In-game advertising has been a hot topic for years, but it wasn’t until broadband really took off that the topic was thrust into most gamers’ awareness. Streaming technology had been around for years, but with the advent of high-speed services like Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, would-be advertisers finally had an avenue to reach millions of gamers with their streamed, on-screen ads. And of course, when Microsoft bought the ad-serving company Massive Inc., gamers knew it was just a matter of time before ads exploded onto their shooters and action games.
Crackdown provided an entree into ads, with in-game billboards featuring companies like Chevy, but it wasn’t until Rainbow Six: Vegas that streaming ads really took off. With ads served on in-game billboards based on a gamer’s geographic location, Rainbow Six: Vegas’ ads were contextual, (mostly) relevant and effectively delivered. Still, they were just ads. But today, Ubisoft kicked-off an in-game ad campaign that represents perhaps the first time in-game ads have been done right.
To promote the upcoming film “Tropic Thunder,” Ubisoft, Massive and Paramount Pictures have placed an interactive scavenger hunt in Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 that encourages gamers to interact with the dynamic in-game ad campaign, take action from the clues and get rewarded at the final stage of the hunt.
Here’s how it works: Gamers will see a series of nine branded clues within Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, each leading them to the next clue until they successfully reach the end of the scavenger hunt. Everyone who completes the scavenger hunt will receive an invitation to join Ubisoft’s VIP club (no strippers involved) and the chance to download a free digital VIP map for Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. Those who finish the hunt will also be entered into two prize drawings, one for a “Tropic Thunder” prize pack, the other for an Xbox 360 Elite.
Whether they game or not, consumers are increasingly tuning out display ads, and even in-game advertisements are overlooked in light of gamers’ primary in-game objectives. But making the ad itself an in-game objective? This is an absolutely brilliant move, and it’s the first campaign we know of that fully leverages the capabilities of the interactive medium.
Whether the campaign actually increases Tropic Thunder’s box-office results has yet to be seen, and in our humble opinion, it won’t make much difference. However, from a buzz-building and awareness point of view, the ad campaign has already done its job. It’s also probably just a matter of time before Microsoft announces a promotion whereby everyone who completes the scavenger hunt will receive a redemption code to rent “Tropic Thunder” for free when the movie becomes available via Xbox Live Marketplace, thus completing the Microsoft-inspired loop (remember, Microsoft owns Massive).
Either way, expect more innovative campaigns like this to creep up in games where it makes sense. Electronic Arts is creating ad-supported PC games such as Battlefield Heroes, but this campaign to promote user interaction with ads is bound to spawn dozens of duplicates. Aside from the ingenuity of it all, which we fully appreciate, the best part of this new-look ad campaign is that it gives the games an almost open-world feel: All gamers may see the ads, but those who know about the hunt can interact with them while all others just go along on their merry way. That’s interactivity. That’s freedom of choice. And that’s the most creative use of in-game advertising we’ve seen to date. Finally, somebody has done in-game ads right. Who’d have ever thought it’d be Microsoft?
— Jonas Allen