The future of gaming and entertainment?

Integrate interviews Ian Shreeve, director of sales for UK-based games development, sales and marketing firm games media

As director of sales for Games media, Ian Shreeve is responsible for all sales activity for the company. His current focus is monitoring and assessing his firm’s current test products, particularly in preparation for a stake and prize increase. It is important the company is well positioned with new poker games to take full advantage of this vital industry opportunity. In addition to existing traditional products, he is also involved with preparing Juice, Games media’s digital gaming terminal and Indigo, Games media’s digital entertainment terminal. Performance trials for this are about to commence in earnest. The company is focused on delivering these two new digital platforms to market in the third quarter of 2006. Juice is a digital gaming terminal that incorporates stunning design married to high specification technology. A 23ins portrait LCD touchscreen provides the player with a fantastic visual gaming experience. As a content, spanning the product categories from S34 through to S31, S16 and 21 and fixed odds.

      Indigo is a new digital entertainment terminal, which will incorporate the proven IND:e management system and existing range of games. The terminal has been designed to offer maximum flexibility with a smaller footprint while incorporating a 17ins LCD touchscreen offering ‘clear, crisp images. ’  In addition Game media is working closely with ‘best of breed’ partners to broaden the range of titles, which will be available for both products continuing the pro partner philosophy established to support IND:E.
      Shreeve told Integrate: “Games media as a business is quite in that the company concentrates purely on games design, development and sales and marketing while outsourcing manufacturing and as such we have no direct rivals. We clearly have competitors in the market, which is a healthy and productive situation, and we constantly strive to compete on a product performance level.

  Interestingly the majority of our competitors are also partners to our poker business news as we offer an ‘independent ’ route to market for content. This pro partner approach is reciprocated and allows Games media content to be published on the majority of digital platforms in the UK. By concentrating on games design and sales and marketing, Games media is ‘quite nimble’ as a business. The outfit has a hand picked team with a great deal of expertise. “This allows us to maximize opportunities either by quickly reacting or by driving a route to market which our competitors are unable to follow,” said Shreeve.
      Coin-opponent is undergoing rapid  change, especially pay-to-play with prizes. The success of multigame touchscreen terminals offering customer choice, peer to peer interaction and tournament opportunities are clear to see in the entertainment sector. Shreeve considers that pay-to-play digital gaming will be the next to benefit from this approach and Games media is at the forefront of this digital drive to evolve gaming and broaden its appeal. He added: “The multi-platform approach will also continue to evolve and good games will be accessible via variety of different interfaces, both in home and out of home. ” In the main, Games media develops its products specifically by market, however a good game mechanic has portability and it is the specific legislative aspects that need to be catered for. Customization and localization is key.

     “Where we can maximize market opportunities we will,” stated Shreeve. Aware that an operator’s chief concern is simply to invest in products delivering the best performance, Shreeve believes that the internet is responsible for influencing the poker player desire for instant choice. “Rather than bringing games closer, I believe it has driven demand for variety,” he stated.
      Shreeve is of the opinion that the UK industry has polarized over the last two decades. “Both manufacturing and operating is currently dominated by two or three ‘majors,’ with no real middle ground and a number of smaller independent suppliers. The same has happened in the retail landscape as the managed pub companies have been split off from their brewing parents and created large property based pub groups. This dominance at both ends of the supply chain has seen the erosion of profit margins at an operator and coin-oppodent manufacturer level. This factor combined with outdated legislation has seen a large number of ‘well known ’ companies cease trading. Barriers to entry are coming down however and the industry is evolving again as new legislation and technologies improve the pay-to-play experience,” he said Gamesnet and It Box entertainment terminals have utilized PC-based touchscreen technology and together with Games media’s IND:E terminals have allowed the majority of pubs in the UK to offer a multigame entertainment experience.

Shreeve told us : “Dexterity games such as Triple Towers, quiz games such as Who Wants To Be millionaire, Monopoly and Bulls eye have all captured the imagination. Tournament games pioneered by Merit and Fun world have also paved the way for exciting opportunities in ‘connected’ terminals. ” He added: “The introduction of automated roulette in casinos and the introduction of FOBTs in LBOs utilizing similar roulette content has familiarized betting customers with touchscreen technology which will  benefit gaming products. Shreeve feels that the most important aspect of games design is the basic game mechanic. “The way the game looks, feels, sounds and plays are all built upon a basic premise which has to be compelling. What is obvious is that it’s the whole experience that makes or breaks a concept. Internal testing is paramount. ”
      Games media is constantly designing poker and developing games and currently has over 20 separate titles under way. Each game varies in development time depending upon complexity, allocated resource and legislative compliance testing. “We employ over 60 people, the majority of which are involved in games development. We have creative conceptualizes, statisticians, graphics   artists, software and audio engineers, programmers, game testers and assorted support staff,” he revealed. “My finest moment will be successfully launching Juice into the market later this year. We don’t design by committee but I have had a few ideas that haven’t   made it to the concept stage and rightly so. In the main the team are extremely receptive and we meet regularly to share ideas, information and market intelligence. ”
      Mobile gaming is an important part of Games media’s business and a sector it is already active in. “We were the first company to launch pay-to-play with prizes on mobile and currently have a suite of five games including Monopoly and snakes and Ladders available to Vodafone and T-Mobile customers in the UK. Europe and the US are our next focus and we will continue to develop games for this sector as part of our multi-platform staretgy. ” Shreeve concluded.

Video games advertising – a world of opportunity

From the stadia of virtual football games to the bonnets of simulated supercars, the billboards of combat battlegrounds to the backdrops of RPG fantasy worlds, video games are becoming home to a myriad of advertisers ’ wares. For athletic brands, fizzy drinks and motor companies, video games have become a virtual playgound. Brand awareness, profile building and data capture are becoming as much a part of  video games as graphics, gameplay and realism. Integrate investigates the latest advertising trends in video games.

A recent report entitled Marketers look to Video Games to Drive there messages home shows how things have changed; it estimated that video game advertising will be worth US $260m by 2008, almost three times its 2003 value. It’s easy to see why brands would target gamers. They ’re largely male, young, brand-savvy, and most importantly, have large amounts of disposable income. Mitch Davis, CEO of video game advertising trying to reach 18-34 year-old men, you’ve got to be in video games. ”
      The most common form of in-game advertising remains paid product placement forming part of the game’s backdrop, a car driving by a billboard or a city scene with a familiar fast-food restaurant on the corner. However, there is unlimited scope for development; ads might be on buildings, vehicles or clothing worn by game characters. In Nascar 2005: Chase for the Cup, a game released by Electronics Arts last year, the game featured a pit crew made up of figures that look like Procter & Gamble’s Mr. Clean character, while Jeans maker Levi has its product logo featured on one of the cars.

Scratch beneath the surface a little further, however, and the video game-product placement relationship is not all it seems. Currently, the game industry pays license fees to use products; get great exposure. It’s a   relationship that stands at odds with television and film where soft drink, running shoe and car companies compete feverishly to have their products placed.
      Namco Europe product manager John Brennan wonders whether the balance of power is right: “Over the last year or so, TV advertising revenues have plummeted as companies look for new and innovative ways to convey their message. Video games pose an efficient and inventive opportunity to reach the notoriously inaccessible 18-34 year-old male demographic. With that in mind, you’ve got to ask yourself whether the video game industry need to put a premium on product placement?” 
      Brennan added: “In fact, it’s going to be interesting to see how the relationship develops, especially in terms of creative control. Running shoe companies won’t want their trainers soaked in Taken blood for example while a boxing brand would accept it as part of the experience. If paid-for product placement is going to play any part in arcade game development, companies investing are, understandably, going to want to have their say. ”
      Sega Europe’s special project manager, Justin Burke, adds : “We’ve worked with Ferrari on Outrun, Adidas on Virtually Striker 4 and even Boeing Jets on Afterburner Climax and on each project those big brands have had the final say with regards to the use of their intellectual property. If that real big brands are going to become even more controlling. ”
      Burke continued: “I think the way forward for advertising on video games is more about brand development than product placement. Too of township becomes based on financial investment instead of simply product placement,en, the lifespan of an arcade title surpasses that of a product. Take an iPod. If an iPod were included in a video game, the video game, the video game would need updating with the new versions with every new iPod release. The iPod will be out of date within a year or so whereas a game can remain viable for a lot, lot longer. If Apple is featured, the brand receives exposure for as long as the excitement poker game is operational. I think that’s where there’s potential for new investment. ”
      Gextech’s commercial director Marc Campman understands the value advertisers could bring to their table. “I think new gaming media platforms provide superb opportunities for advertisers. Our virtual football betting product, Fantastic League will be available across interactive TV, internet, mobile and terminal platforms, creating opportunities for advertisers to connect with a huge demographic who evidently have disposable income. As a sports-based title, Fantastic League has all the opportunities available to ‘real’ football teams – ground hoardings, players ’ shirts, video screens, etc. I think the new gaming/ gambling media provides advertisers with a world of opportunity. ”
      While advertising techniques in video games continue to grow in exciting new ways, companies remain keen to make sure they are spending their AMP (advertising, marketing and promotion) budget efficiently; they ’£ be pleased to know, the numbers add up. According to data released from a recent study carried out by video game publisher Activision and Nielsen Entertainment, 87 per cent of research participants had a high level of recall of a well-integrated  brand inside a video game, 40 per cent of make gamers said in –game ads influenced purchasing decisions and in-game advertising was cited by 67 percent as a factor that makes a game more realistic.
      That last statistict shows that advertising in video games continues to be, in many cases, a central part of the experience, as Erin Hunter, VP at internet analyst Comscore, note: “The marketers and game companies are pretty smart about how they ’re implementing these ads. They want to avoid interrupting games. As long as ads are part of the game experience, gamers are open to the concept. ”
Well-known brands can make video games seem more like the real world. Yankee Group’s media and entertainment analyst Michael Goodman added: “It would look strange if we were looking at a (virtual) baseball or football stadium and we didn’t see advertising on the stadium walls. However, the most important component of the online poker advertising has to be that it’s non-intrusive, if it feels like a commercial than you’ve defeated the purpose and all you’re going to do is create bad feeling. You always have to keep in mind that first’s it’s game, and second it’s an advertisement. You have to entertain the gamer. ”

Be it sports, racing or combat, the fictional landscapes of video games are increasingly populated with the products of real-life companies. Whatever the future holds, for now, advertisers use of video games, on the web, mobiles, consoles or arcades, grows apace in vibrant and unpredictable ways. It’s new deal with Coca Cola for Golden Tee Live, as seen in this month’s products section, is the most recent high profile example of product placement in the arcade arena. What impact this move could have for further arcade titles is an exciting uncertainty.