in the game months ahead of time before the game is released, so agencies can’t run ad campaigns that hit at a specific time, such as an ad for a movie release. The PlayStation 2 does not have a hard drive to store data, so static ads are your only option there.

Dynamic ads can be tracked and scheduled, but the player must be online while playing the game in order to see the ads. This works well for online multiplayer games, but not as well for single player games. I expect this issue to be worked out in the future, when dynamic ads will be stored and visible even when you are offline.

From the development side, the process of planning where the ads will go and integrating the ad-serving technology into the game takes time. Although the impact to our development schedule was minimal, we were still taking time that could have been spent elsewhere.

Looking back at the project, I don’t think we would have done anything differently, but it would have been nice to store the streaming ads locally on the Xbox. We hope we did a good job of integrating the ad content without being too intrusive. Advertisers and their agencies understand all too well that the end user can have a negative reaction to ads if they are not integrated into any form of media in the right way.

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