EA in Massive, IGA ad deal


NEW YORK -- Video game powerhouse Electronic Arts announced Thursday two exclusive deals with in-game ad service firms Massive Inc. and IGA Worldwide Inc. Through these deals, EA will be able to sell in-game advertisements beyond the static varieties seen in their older titles.

EA games currently feature ads and product placements that are hard-coded, permanent facets of the game. Massive and IGA technology allows them to now run ads that refresh and are replaced in various forms in the game. The changing ads may be seen as a label on a soda can or pizza box, or an image on a TV screen, billboard or poster within a game's setting.

Massive, now owned by Microsoft Corp., will sell and serve dynamic ads within EA's "Need for Speed Carbon," a title for the Xbox 360 console, due this October.

Earlier iterations in the Need for Speed franchise featured static advertising from Castrol Syntec, Burger King, an EA spokeswoman said. Massive will sell dynamic ad inventory in addition to static ads that EA will continue to sell on its own. Massive's network of media buying clients includes Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and NBC.

EA has developed games based on licensed film properties, including Superman, Harry Potter and "The Lord of the Rings" franchise. But the firm has not yet featured a film or television in-game ad.

IGA will sell dynamic ads for EA's PC game "Battlefield 2142," made by the DICE studio in Stockholm. The Battlefield franchise has never before featured an ad, static or dynamic.

Justin Townsend, IGA Worldwide CEO, said in a press statement Thursday that IGA and EA are establishing "a global advertising network to rival any cable channel, yet with the proven advantages of engagement, measurability and hitting a demographic sweet spot."

Consumer advocates are seeking audience with Congress, and want the FTC to regulate in-game advertising and product placements, much as they have -- in recent years -- required search engines to disclose which search-results are paid placements, and in the past, required print media to disclose "advertorial," or ads written to look like articles.

Executive director for Portland's CommercialAlert.org, Gary Ruskin, said, "Who cares if an ad on a billboard, or a product placed in-game contributes to the overall authenticity of that game's setting? Product placement, and dynamic advertising is stealth, and sneaks by a gamer's critical faculties. Especially when we talk about teens and children playing, all ads need to be disclosed."

Legislation has not yet been introduced to this effect, yet, said Ruskin.

Still, investors support the notion of in-game advertising: Shares in EA continued their upward trend after the announcements, up by 4% for the week in midday trading Friday, at $51.15. Intel Capital invested an additional $5 million (adding onto a previous round of $12 million) in IGA earlier this year. While Double Fusion, a competitor to Massive and IGA, has raised over $10 million from venture capital firms including Accel Partners and Jerusalem Venture Partners.