Interactive Ads With XBox Live

Microsoft’s Carolyn Fuson talks about interactive advertising on gaming consoles and branded content.

The above video interview is from the Advertising Research Foundation Audience Measurement conference.

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We recently spoke to Carolyn Fuson, Sr. Audience and Analysis Manager for Microsoft’s XBox Live, at the ARF Audience Measurement conference. She made the point that when people think of XBox Live users, they think of a 18-34 male audience. What her team has found is that while 37% of XBox Live users fit this stereotype, more than half of Live users are families that have children under the age of 18.

XBox Live is a really interesting platform for advertisers. For those who are not familiar, the XBox Live Dashboard is a menu with a series of categories, and within the categories, there are scrollable 300×250 panels. Some panels are image ads while others are streamable videos or demos for future XBox games. As Fuson points out in the video, most people will have their controllers in hand instead of a cell phone or anything else that distracts their attention. When consumers dive into a portal on the XBox Live Dashboard, they are choosing to view or interact with the advertisement–and from previous articles on this site, we know that when a consumer chooses to view an advertisement or branded content, engagement and brand loyalty simply sky rockets.

Fuson also gives us some insight on the future of XBox Live, such as bringing Live to Windows Mobile, where live users can collect gamer points on the go. Just under 50% of Xbox Live users own a Kinect (present company included), an add-on to the XBox. Microsoft is encouraging brands to make interactive ads that take advantage of the Kinect’s voice control and motion detection abilities.

Some other developments involve using combined search engine data between MSN, XBox Live, and the Windows Mobile browser and using it for future measurements.

Nerdgasm and the Mario Sweater Vest

The analog remix speaks to the growing maturity of digital culture.

The Nintendo Mario Sweater

The Mario Sweater Vest — Happy Seamstress. Used with permission.

Nerdgasm, n., an involuntary reflex of disproportionate scale to something most people don’t get or understand.

In the early eighties I was a squeaky pre-teen living just outside the suburban band that surrounds Boston. It was a town of five thousand, a lot of land, one stoplight and no public transportation.

Bikes got us to friends’ houses. We tromped a lot in the woods. In the winter there was snow and a fairly big hill behind our house.

And that was pretty much life.

Until 1983 or so. That was the year those with Ataris started getting this game called Donkey Kong. Gone went the bikes and the hikes through the woods. Life became much more complex. There was a princess to be saved, a gorilla — who I somehow identified with — to be battled and, of course, our digital, 8-bit self: Jumpman.

Yes, if we remember back almost thirty years, Mario didn’t become Mario until joined by his brother Luigi in Mario Bros. And when that came out, along with Donkey Kong Junior and later Super Mario Bros, the bikes basically rusted as those of us on the outskirts of Boston suburbia holed up with our game consoles for afternoons on end.

Which led me to this nerdgasm the other night. The Mario Sweater Vest is a throwback of the best sort. It’s also an example of analog remixing I’m seeing more and more of.

The mashup and the remix is digital culture’s basic platform. We hear it most easily in our electronic music: Moby, for example, made his name by remixing the old — the analog — into the new.

This isn’t to say remixing didn’t exist before. Walt Disney famously remixed Buster Keaton into a mouse that eventually became Mickey. It’s just that digital culture is remix culture on steroids.

But the sweater vest takes us the other way by transforming the primitive early graphics of a global gaming phenomenon back into a most analog of mediums: the knitted sweater.

The digital to analog remix happens elsewhere. Take, for instance, this video of the Bad Plus’ remix of Aphex Twin.

Like the sweater, it’s pulling digital bits back to a tangible analog.

All this I think is a good thing. Digital culture is young yet, I know, kind of like us squeaky kids of so long ago.

But as both subject and object of a new generation of remix artists it’s maturing and coming into its own. Dare I say it might be about to get old.


Virtual Space Station Sells for $300,000

Real world dollars, and a lot of them, are forked over for a piece of virtual real estate.

Slack, meet jaw. Sometimes you just have to sit back and read.

Via VentureBeat:

Sold: One virtual space station for $330,000 in real money. It may sound insane, but the buyers and sellers here clearly believe there’s gold in the virtual world of Planet Calypso.

A little background: the space station is called the Crystal Palace and the buyer is the gloriously named Buzz Erik Lightyear. Like Linden Labs’ Second Life economy, players use virtual currency — in this case 3.3 million Project Entropia dollars — that they can exchange for real world lucre.

This video gives a sense of the place.

Via Fast Company:

All the excitement is happening inside MindArk’s Project Entropia virtual universe game. This system includes the Planet Calypso virtual world, and here is where the Crystal Palace space station hovers. It’s been carefully built up to include thousands of intricate details, and recently went up for auction by Marcus Calendar the Estate Broker inside MindArk’s system, for an opening price of 1 Project Entropia dollar.

Via us: Interesting to note that the Swedish government recognizes Project Entropia’s virtual economy. In the flurry of top 10 lists and 2010 trends to watch out for that hit these tubes over the last month, few mentioned the growth and integration of our first and second life economies.

Good thing its never to late to add to a list.

Cops Nab Suspect Through Online Game

Alleged drug dealer caught via World of Warcraft, Google Earth.

When an Indiana cop learned an alleged drug dealer he was tracking was an online gamer, he got in touch with his inner geek and set to work.

Matt Roberson, a deputy in the Howard County Sheriff’s Department, learned his suspect had skipped the country and was somewhere in Canada. How to find him became possible once he learned Alfred Hightower played World of Warcraft, the massively multi-player, massively popular, online role playing game.

A subpoena to WoW maker Blizzard Entertainment netted Roberson Hightower’s account information. From there, it became a case of virtual police work.

“I did a search off the IP address to locate him,” said Roberson. “I got a longitude and latitude. Then I went to Google Earth. It works wonders. It uses longitude and latitude. Boom! I had an address. I was not able to go streetside at the location, but I had him.”

A call from Indiana to the Canadian Mounties later and Hightower’s on his way back to Howard County to face charges.

The Effects of File Sharing, EU Style

The Dutch government commissions a report on the social and economic effects of file sharing and discovers that it’s all good.

A lot can be said for shifting our gaze from our navel and focusing instead on the entire belly. In this case, the social and economic effects of file sharing.

By file sharing I mean the good, the bad and the ugly in the debate. This includes those in the record industry whose blood reaches a fevered boil at the mere mention of the phrase to their ideological opposites who insist that all content everywhere must, should, will and at all times be free.

As a US citizen, I generally follow only what’s happening here in terms of copyright, file sharing and what in the past I’ve called mental squatting. That, for worse and worse, is how we do things here in America. (Although, in moderate defense, I have been following New Zealand’s recent copyright battles.)

But with a desire to be a bit more worldly in my understanding, I started reading a report commissioned by the Dutch government on the social and economic effects of file sharing on the music, film and gaming industries.

Color me amazed.

US debates circle endlessly around producers and consumers with each reduced to a function of the dollar amount added or subtracted to the entire industry. That is, the argument is generally won or lost on proof that behavior (i.e., file sharing or its prevention) benefits a producing agency such as a record label.

For example, if you can’t demonstrate that file sharing benefits or injures the recording industry, you’ve lost the argument. The goalposts in our US debate are strictly aligned to what positively or negatively affects an industry.

The Dutch go about this differently. They bring in another potential beneficiary. Cleverly enough, they’re called citizens. And what amazes me in this report is the very simple move of bringing in the collective commons as an equally worthy participant in any analyses of whether file sharing harms or benefits society.

The research shows that the economic implications of file sharing for welfare in the Netherlands are strongly positive in the short and long terms. File sharing provides consumers with access to a broad range of cultural products, which typically raises welfare. Conversely, the practice is believed to result in a decline in sales of CDs, DVDs and games.

That the report talks about overall societal welfare is eye opening to begin with. That it recommends that the benefit of such welfare is equal to that of the producing agents is something unheard of in our Stateside debates.

Determining the impact of unlicensed downloading on the purchase of paid content is a tricky exercise. In the music industry, one track downloaded does not imply one less track sold. Many music sharers would not buy as many CDs at today’s prices if downloading were no longer possible, either because they cannot afford it or because they have other budgetary priorities: they lack purchasing power. At the same time, we see that many people download tracks to get to know new music (sampling) and eventually buy the CD if they like it. To the extent that file sharing does result in a decline in sales (substitution), it usually entails a transfer of welfare from producers to consumers. With estimated welfare gains accruing to consumers totalling around €200 million a year in the Netherlands, music producers and publishers suffer turnover losses of at most €100 million a year.

You see what they did there? The emphasis is mine but there’s a “transfer of welfare from producers to consumers.” This is not a dollar amount, although the report’s authors quantify it. Instead, it’s a social good. It’s a cultural product that citizens otherwise would not have access to but can benefit from and are available through file sharing.

The Dutch view this as valuable. Instead of a US debate where dollars lost is a net loss in the zero sum game of US citizens defined as consumers, the authors of the Dutch report suggest that the transfer of — and access to — cultural assets is a societal good.

This is not to say that the report dwells solely on this idea or issue. Instead, it looks at new business models for the music, film and gaming industries where citizens are equal partners in the equation rather than blameworthy pirates to be sued by a nation’s recording industry.

What strikes me though is the Dutch reintroduction of the consumer-as-citizen, and the elevation of that citizenship to equal status with our corporations. It’s an argument lost in US debates on the issue. And one that should be found as we consider content in an age of digital reproduction.

The report can be found here.

That’s Not a Fun Game

Electronic Arts doubles their layoff target to one thousand people in hopes of saving $120 million in 2009.

Electronic Arts announced they are doubling their layoff target and plan to fire one thousand people — or 10% of its workforce — by March 2009. They video game maker says the cuts will save them $120 million as sales stagnate. Popular EA franchises such as NBA Live and Madden NFL aren’t selling like they used to and earlier this month the company reported it would miss it’s 2008 revenue target. (Hat Tip: Venture Beat & GigaOm)

Move Over Mario, Hello Shakespeare

Publishing companies are looking for a way — any way — to keep the book alive. So why not turn to game consoles.

Publishing companies are looking for a way — any way — to keep the book alive. So why not turn to game consoles. That’s what Nintendo and HarpersCollins are doing. Nintendo, creator of such classics as Mario Brothers, will now make Shakespeare, Dickens and Jane Austen among others in the HarperCollins’ 100 Classic Book Collection available via their portable gaming consoles. Filed under: Bring it to the people.

Google’s In-Game Advertising: Not to Be Ignored

I was asked by a reporter from CNET (where I’ve contributed) what I thought about Google’s announcement that they’re launching advertising for games. A lot’s not clear about what Google’s doing, but that they’re getting into gaming is certainly an endorsement of the platform as a place for ads, and means others will pay attention. It’s never prudent to denigrate a Google effort , any more than it is for Microsoft. (Remember how many poo-poo’d the idea of Internet Explorer being able to become a dominant browser?).

Here’s some of my quotes from the piece:
To Dorian Benkoil, the founder of Teeming Media, an online business consultancy, Google’s success at placing in-game ads, like that of its competitors, will come down to how well it is able to integrate those messages in games.

“What I’ve seen,” said Benkoil,” is that the community of gamers tend to be very vocal and emotional about anything that they find that isn’t well integrated into a game. So if Google is doing an AdSense initiative, I would hope that they would do it in a seamless way that isn’t interruptive of the gaming experience. Because if not, they would face some backlash.”

Benkoil said that his research has also indicated that in-game ads may not be as effective as those in other media. That’s because, he suggested, gamers spend a lot of time on the sites and in the games where they play, but they are deeply engaged in what they’re doing and are not very interested in looking at things, like ads, that may be a distraction.

Minor niggle: I didn’t really say “my research” but rather just conversations with media buyers and planners. I also mentioned that I teach an MBA-level digital marketing course, where we happen to have done games as a platform last lesson.