199: An Endemic Problem

An Endemic Problem

These days, gaming publications are increasingly reliant on videogame publishers to advertise on their sites. But with the audience for videogames growing by the day, why haven't other brands taken advantage of these venues? Rob Zacny speaks with advertisers and game journalists about why endemic advertising isn't going away anytime soon.

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So, what are Themis Media and, by extension, The Escapist doing to fix their half of this problem? I see an awful lot of banners for videogames on here...

Video Game adverts on a site that heavily revolves around video games isn't really a problem in itself; That's sort of like questioning why they show movie previews before starting the movie you paid to see. There's only a problem if all other possible advertisers are actively refusing to advertise with such websites/content providers. Such a thing has been known to happen for two common reasons; the advertisers and site publishers aren't able to reach a mutually agreeable deal, or, the advertisers are scared off by poor traffic trends. In either case there's only so much that a publication can do within reason to attract new/varied advertisers.

We all know there is no quality video-game journalism and the advertising structure has a lot to do with that.

Endemic ads although not producing anything but hopeful reinforcement in-of-itself may become tiring, page after page after page telling you "This Game is good. 4/5. (BUY THIS GAME, only $50.00) That game is a meh, but we like how big the boobs are. 5/5 (BUY THAT GAME FROM YOUR LOCAL WAL-MART)", but with the current clientele they are sold to, a Soap or chair ad might be rather.. 'alien', if not euphemistically offensive.

I haven't bought a gaming print publication in a while, but from what I recall, the ads that weren't for games usually tried to have an 'extreme gamerz' edge to them. Computer hardware that turns a geek into a wild-haired barbarian, that kind of thing. Super embarrassing. More contemporary failures include hijacking l33tsp34k and looking foolish in the process.

Perhaps if advertisers stopped treating the gamer audience as a strange breed of alien that they need to converse with 'on their own terms' (read: implementing as many stereotypes as possible), their forays into this space might be received more warmly.

I've always thought one of the reasons more advertisers don't take advantage of the gaming press is because they know their fundamental weakness in this area: advertisers don't understand how to market anything other than games to gamers.

We, as gamers, actively mock any and all attempts to advertise non-game products with "gamer sensibilities." Gillette's gamer razor? Gamer grub? What the hell? We even get bristly over game-related ads that don't fit with our idea of the culture. How many times have you seen one of those people-too-beautiful-to-be-gaming ads where they've got that I'm-painfully-excited-about-this-smile and scoffed?

Advertisers will always be afraid of marketing to gamers until they have a better grasp on what advertising works. They're still a long way off right now.

I have done the best I can to entirely strip ads out of my life, and apart from the movie ads on bus shelters, its worked. Being advertised to just pisses me off.

I thought that it was best said over at the "A Life Well Wasted" podcast in the "Death of EGM" episode*.

"EGM was a print magazine trying to sell to people who no longer use the print medium."

Consider. Most gamers in that precious 18-35 age zone are the are among the reasons newspapers are dying. We don't read newspapers anymore, if we ever did. Likewise, what's the incentive to pay to get an issue of EGM, when I can get similar content online for free at Gamespy, Gamespot, or yes, the Escapist? Not only is the online material free, its also updated as soon as news comes in, where-as the print magazine can't possibly alter itself once the magazine's been shipped.

Therefore, while I'll agree that the advertising policies are likely contributing to the decline of traditional print gaming journalism, we have to recognize that print journalism in general is declining due to the internet, and factor in that gamers are even more likely than most to get our news there.

* = http://alifewellwasted.com/2009/01/23/episode-one-the-death-of-egm/

Well doesn't that article show how hopelessly lost the advertising industry is in dealing with video games. Not to mention how hopelessly lost gamer magazines are in dealing with advertising. I didn't see one single honest reason in that entire article. Not one. Just a crapload of contradictory excuses. If they'd just LISTEN to themselves, they'd realize how idiotically shortsighted they're being about this. First they go, "Yeah, your audience is desirable, but we're afraid they're too niche to connect with our product" and then in the same breath go, "We're also afraid your audience ISN'T niche anymore, which makes us less interested in you." WTF is that except a bad excuse? And why is it that marketing thought processes always seem like this? Is their payscale proportional to the whininess of their voice and how much they're able to obfuscate & avoid opportunities? That's the only explanation I can think of cuz it's honestly not. That. Hard.

Seriously guys.

Like, start with car ads and work your way out from there. Car companies are whores, they'll market to anyone.

Wait, gaming was "cool"? I thought it mostly got considered nerdy except for the sports games and such because the jocks played thsoe and jocks have more say in what's cool than nerds.

IronManMan:
Video Game adverts on a site that heavily revolves around video games isn't really a problem in itself;

It's a conflict of interest though. On one hand the media want to report reliably and without unnecessary skew, on the other hand most of their money comes from companies who are strongly interested in skewing the articles. Their goal is to sell as many readers to the advertisers as possible but game advertisers want to alter the bait as well and the publication risks ending up with a bait that looks too much like a hook to be swallowed anymore.

With everyone going to the internet to get their news, I'd give up on advertising to produce cash entirely. If I were The Escapist, I'd just start hosting and selling indie and browser games. Look at the other download services. Steam is becoming more like a magazine everyday, same for Amazon.

Content, content, and more content.

KDR_11k:
Wait, gaming was "cool"? I thought it mostly got considered nerdy except for the sports games and such because the jocks played thsoe and jocks have more say in what's cool than nerds.

IronManMan:
Video Game adverts on a site that heavily revolves around video games isn't really a problem in itself;

It's a conflict of interest though. On one hand the media want to report reliably and without unnecessary skew, on the other hand most of their money comes from companies who are strongly interested in skewing the articles. Their goal is to sell as many readers to the advertisers as possible but game advertisers want to alter the bait as well and the publication risks ending up with a bait that looks too much like a hook to be swallowed anymore.

Actually yes, in the late 90's and early 00's gaming was quite popular. It was cool to be "tech savy" even if you knew one or two parts of the computer. Saying I use Linux or upgrading the RAM on my motherboard from 2 gig to 4 gig was considered impressive to plebians who wanted to remain ignorant.

Now that technology has become more widespread and everyone pretty much has to use technology it just isn't as impressive. The iphone for example makes people think they are trendy and well off. So many people have it despite eating their own disposable income alive because they get a touch screen interface.

I agree completely with the article (and honestly, that Goldsheyd sounds like an echo of my Crisis Communication professor's views on marketing). It's the advertiser's wariness of gamers and the "gamer culture" that gives way to things like Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel and that Gilette Fusion for Gamers or whatever it was called. It's as if the gamer is on a different plane of existence than other human beings. And honestly, I don't know if such marketing approaches are amplifying that misguided notion or just simply responding to it.

Lvl 64 Klutz:
...It's as if the gamer is on a different plane of existence than other human beings...

You mean we arnt on another plane of existence?? When I think of how far the interests and culture of my 'gamer' friends (both online and off) deviates from the 'normal' friends...I dont blame the advertisers for having a hard time breaking into the 'gamer psyche'.

Sean Sands summed up the reaction a lot of adult gamers have to the advertising reaching them through gaming outlets: "I don't know if you're aware of this, but I actually use other products besides videogames. I purchase other things. ... I once actually bought, and used, a bar of soap."

Are you implying that non-adult gamers don't use soap?

On topic, advertising in game publications is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed, but I think it'll take little less than a complete disaster for things to change.

People are stubborn. I actually think gaming will be stuck in this phase of "half-mainstream, half-not" for quite a while yet.

Yeah... I don't want to be exploited, I don't know about the rest of you gamers.

I have a sub to PC Gamer that's about to expire, because they charge an extra 5 bucks if you renew vs. if you get a brand new sub, and I think that's utter rubbish.

It's not just the advertising that's the problem, it's the underhanded tactics at trying to squeeze an extra one out of us just because we're gamers.

I think they need to take a look at what gamers actually buy and market to that. As posts above say, products don't need special versions for gamers to sell to gamers. All that does is alienate readers as the marketing is always laughable. They should take a lead from magazines like Wired who advertise from a broad base of products that appeal to their readership and are sufficiently in touch with their readers to know what will work.

I think really this is masking a larger problem though. Print magazines for gaming news have been falling in quality for years. When all of the news has already been online for weeks before the magazine release they need to be selling themselves on quality. This is what sets publications like Edge apart as they employ talented writers to make the content worth reading.

The time when a magazine could sell based on exclusive reviews and a coverdisc of demos is long gone. Exclusive means nothing when anyone can post a review online and demos are distributed straight through the console/internet.

A £5 cover price can't be justified when the coverdisc goes straight in the bin and the writing is barely above a high school level.

As a man who studied marketing, I found this a very interesting article. Yeah, it's no wonder that a kind of media that's directed at a group who is pretty much defined as not being interested in that media is dying. The interent is swallowing up most of magazines' audience. I think the last gaming magazine I bought was years ago, because I wanted the E3 issue, but the issue I bought had been printed before the E3 content was through, so it had nothing on it, even though it had hit the stands after it. So I had lots of sites full of contents for free, and a magazine I had to pay for and wait for a month for a stripped down version of that content.

There's also the fact that, since gamers are so used to the endemic ads, they might find non-gaming ads strange. I think a brand new magazine that positioned itself differently would be more likely to receive more diverse ads.

Then again, if even MAD magazine, which often includes fake spoof ads, could also get advertisers, why not gaming magazines?...

Tenmar:

KDR_11k:
Wait, gaming was "cool"? I thought it mostly got considered nerdy except for the sports games and such because the jocks played thsoe and jocks have more say in what's cool than nerds.

Actually yes, in the late 90's and early 00's gaming was quite popular. It was cool to be "tech savy" even if you knew one or two parts of the computer. Saying I use Linux or upgrading the RAM on my motherboard from 2 gig to 4 gig was considered impressive to plebians who wanted to remain ignorant.

Now that technology has become more widespread and everyone pretty much has to use technology it just isn't as impressive. The iphone for example makes people think they are trendy and well off. So many people have it despite eating their own disposable income alive because they get a touch screen interface.

Don't think that gaming was ever 'cool' from a popular perspective. From a business perspective it became cool in the late 90's because as noted above it became popular during that period. This resulted in a flourish of capital investment as businesses tried to jump in to the new growth market. This phase dies out as the population didn't react. Big companies threw marketing money at big events, celebrity endorsement and trying to create an aura around gaming. The gaming population wasn't impressed, the rest of the population was no more interested in games as a result.

I fear Needham's assessment of this 'cool' period was not based on when it was popularly held to be cool but when he received a market-research report that linked young people and an expanding industry.

The problem strikes me as that advertising is focussd in the wrong direction. They seem to be attacking it like the music industry, looking for a new big band or movement to deify. Though there are similarities to music in some respects games are far closer to films. A band has many avenues of appeal, primary; music quality, band image, live performance and secondary; continued press coverage, public interest. To this extent trend setting and fashionability is far more important as the band must develop a continued relationship with its audience. Video games have a different sales pattern as a whole, press coverage and public interest are far more important pre-release to build hype, anticipation breeds sales. Trend setters are only as important as far as they can build a following, yet games as a stand alone product are less able to do so (World of Warcraft and others notable exceptions). Focus for gaming should be based on a more movie based model, more front loaded and aimed towards drumming up anticipation, not trying to build up a cult following as you would around a band.

I miss E.G.M.

From the sound of the article, there is a lot of guessing among both publications and advertisers regarding what to do about the current situation of gaming journalism. However, there were a couple of key undertones that I detected. The first is that there is a lot of fear of the unknown on the part of the advertisers and the publications. Neither is really sure how to proceed and are so risk adverse that they have paralyzed themselves into inaction rather than experiment to try to find something, anything, that might improve the situation.

The second undertone is that it sounds like neither advertisers nor publishers are really sure what "kind" of people comprise gamers. Sure, it's easy to say that the Wii has made gamers include everyone, but this is not attempting to actually understand the new market space, in my opinion. There are still clusterings of particular preferences and interests among various sub-groups within the demographic of gamers, different age groups, different ethnicities, different common passions. Part of the task is identifying those people and what kind of games they tend to play and what other interests they tend to have that would make sense to juxtapose in a single publication along with video games. This would better guide, in my opinion, the types of products(outside of the games, themselves) that could be advertised in the publication.

Basically, one needs to know what kind of people are reading the publications and what their basic interests are, and then the publication needs to talk about those interests(more than just a focus on games). Maybe something like a general geek's magazine where you focus on games in general(video games, card games, and board games), manga and anime(a typical common interest of those into gaming), comics, and maybe throw in cars, machines, tech news, science, or other things(these are all just suggestions for example and not meant as a blue-print to solution).

There is a third voice I heard in the article, not so much an undertone as a footnote. Simply, there is still a large perception that the only people who are gamers are kids, those age 18 or younger, lacking income or social position to make significant financial decisions. Much of this perception, I think, is due to how gaming as an industry continues to present itself and how the content of gaming is still designed mostly as amusement-park thrill rides, rather than any serious commentary on the human condition, the events in our lives, and the possibilities of the future(trite, cliché dystopian visions of the future don't count; anyone and everyone keeps creating that kind of cynical, pessimistic garbage).

Gaming is not seen as a serious activity of personal growth; instead, it's seen as just a toy, and I think the fault for that lies in the kinds of games that are developed and the content of those games. Games are designed to be fun, but does fun have to necessarily exclude the ability to inform, educate, or enlighten? Part of the problem, I think, is that game development seems to fail to understand that there are multiple modes to gaining enjoyment and satisfaction from an activity; fun is only just one such mode. If gaming started taking on more modes beyond trying to have fun, gaming may be able to be taken more seriously and be seen as a more contemporary and adult activity. But, in doing this, it must do better than some of the "14-year-old playing dress-up" attempts that have been concocted so far. The very attitude, mindset, and philosophical perspective of gaming has to become more mature and sophisticated.

Going back to an earlier point about juxtaposing other interests with gaming, publications could also mold their conversation such to create relationships between gaming and the other interests presented. This could help build continuity and a unique voice to the publication and give more relevance to gaming aside from being a play-time-like activity(I would also get rid of the constant references to "addictive" gameplay and other drug allusions when talking about games; it adds a very negative "for loser junkies" connotation to the whole of gaming, and there has to be a better way to talk about something being fun).

I won't say I have the answers, myself. This is just my observation and opinion on the matter.

I've been playing video games since I was five and not once has an ad focused on selling "extreme"-ness ever worked on me. I think part of the problem with advertising to traditional gamers is that we're being taken for a ride we didn't ask for. Yes, I play video games. I also read books, go to movies, go hiking, enjoy an hour at the gym every day, drink craft beer, work in science, and many more things. I believe the problem with advertising through these channels is they think we're the same idiots you market Budweiser to. They believe that we're all just going head over heels for some busty blonde in skimpy clothing and while that marketing works for some, it's not getting at the whole slice of gamers (rather the most annoying childish type that drives the rest of us crazy).

The key, at least in advertising to me, is that you won't sell me on an image. I am used to developers falling short of what they promised in a game, delaying releases without end and treating me, their customer, as a criminal. Perhaps advertisers might realize this builds in a healthy quantity of skepticism. If you try to sell me on the idea that I will be happier in all ways and have a better sex life if I buy your product, I'm going to laugh at you. On the other hand, if you sell me a realistic representation of what a product does, I might take notice. Of course, this assumes you're not just shoveling crap I don't want or need in the first place (ahem, 3D television, PS Move, crappy beer, expensive cologne and anything with the name Uwe Boll attached to it).

 

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