Thereâ??s big excitement in the world of the sensible hatchback. The Toyota Yaris now comes with additional extras which would encourage many of us to clamour for a test drive at our nearest Toyota dealership.

Driving the brand

I am, of course, referring to a giant tentacle which reaches out of the sunroof and shoots at the kind of anti-social road users which are, sadly, all too common these days on our public roads: namely toasters, robotic rabbits and bike-riding sumo wrestlers.

Unfortunately this special edition is only available in the US and Canada and even more unfortunate for those of us stuck in rush hour traffic, where a giant tentacle would undoubtedly be of great use, this option is only available on the model in Yaris, an Xbox Live Arcade game.

Disappointing as this is for drivers in the real world, news of this game still caused something of a stir in the mainstream press, perhaps as this is the first ‘advergame’ made available for free download on Xbox Live Arcade. It is not, however, the first advergame to appear on the platform and will not be the last. In June, PepsiCo announced the Unlock Xbox competition, inviting design entries for a Doritos themed Xbox Live Arcade game, while MTV is reported to be investing $500 million in creating games for consoles, the internet and mobile.


So advergaming appears to be flavour of the month. There is nothing new in this: advergames – games specifically developed for the purpose of promoting a specific brand – have been around on the internet for years. And the use of games as a marketing tool in place of traditional forms of advertising, particularly TV, in order to reach the more elusive younger demographic has also been discussed at length in the marketing services industry. But advergames themselves often seemed to be overlooked by the games industry, with more emphasis being placed on product placement within established console and PC titles and the use of real time ad servers in networked games.

Perhaps this is about to change. And maybe the reason for this is the present generation of consoles and the success of more ‘casual’ games on platforms such as Xbox Live Arcade, which now make it possible (and affordable) for brand owners to create specific games for their products, which can be downloaded and played on consoles. Until the current generation, it was just not feasible to create bespoke advergames for consoles and product placement was the only real way of reaching console gamers. And product placement had its problems – the long lead time for titles, the difficulty for brand owners in controlling how their brand was used in the context of the overall development of the title, the danger that the introduction of the brand into an established title would backfire and that gamers would object to its inclusion. And, of course, there was always the cost and the difficulty in measuring the effectiveness of the brand placement itself.

But with a bespoke game, specifically developed for the brand in question, many of these difficulties disappear. And there is the phenomenal success of the Burger King Xbox games, which demonstrate clearly their effectiveness and herald a way forward for the industry. The three games were commissioned by Burger King’s advertising agency and developed by Blitz Games in the UK. Sold at Burger King outlets for $3.99 (with the purchase of a value meal) the games went on to sell 3.5 million copies in six weeks, making them at the time the third biggest selling game on the Xbox 360 platform. With those statistics, it is no wonder that brand owners are eager to emulate this success.

Yet, there are some specific issues involved in creating advergames for distribution on consoles, which brand owners need to bear in mind. They and their agencies will need to engage developers to create the games on their behalf – not least because those developers must be approved by the owner of the target platform, as well as having the skills and the tools to develop the game for that console. The games themselves also require prior concept approval by the platform owner, to ensure compliance with quality and other standards applicable to the console. Without that approval, development cannot go ahead.

If approval is given, the game will be subject to milestones and final testing by the platform owner, before it can be distributed on the console. Contracts will therefore need to be entered into with developers, covering off specifications, timescales, intellectual property ownership, brand owner involvement and, of course, payment. Additional costs, such as the platform owner’s licence and distribution fees, need to be factored in and the games will require an age rating before they can be published and may need to be localised.
Just like a normal game, then.

All these issues need to be covered off at an early stage. But the potential upside may lead to increasing collaboration between the games and marketing industries and more opportunities for gamers to engage with brands on a more interactive basis. Meanwhile I’m off to book a test drive.

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