Video game developers on dilemma of definitions. What is an advergame? Part XIII.

When speaking about video games and persuasion, all educational and cause game developers agreed that it was not appropriate for a game that did not promote a product for commercial purpose to be called an advergame. The developers cited numerous examples of video games that promoted a political/social cause. In their opinion, games that possess a certain agenda should be considered serious or persuasive games, not advergames.

For example, Darfur Is Dying can be considered a game with an agenda but not necessarily an advergame, according to the developer who remained anonymous. He identified an advergame as “a game that gets closer to market place” and is intended for commercial use, whereas a game like Darfur Is Dying is more driven by issue advocacy than promoting a product or service. It is true that advergames have different sorts of agendas, but Darfur Is Dying does not attempt to sell anything, nor does it seek a profit. When talking about commercial advergames, he cited an example of a Coca-Cola advergame:

Coke wants to sell more coke …to make brand more salient on the market. I think technically you can say that Darfur Is Dying is an advergame for peace, but when thinking in terms of logic, Darfur is Dying is not really an advertisement. That is not a commercial game (Anonymous game developer).

Clearly the developers did not consider their games as advergames, which they look down upon. When asked about their definitions of “an advergame,” most developers supported the following views:

–          An advergame has to be defined by the idea that there has to be a specific product that is associated with the game… [talking about Darfur Is Dying  or Third World Farmer], unless they are selling the buckets for water or shovels that you as a player use  [while playing the game], I don’t think that it should be called an advergame (White).

–          An advergame is usually created with the following thought in mind: If people play the advergame and like playing the advergame, then they will be more likely to favor/buy a product that was advertised within it. Have a favorable opinion about the product. It is more of a commercial based thing… (Oda).

–          An advergame would be a game designed to promote the selling of something. Generally these are not very good games…they have a lot of strikes against them, and are generally simple repurposing of very basic game mechanics with re-tooled art designed around the product (Norton).

–          The point of any advergame is to put the product in front of the players in a very prominent way. And [the] secondary point might be to teach them how to use it… (Norton).

The clear distinction in the mind of the producers is that advergames are driven by a profit motive whereas the games they produce are driven by producers’ desire to advance a position on an issue or cause. Although some are compensated for their work (e.g., Swain produced the Redistricting Game as part of his job at the University of Southern California), many receive no compensation. Producers do not consider their games to be advergames.

Due to the fact that game studies is a new field and not much research has been done to establish the definitions of different types of games, there are some contradictions even in the camp of video game developers. For instance, Schreiber proposes the following difference between an advergame and a persuasive game, which reflects the sales goal.

What is the purpose of the game? Is it to inform? Or to increase sales? The answer to that question would be the difference between advertising and persuasion in traditional media. What is the difference an informational show vs. an infomercial? Am I trying to sell you something or am I trying to promote my image vs. am I trying to explain something to you and not trying to get money out of you?

On the other hand, one developer defined an advergame not only as “a game which is made specifically to promote some new product” but also one that can be used for other things as well. “It does not have to lead to sales; it may possibly just be used to promote a brand.”

Overall, developers were in agreement that the term advergame applied to games that sell a product for profit or promote a brand. As one of them put it, an advergame must have a certain task. It is trying to motivate a player to buy a product, to vote for a certain person, or to become aware of certain things. There is a task beyond the game itself which is implemented in it. When considering serious vs. persuasive games, Fullerton argues that the definitional limits of the term “serious game” lacks the attributes of fun:

…because when you say that the game is serious it tends to make people believe that it is not fun. And I think that games can deal with serious subject matter and still be fun.

Yet, the need for a game to be fun is to blame for the lack of success of some advergames. As Schreiber explains, it is difficult to be fun without losing quality.

…most of the advertising games I have seen are not actually very good. And not very persuasive. One of the difficulties here is that the game has to be fun, but it also has to do carry this additional message.

Having to meet multiple goals puts constraints on creativity and may jeopardize the compelling nature of the game. Schreiber elaborates further:

For instance, if you look at Ian Bogost’s games, a lot of his games are not real fun, but they are still compelling and they do carry a strong message. With something like advertising that does not work.

It is a widely accepted notion among video game developers that most of the advertising games would be played on corporations’ websites; thus, players will have to go there to play a game. In other words, they have to initiate access and in so doing, they are aware that they will encounter advertising. Most people are so bombarded with ads that they don’t seek more. For people to initiate advergame play, the advergame should be compelling—“something that is worth playing in its own right” (Schreiber).

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