It's pretty easy to find someone who wanna start a career in game development but who doesn't know how to start. As game developers, we have tons of alternatives, starting by the specialization area (code, art, design, sound, marketing…) and then a sub-specialization (scenario programmer, UI programmer, character artist, scenario artist…). An alternative is to become an independent game developer (aka indie dev) and try to be all of this...and much more. It's pretty hard. Money doesn't come easy, your social life may start to crumble, but the results can be awesome, and the freedom sensation could be the best thing you will ever feel in your professional career. The least people between you and your players, the truer to your idea the game will be, and that's why many long date game industry professionals are becoming indie devs. But what if you don't have years of experience in game industry on your hands? What if that's your first job? It's ok, you can start your own studio (you can find some stories about that on IndieWatch) or you can try out some alternatives. In this series of articles, i'll try to address these alternatives, of course, some of them are harder than others, but all of then will teach you valuable skills for your future career.
Whatta Heck is an Advergame!?
An Advergame is a game focused on advertising (advertising + game) some product, idea or a brand name. Basically, it's just another game, but with the game mechanics and/or its theme focused on the product and that's where the advergame has its biggest problem, since not every game can be used as an advergame. I'm going to explain that in detail later. First, let's see some of the history behind advergames.
They've been around since the beginning of the video game history and they don't last in people's minds for very long, but that's not their goal. Their true goal is to remind players that something exists and that something can be a simple hamburger or a luxury car. The first advergames were made in the 1980's, in the Atari 2600 era, in most cases, clones of other games, and worse ones. There's no strategy at all on how to better publish such games. Most of advergames in that era would be bought by sending a letter to the vendor with some stamps cuted from the box of the product. Some time later, you'll receive the game in your door by mail, what is nice, but takes time, some weeks in most cases. One of the most (in)famous advergames from that era is Pepsi Invaders, a Space Invaders clone made by Coke, but most people think that it is a Pepsi game. That was a great fail for Coke who lost market in the 1980's and was trying everything to keep its popularity.
The first lesson of advergames: don’t promote a brand other than your clients. This should sound obvious, but it is not. It was the Coca-Cola Company's mistake.
In the late 1980's and 1990's, advergames moved to 16 bit consoles, with more specific games, such as Global Gladiators, McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure and Cool Spot. Advergames spread out and could even be found in game stores, like any other game. In that time, renting games was a common thing, and that's why they were easy to find, although sales were still low. Even though, they took a great step, reaching many more people than in the 1980's.
Let's face it, most players don't wanna play a game with Ronald McDonald as the main character.
In mid 2000's, with more people using the Internet daily, advergames made their way to the web, first in promotional sites and then in the social media. Along with the web's cheaper development costs, almost every advergame launched today is for the web platform, with a small share being launched for mobile platforms and an even smaller share for the consoles.
Being an Advergame Developer
In the past, advergames were linked to small independent video game companies founded by former employees of bigger studios. Today, the opportunity for developing advergames is far wider than in the 1990's. If fact, the VR wave made that window of opportunities even wider. A developer could work for an advertising agency or for a game studio, while larger companies will seek advertisement agencies for that job, minor companies will try to simplify the development process by working with a game studio for making a single game.
If you are the entrepreneur type, you can start with a small team by establishing partnerships with web development and advertisement companies, since that kind of business will rarely have the necessary know-how for game development. Another tip is trying to make small games for fairs, small sport events and other social events. The organizers for that kind of event are more open to new forms of advertisement, if your price is attractive, of course. We have good case studies like Nintendo Doki Doki Panic, republished overseas as Super Mario Bros. 2. It is a Nintendo advergame produced for an event brought by Fuji Television (Yume Kôjô, a media technology expo).
Even Nintendo made an advergame. Why not you ?
Developing an Advergame
The development of an advergame is the same of any regular commercial game, but in that case, game designers must find a way to mix a gameplay with a brand name. That's a good exercise for any game designer trying to gain experience in that field, but that could also be a really hard task. Remember: a game is an experience and in most cases, the player wants to escape reality and thus, anything that reminds his/her life out of the game could destroy such experience. Nevertheless, the best way to draw interest to a brand name is to make it visible early in the game. This makes advergames really short today (maybe 5 minutes of unique gameplay) and, in most cases, the game is a clone of a simple mechanic game (infinite runners and Atari like games are vastly cloned) what can be a turn down for some. Of course, you can make it different, but remember to start with the simple ones, with action and puzzle games. Be logical: RPGs and complex strategy games (like 4X games) are a bad choice for an advergame. The brand must not be in evidence all the time, but must appear early and well represented. A bad representation, like the Coke brand in Pepsi Invaders could ruin the whole project.
Advergames are a nice entry level job in game development and could be a good way for an indie game studio to raise money for other projects. A good example of a company that started with advergames for sport brands and now make their own IP with success is Aquiris, a game studio from Brazil which developed Horizon Chase.
On my next article, I'm gonna talk about games for education and academic games in general.
See you next time, indie pal.