Google on Measuring Impressions of In-Game Advertisements

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I remember reading a Stephen King novel a few years back and getting to a point where one of the characters in the book grabbed a coke to quench his thirst. There was no reason to mention a brand name in the story – it didn’t add to the plot, it didn’t make the story seem more realistic, and it felt like the novelist only included the brand name of the soft drink because he may have been paid to do so. I have no idea whether or not that’s actually the case, but it really lessened my appreciation of the novel.

In the world or universe of a game, someone driving down a freeway might see billboards on the side of the road that contain actual advertisements. Storefronts may carry signs, and recognizable buildings and logos products may appear within games during play. I wrote about some of the possible implementations of games that Google discussed in a patent filing they released on in-game advertising in a post titled Google Games Patent Filing on Targeted Advertisements.

A new patent filing from Google discusses how they might track and measure “impressions” of ads actually placed within a game.

Google does provide some information about advertising that they have shown within games on their pages, such as video, image, and text ads, and give us a case study on their help pages that show a character from a game introducing a video ad during a brief hiatus from gameplay. But they don’t seem to offer advertising within a game during actual gameplay. At least not yet.

The new patent application describes how a game impression might be measured:

The present specification describes a solution in which all impressions of a given type, e.g., a virtual billboard in the game, are consistently measured for all impressions within the same game, for all players of the game, and on all platforms on which the game is played. This provides advertisers a realistic measurement by which they can compare impressions and better understand their ROI for a given ad or campaign.

This is valuable to advertisers and their agents who seek to grasp the value of their efforts and their advertising expenditures. Additionally, the ability to understand and optimize ROI translates to greater advertising efficiencies, potentially leading to overall savings for advertisers.

The patent filing is:

In-Game Impressions
Invented by Daniel Willis, Michael Doiron
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20090144140
Published June 4, 2009
Filed November 30, 2007

The act of actually defining what an impression might be for in-game advertising placement may be the first step towards Google running such ads.

What kinds of things might be looked at when defining what an impression might be?

The things that may be considered could include:

  • Impression length,
  • Percentage of screen occupied by the ad,
  • Percentage of ad occlusion,
  • Quality of the ad impression, and;
  • Angle of vision.

Impression length – the number of continuous screen frames in which a player observes any part of an advertisement. Examples of minimum and maximum values might be 30 and 100 frames. If the frame rate might be based on a frame rate of 5 frames per second, if any part of an ad is observed continually for a minimum of 6 seconds and a maximum of 20 seconds, the impression length criteria will be deemed to be satisfied.

Percentage of the screen occupied by advertisement – An advertisement must cover a certain percentage of the screen to count as an impression. An example might be 25% of the screen.

Percentage of ad occlusion – The percentage of an ad hidden, possibly by another game object. As an example, if an ad is more than 35% occluded or hidden, it might not be counted as an impression.

Quality of ad impression – This could include things like the degree of interaction with an ad.

For example – if the advertisement is an actual object like a beverage that has a recognizable brand due to its “color, name, shape, trade dress, or the like,” the quality of the ad impression may vary based on whether or not a player or actor within the game interacted with it, or it was just visible within the game. If a game player “spills it, grabs it, drinks it, and the like,” that would be considered a higher quality level of interaction and may count as a higher quality ad impression.

Angle of vision – the perceived angle from which the advertisement is viewed. Is the ad in direct view of the game player, or at an angle to it, or looking away from it completely?

Many advertisers do provide the opportunity to present ads during gameplay, and even an Obama for President billboard was seen last year in an Xbox game.

Will Google start offering in-game ads that are integrated into actual gameplay sometime in the future?

How might game players react to such ads? Will they feel the same way that I did while reading that Stephen King novel and coming across what appeared to be a paid placement for Coca-Cola? Will they ignore the ads? Will they consider the ads unavoidable and the cost of playing a game for free or low cost?

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12 thoughts on “Google on Measuring Impressions of In-Game Advertisements”

  1. Hi Will,

    Most of the game players are children’s,

    1. If they find an ad while playing and on clicking on this which takes to another game or a website. If so then the player will not play the rest of the game (In almost 30-40%) if the ad is more interesting then the game. The obviously will this not be a lose of the website owner.
    2. If the ad received is something related to pron, sex related then how Google is going to handle this.

  2. Hi Cap Digisoft,

    Good points and tough questions.

    Many games are focused upon children, but they aren’t the only ones who play games online. There are a very large number of sites that focus upon older audiences. For example, a case study that Google provides on their pages about In-Game Adverting describes the main audience for their site:

    Playfish’s core demographics are influential social users, 18-34 years old, evenly split amongst men and women

    In the earlier Google patent filing on in-game advertising, Using information from user-video game interactions to target advertisements, such as advertisements to be served in video games for example, the patent description describes another audience:

    In-game advertising is becoming extremely popular. This trend is expected to continue since the 18 to 34 year old male demographic in the U.S. is watching less TV and spending more time playing video games than ever before.

    From those two examples, it appears that Google anticipates that many of the people who will see these ads will be adults.

    An ad that might be clickable during game play may entice a game player to leave a game, but I suspect that it the game is interesting enough to them, that they will return.

    A good question about ads that might not be appropriate to audiences that might be shown. Google manages to screen ads for appropriateness in search results and on publishers pages engaged in adsense. I wrote a post recently about how sponsored listings may be reviewed by Google – Google’s Paid Search Human Evaluators. Ads in games would likely be reviewed in a similar manner.

  3. I don’t think there is an issue with people clicking ads and leaving games. Remember it’s all about measuring impressions not clicks. They are going for brand recognition here, not direct click through traffic. Ads can also easily be targeted via the games age rating, ie PG, 15, 18 etc.

    I remember going to a conference at Microsofts offices in London where they talked about in game advertising a few years back. I asked about the market for adverts and product placement within MMORPG’s and the guy basically just laughed at me like it was a ridiculous idea. Showed me how much Microsoft are stuck up their own backsides – look who’s laughing now guy who’s probably been fired!

    Anyway this has been long time coming and Google are a little on the back foot here, then again coming into the market late and doing it better than anyone else isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory to Google is it!

  4. Hi SLight,

    Thank you. Good point on the focus on impressions rather than clicks. I think this patent application focuses upon defining those impressions in a way that make an advertiser more confident that ads were viewable and viewed by game players.

    Interesting about your experience in Microsoft’s offices. Online game playing has grown to be incredibly popular, and I suspect it will probably will become even more popular.

    Google does seem to be behind at this point – but I think you’re right that the marketing concept of a “first mover” doesn’t necessarily apply here, and if Google can do it better – making it easier and possibly more profitable for advertisers and sites that provide games, then they might do very well.

  5. I know what you mean about the Stephen King example Bill, It’s pretty annoying with the Ads interfering with website based games. Especially when I’m setting one up for my little girl and then shouts “daddy daddy” it’s not working only to realise she’s clicked on the ad and its gone to another page or popped up blocking what she was playing, a 4 year old isn’t going to know how to go back to where they were are they. I suppose the people do have to make the money though for hosting and some kind of income for doing the work, especially if they have coded the games themselves. It’s a matter that defiantly needs looking into.

  6. Hi John,

    Placing an ad in a game or movie or a book and blending that ad into gameplay or viewing or narrative without notice to the player or viewer or reader is something that bothers me. When a creator invents a world for me to explore from his or her imagination, I’d like to hope that the choices of what to show on a billboard or as a meal choice is part of the creative process of the game or movie or novel.

    For example, the product labels in the movie Repo Man were smart and clever parodies of generic and brand name items. In F. Scott Fitzgeral novels, people drank things that were appropriate to the region they were in, so that the drink choices added to the story. The Great Gatsby wouldn’t have been as good if they were drinking Coca-Colas instead of Mint Julips, which were a traditional southern drink. The choice made the story seem more real.

    I’ve accidentally clicked on a few ads myself that I didn’t mean to. That’s definitely something that we shouldn’t subject childre to. I think developers can find other ways to make income with their efforts.

    I also think we are going to see more discussion about regulating product placement in the future.

  7. Wow! As a gamer the prospect blurring the line between reality intrigues me to no end. Real life advertisement certainly ad to the realism of the game. However, as someone who is sensitive to solicitation and rather put off by everything being commercialized I’m offended. I think the success of these sorts of campaigns will hang on whether or not the ads are responsibly implemented by the game. If I’m in a game that looks like my world (or at least a tasteful adaptation) then I’d be happy. But if it looks like “Blade Runner” (or Times Square / Tokyo) then I’m suspicious.

    On a separate Google’s definition of impression sounds over simplified by the description above. For instance the viewing angle of say a fake billboard is not fixed within a 3D space. This would be easier to track with a 2D game but in 3D one would have to seek out the average range of angles at which the billboard USUALLY displays. Might be an opening for game testers at google….

  8. Hi the Tech Blogger,

    Thank you for bringing your perspective as a gamer into this discussion. I agree with you.

    Realism can add a positive element to a game, or a negative element, and the line between where it helps and hurts might be in how obtrusive it is. I know I find my stomach turn when I see product placements in movies, and other places and what I’m watching or reading becomes a giant commercial instead of something to enjoy.

    I think those are pretty good points on the differences in viewing angles on 2D and 3D games. I know Google has a decent sized user testing department – it wouldn’t surprise me if they started bringing some game testers in.

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  11. Hi Danny,

    I think this is a topic that people will be torn upon. Game makers do want to be able to earn an income for the games that they create, but are advertisements within games the ideal way to do that? Like you, I’m not sure that they are, but I expect others to disagree with us.

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