December 3rd, 2007

PlayStation's Game Plan: Scale Ad Rates for Videos

By Kamau High

With the release last week of a video game called Pain, Sony Computer Electronics America moved one step closer to having what would amount to metrics for ads embedded within video games on its consoles.

In Pain, which is available for download through Sony’s PlayStation Network, players control a giant slingshot that hurtles a figure through the air. The goal is to hit objects with the figure, hence the game title. As the figure is airborn, it passes dynamic billboards that can carry real commercial messages and be changed at anytime. Because the player has to download the game from Sony’s network, only those with online-enabled PlayStation 3’s will be able to play it.

Sony wants to charge different rates to advertisers based on how many people are playing Pain. When more people are engaged, rates would be higher, and when fewer people are playing, rates would be lower.

This would, in effect, bring a ratings system to ad pricing for Sony’s video games. Currently, most in-game ad rates are based on projected sales and subsequent populations of the game. Nielsen Media Research’s video game division, Nielsen Games, will measure how many people are playing and what ads they are seeing at a given time. Nielsen Media Research, like Adweek, is a unit of The Nielsen Co.

Nielsen Games will have access to back-end proprietary data from Sony, which includes any information Sony collects through its ad servers, said Gerardo Guzman, business development and product strategy director, Nielsen Games, who is based in Chicago.

Nielsen Games already offers game usage statistics through a product called Nielsen GameMetrics. “Currently we can tell you who is playing their PlayStation 3 and other consoles, when they’re playing them and what they’re playing,” said Guzman. “We can’t get inside the game, at least not yet.”

Sony is the first game maker Nielsen is producing metrics for, although the company did not rule out working with other vendors.

“I hope we can extend this paradigm. Advertisers want to reach game players across all media,” said Jonathan Epstein, CEO of Double Fusion, an in-game advertising network based in San Francisco. “Advertisers aren’t saying they want Sony players or Xbox players, they want gamers. For this to work it has to be across all platforms, including the PC.” Double Fusion places most of its ads on PCs.

“This allows clients to now purchase media with confidence, if it works,” said Matthew Ammirati, president of Ammirati here, who has worked with video game clients such as Marc Ecko and Atari. “It’s always been scary for clients to buy these new forms of media, but now they’ve got something concrete and measurable.”

Advertisers will be charged a $30 CPM (cost per thousand). For the launch of the game, all of the advertising was either Sony related—"High Velocity Bowling now available in the PlayStation Store"—or faux ads (Moonriver Proctology). By the end of next year the company hopes to have 20 games that can handle this type of advertising.

While non-Sony advertisers have yet to be disclosed, Darlene Kindle, director of Sony’s new in-game advertising unit, did offer a scenario in which companies would be interested in reaching the Sony audience. “You can imagine people like Lionsgate, who publish Blu-ray movies, getting involved. Media, creative agencies and brands all want to be involved in this program,” she said.


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