Lure of the game: An interview with Ian Lurie

Lure of the game: An interview with Ian Lurie
Dungeons and Dragons

At last week’s Wappow Emerging Media Conference, speaker Ian Lurie, president of Portent Interactive, had insights on gamer psychology to share with marketers and user tracking analysis to share with game developers. Ian’s expertise of Internet marketing and interactive gaming crossed the bridge between the two core audiences of the conference.

I talked with Ian during the conference, and he had interesting info to reveal about the lure of the game, the intersection between marketing and gaming and how marketers can become better communicators.

You gave a mini-keynote about how society got hooked on gaming and how companies can use games. What’s the connection between marketing and gaming?

Gaming taps really visceral human impulses. Good marketing tries to tap these same impulses ─ not in a negative way, I just mean providing a way for people to quickly interpret communication, and gaming is very good at that. You can learn a lot about how to do really effective marketing in an honest way by studying why it is people love games so much. Most of my talk centers around my now 31-year career as a Dungeons and Dragons player — I’m sure that shocks you that I play Dungeons and Dragons — and what that taps and how most other games out there do the same thing, and so do most really great ad campaigns and marketing campaigns.

There’s a basic idea of beating the bad guy, getting some stuff for it and then being able to tell the story afterwards. Those are very, very basic impulses that have always been there. And good marketing taps it whether you know that you’re trying to tap it or not. But it’s important to understand where that’s coming from if you want to intentionally create great marketing, as opposed to accidentally creating great marketing.

Are there any successful in-game advertising or marketing opportunities these days?

In mobile, I think display ads in games haven’t performed well at all. I haven’t seen any instances where they have performed all that brilliantly. Doesn’t mean they won’t some day, but right now I think our networks are too slow, we’re still all too new to the whole smart phone thing, whatever the reason.

However, any form of in-game advertising that also takes advantage of in-game purchasing, so that there’s a very low barrier to entry, appears to be extremely effective ─ almost too effective. You’ve probably heard stories of kids spending $300 of their parents money by accident, things like that.

There is an opportunity there, and also I think that in-game advertising in nurturing type games like Farmville can be really powerful if the advertising is built around something in the game that actually helps you with the game. It may not generate sales right away. It may be something that just reminds people who you are, but it’s a very powerful message.

You also spoke about tracking and analyzing user behavior and tools that help with the process. How was that?

It was great. A lot of good questions from the audience. It’s been a very interesting conference because it’s bringing together two groups of people that don’t often mix at the same conference; you know, kind of the gaming community and then the social media andSEO community. By gaming I mean people who make games, not people who play them.

The questions were interesting because they were about measuring stuff that we don’t usually try to measure. The folks on the games side and on the more social side are working a lot harder to try to measure qualitative data as opposed to quantitative. So they’re trying to look at interactions between people, mentions, conversations and how those might be impacting the way people interact with their software.

Is this a similar idea to the push toward sentiment analysis in the Internet marketing industry?

Sentiment analysis is, in my opinion, really hard to do using any kind of programming tool. The idea of sweeping lots of data and building an enormous data set, that’s something I can see us doing using some of the tools we already have and then sifting through that data and looking for pure mentions, looking at what have people talked about you, and if so, what did they say.

What are some of the tracking and analysis tools you shared with the audience during the session?

The things that I mostly talked about were internal tools and pretty basic stuff like just using Google Reader and combining it with Google Spreadsheets. You can use Google Spreadsheets to do a lot of reporting and analysis based on XML feeds. We talked a little bit about attribution and the issues of attribution and analytics, so we brought up Omniture and Coremetrics and crunching through your log files.

A conference about emerging media almost prompts one to think ahead. What do you see for the year ahead in marketing and emerging media?

Microsoft KinectI think one thing that’s probably going to sweep a lot more of general interaction than people expect is Microsoft Kinect. I actually think that may be Microsoft’s ticket back to being more of a leader and less of an industrial “we’re cranking out software and sending it to people.” Kinect is this very transparent, non-intrusive form of interacting with a computer that I don’t think most people have seen in their houses before. It’s not like a Wii. You’re not holding on to something.

And it’s eminently hackable. There’s a lot of people out there already creating cool customizations to do all sorts of stuff. And I just think once you get something like that into people’s hands, the consumer market is going to grow pretty quickly, so I think that may be an emerging medium that’s going to grow a lot faster than people expect.

Is there anything else that’s caught your eye at the conference?

Jesse Schell did a talk this morning. He’s probably best known for a talk he gave at DICE [Summit 2010] about games and gaming. He did a talk today about the psychology of pleasure and how it effects how we behave and how you can tap that. But I think something interesting ian-lurieto think about is this idea about looking beyond marketing to figure out how you’re going to communicate better with people. Because as all these media come smooshing together ─ you know, search engine optimization and social and games and cell phones and everything else ─ as they all come together it’s going to be more and more important that you think outside of just “I am a marketer and I produce marketing content.” You’re going to have to start thinking about yourself as a communicator as opposed to a marketer.

Read more from the mind of Ian Lurie on Twitter, @portenint, and on his blog, Conversation Marketing.