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Putting advertising into video games might seem like a great way to reach an attentive audience, but a recent study reveals a counterintuitive relationship between in-game violence and the impact of advertising.

A team of European and U.S. researchers found ads displayed along with violent scenes to be more memorable to players than those shown with nonviolent content, even though players spent less time looking at them. The results are contrary to expectations stemming from research on television, where violence has been shown to decrease attention to advertisements. Developing a better understanding of the way advertising works in games could help game companies enhance their advertising strategies.

André Melzer from the University of Luxemburg and colleagues developed a simple racing game called AdRacer to test the way violence affects a player’s response to in-game advertising. A player drives around a virtual course and scores points by hitting targets along the way–as she drives, unobtrusive graphical ads are displayed as billboard graphics on the side of the track, while a camera records her eye movements. After playing, each player’s ability to recall of brands shown on the side of the road was tested.

Those who played a violent version of the game, where the goal was to run down pedestrians, resulting in a blood-splattered screen, demonstrated significantly better recall of advertised brands than those who played the regular version. The researchers presented their work at the International Conference on Entertainment Computing last year.

The in-game advertising industry is predicted to grow rapidly, with PricewaterhouseCoopers suggesting it’ll be worth $1.4 billion in 2013, up from an around $886 million this year. Even so, some companies have struggled to make enough money from in-game advertising. This month game company id Software, announced that a previously ad-supported game called Quake Live would become subscription supported because advertising had failed to generate enough revenue.

Jonathan Epstein, CEO of Double Fusion, a company that sells in-game ad technology, says new strategies are needed to help the industry grow. “Continued innovation in ad units will help provide more options for the different types of buyers trying to reach the gaming audience.”

One problem for in-game marketing is that players can get frustrated if advertisements impede play. Double Fusion discovered this when it recently tried to introduce in-game advertising to Sony’s Wipeout game. The companies had to abandon the plan when players complained about extended ad sequences that displayed before playing, resulted in slow load times.

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Credit: André Melzer

Tagged: Business, advertising, video games

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