We take the essence of their brand and try to inject that into some sort of gameplay that makes sense, and also keep in mind the target audience. We've done a game for Always tampons - how do you make a game for a feminine product? Sometimes you've got to really think way out there.
We just released a game for Panasonic promoting one of their Toughbooks to the medical community. Panasonic wanted to do something fun. We did some medical games. One of the games was called Treat It or Eat It. We've taken photos of either food, a disease or something really disgusting. As it's revealing more of the photo, you quickly decide whether you "treat it" or "eat it." Here's a computer company doing something totally disgusting that's a lot of fun. It gives them a chance to break out of their standard-issue advertising mold and do something wacky.
TE: Is there a conflict a lot of times trying to balance making a game that's fun as opposed to designing one that delivers the client's message?
DN: All the time. All the time. There's a lot of misconceptions of what [customers] want and how they play. We've experienced over half a billion game plays, and so we have a lot of knowledge that we've learned from our users. We try to educate [clients] what their audience will play, how much of a marketing message is too much. We have had to walk away from some projects before. But generally advertisers are pretty accepting of the direction that we try to point them. It's a balancing act of managing their expectation and trying to create something for the user.
TE: Which side usually wins out?
DN: (chuckles) Generally, the one paying the bill.
We build a lot of games just for ourselves. So creatively and professionally we satisfy that need. But we do build games that we're not happy with the direction that it went. We'll remove our name from the game.
TE: Are there certain game genres that don't work well in the advergame format?
DN: I could tell you which ones are extremely popular. The puzzle, casual categories are extremely popular. We have yet to do a shooter.
TE: Why is that?
DN: Well, most brands don't want to associate themselves with any kind of violent act.
We're starting to do a lot of games in educational, training areas. We're building games that educate employees, sales staff, students. Nowadays people in the business world have grown up playing games, and so they don't look at it as this thing that kids do.
TE: How does the advertising industry currently regard the idea of using games to advertise?
DN: It's unbelievable. Our business has grown over 250 percent the last year. The scope of the projects are getting in the seven figures. We have a broad range of projects we're working on all the time.
TE: Where do you see advergames evolving in the coming years, in respect to the overall videogame industry?
DN: Internet users have [an] insatiable appetite for free content. Most don't want to pay for content if it has an advertising message. There are ads being put in games that people are having to buy; I for one don't want to spend 50 bucks and see an advertisement. However, as long as developers are creating games that happen to be sponsored, it will grow quite a bit. It's going to move towards the console market. I think ad-supported content is going to win out in the long run. There's only so many $60 shooters a person is going to buy.
TE: So you predict that not only will there be continued growth in the advergame business, but also that a lot of downloadable games will be given away for free, supported by ad sponsorships?
DN: As long as they are fun games, people are going to be very accepting of that. When I buy a game, I don't think I should get ads.
Howard Wen did not goof off playing an advergame during office hours while transcribing and editing this interview.