Game Over: EA Brings Ad Sales In-House

Videogame publishing giant Electronic Arts is planning to take all of its ad sales in-house, meaning that it will end its relationships with in-game ad companies Massive Inc. and IGA Worldwide sometime this year.

The move represents a major blow to the still nascent “dynamic” in-game ad sector, given the reach and cachet that EA commands as the world’s largest game publisher. Both Massive, which is owned by Microsoft, and struggling IGA had used marquee EA titles like Madden NFL football, NBA Live and Need for Speed as centerpieces of their ad-sales strategies.

But, according to Elizabeth Harz, EA’s svp of global media sales, starting this summer with the release of Madden NFL11, EA will handle its own dynamic ad sales. The company has long worked with advertisers to bring product placements into games as they are published, such as building specific car models into racing titles. But until recently it has worked with outside vendors for placing ads in games as they are being played via Web connections — such as virtual in-stadium billboards within sports games.

Harz said that combining such efforts would allow the company’s sales teams to offer more elaborate, integrated packages to advertisers. “Fundamentally, [EA sales execs] are talking about these gaming audiences everyday already,” she said.

That integration should make it easier for buyers. Just how deeply it impacts in-game sellers remains to be seen.

“I love the idea of being able to talk to only one guy,” said Greg March, digital group director at Wieden + Kennedy. “That’s a logistical, procedural improvement which should help. EA should be able to sell deeply on every platform. What I don’t know is how much of [Massive or IGA’s] inventory is driven by EA Games.”

EA took great pains to present itself to the ad community as the place to reach more gamers than any of its competitors. The company held its first upfront in New York on Tuesday, which featured flashy video presentations, an open bar and a live band. The idea was to show off the company’s breadth — from sports games on consoles to female-skewed exercise titles as well as casual and mobile games — rather than drilling down to specific ad opportunities.

“This was about education,” said Harz. “There is so much for people to learn about our offerings.”

Or, as Harz put it during her presentation at the upfront, “fundamentally, we have the best content in the world.”