It is both interesting, yet not surprising that advertising within games has become so prevalent. I have been a gamer all of my life – ever since Nintendo (regular, not super). I couldn’t help but chuckle when World of Warcraft was mentioned in a recent lecture that I attended, because I have also played – not only as a “player”, but also as a “guild master” who has “led” dozens of players into “battle”. My wife, Kelly, also a gamer and aspiring PHD student, also encountered a situation similar to yours at a conference at which she presented (every person in her Panel played WoW). Take these situations together with the pervasiveness and ease of access of (popular) games on devices such iPhones, Blackberrys and other highly used electronics (Angry Birds anyone?), one can finally say that gaming is no longer confined a cult-like following, but is now rather mainstream.
As gaming becomes more a part of the norm, it just plain makes sense that advertising would make its way into the fold. I believe, however, that the most difficult task that lies ahead for marketers is proving that ads within games are impactful. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy to track as web-advertising is. Advertisers will need to pay close attention to 1) the demographic they are targeting (this is important, as one would expect many WoW players, for example, to be teens, not in their mid 30s) and 2) the increase or decrease of sales from the campaign (in addition to all of the other campaigns going on). Sounds easy, but I am sure it is incredibly difficult, and a task for those much more intelligent than me.
There are still plenty of ripe opportunities to replace the ACME moving vans with “SEARS” or “WAL-MART”. The great thing about having these brands in games is it just “seems natural”. Therefore, players, in my opinion, won’t be overly against gaming companies selling the rights to the “scenery”. Also, popular mobile gaming “apps” have yet to get it right – in my humble opinion. Sure Apple has made “iAd” available to iOS (Android has something similar), but the ads that are displayed are still annoying popups (that I would assume have a very low clickrate). Integrating the ads into the overall user experience (as in the previous point) would go a long way. For one, it would be less annoying. Two, they still work “offline”.
Advertisers will sooner or later need to stop playing catchup and start anticipating the next form of communication. The world is changing very quickly due to the abundance of educated innovators. Technology, in my opinion, lowers barriers and unless advertisers are dedicating time and resources to ensuring the future is secure, all it could take is a bunch of guys from college to turn the entire industry upside down (examples: Google, Microsoft, Apple) .