Using Biometrics to Measure Ads in Video Games: What Works, What Doesn’t

The effective design of in-game ads – billboards, product placements (like the Nike shoes, seen above), or scoreboards sponsored by car companies within popular video games – is again becoming a much-debated topic. Sure, in-game ads aren’t anything new. But what is: researchers are using biometrics to measure how and why in-game ads are grabbing eyeballs, quite literally. Using infrared eye-tracking devices, they’re able to observe where gamers are looking when playing, and for how long. Are gamers paying attention at all? Or are they too busy shooting basketballs and enemies to notice real-world brands?

A study released on July 23 by Double Fusion, a company that creates and places in-game ads in popular games by publishers such as Take Two Interactive’s 2K and 2K Sports labels, provides pretty interesting data on what types of ads work and which tend to fail. I sat down with Jonathan Epstein, Double Fusion’s president and CEO in New York last week, to chat about the study’s results (it should be noted that the company looked at ads that it didn’t help produce or place, as well as those that it did).

The San Francisco-based company, which partnered with with Santa Monica, Calif.-based consulting firm Interpret, enlisted San Diego’s Eye Tracking, Inc., to test the retinal movements of 100 young, male “moderate and enthusiastic” gamers between the ages of 13-34 as they reacted to in-game ads. The players were based in three cities: New York, L.A., and London. They played for 20 minutes, and were taped for only ten minutes of their play time. The gamers were told the researchers were simply observing game-play patterns, but not that they were observing them to see how much attention was paid to in-game ads.

Some valuable bits of info I took from our talk:

1.) Location, location, location. Ads place on a gamer’s eye level attract more attention, even if small in size. Placed as such, gamers look at them 38% longer than large ads not placed at eye level.

2.) Newbies notice. Novice players are 76% more likely to pay attention to in-game ads than experienced gamers, who are more absorbed in game play.

3.) Simple is better. Gamers look at ads placed on simple screens within a game three times longer than those placed on cluttered screens with a lot of text.

This is just a small sampling. While the data is targeted for potential advertisers – to prove that in-game ads do work – game designers can certainly pay attention, too. On one level, they could design games that are more conducive to effective ads, which would raise revenue for the gaming industry. On another level, they could use this data to design better games, by placing key objects in areas where gamers are looking, or apply the observation about simplicity to overall design. (Coincidentally, the August issue of Wired magazine features a story on biometric research on in-game ads in Electronic Arts' new racing game, Need for Speed: Carbon, conducted by Bunnyfoot, a behavioral research firm. The article points out that gamers don't really pay attention to in-game ads. Gamers of all ages and experience levels: what are your thoughts?)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.