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Play to pay: Service inserts ads in games

Start-up will launch in-game ad network with help from game publishers and mainstream advertisers. Photo: Ads get some action

You've just foiled a terrorist plot to destroy New York and managed to knock off a few dozen evil henchman in the process. And for some strange reason, you have a sudden craving for a Dunkin' Donut.

Be prepared for such moments to become a regular occurrence, thanks to a new service that inserts dynamic ads into video games. After several months of beta testing, New York start-up is set to launch its in-game advertising network on Monday, with support from several major game publishers and mainstream advertisers such as Coca-Cola and Intel.

In-game ad

In-game advertising has become a growing source of revenue for publishers over the past few years, with developers of sports games in particular financing much of their work through product placement fees. Shag a deep fly ball in the latest baseball game, for example, and the outfield fence will probably be emblazoned with paid ads from real companies.

Massive will take advertising to another level by serving up dynamic ads, said Nicholas Longano, chief marketing officer for the Los Angeles-based company. Pass a virtual billboard in the latest "Splinter Cell" counterterrorism game, for example, and it could be hawking soft drinks one day and the latest Vin Diesel movie the next.

"This really opens up the video game publishers to a new category of advertisers," Longano said. "You can communicate about movies opening up this weekend, new television shows."

Developers get to choose when and where an ad would be appropriate. "We don't determine where the ad should go," Longano said. "It's all up to the developer to find a spot where it fits the environment. If you're in somebody's room, you're limited in the ad messages you can deliver, as opposed to if you're in Times Square, with billboards everywhere."

Sensitivity to context is the key to making in-game advertising more than tolerable for game players. Hit the mark, and ads can actually enhance a game by making it seem more realistic, Longano said. "What we keep getting told by all the gamers we survey is that it really ads realism and atmosphere to the games," he said. "As long as you're not interrupting the game, they don't mind."

Massive advertisers pay on a per-impression basis, and the company estimates publishers can squeeze another $1 to $2 of profit out of each copy of a game by using its advertising network, an attractive proposition as future game systems push up development costs.

Massive is limiting its network to PC games for now, but proliferating Internet connections in the living room will allow the service to quickly expand to consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation, Longano said.

"Our objective is to be reaching gamers regardless of the platform," he said.