Why Big Brands Like Electronic Arts Aren’t Playing Games With Identity

Opinion: Brands and publishers are making moves to take back ownership over their audience data

With a projected $83 billion in revenue this year, it’s obvious that digital advertising is growing faster than ever. But the industry remains dominated by Google and Facebook, and these two giants control the precious customer data that hundreds of thousands of brands rely on to engage with their audiences.

While Facebook and Google are not going away anytime soon, brands and publishers are making moves to take back ownership over their audience data so that they can better understand customers outside the walled gardens. An early pioneer in this is Electronic Arts.

EA analyzed its unique set of user IDs and data—which was anonymized, hashed and matched against digital audiences—for the purpose of understanding each gamer’s unique preferences and behaviors. By building its own identity graph in order to better understand its users, the leading publisher of games on console, PC and mobile is the first major gaming company to build this in-house.

EA is a bellwether for what’s to come in marketing and advertising. Brands and advertisers in different sectors have woken up to the fact that they can’t solely rely on third-party sources to understand how users are engaging or for attributing the return on investment of campaigns. In fact, they know they are sitting on treasure troves of data—they just haven’t activated it.

That’s why EA’s decision to build its own identity graph is such a bold move. It affirms how every company—no matter the size or vertical—needs stable, precise identity to unlock customized experiences across channels (something they won’t get by working with a Google or Facebook).

However, the gaming giant’s sudden jump into marketing technology at this stage is also representative of an emerging trend in marketing. Others like Foursquare and Microsoft are following suit.

Foursquare built a location graph for the purposes of ad targeting, measurement and attribution. Meanwhile, Microsoft built an identity graph to understand users across devices and ecosystems (including Android and iOS).

But while EA is way ahead of other companies that have yet to invest in their own cross-device technology, the gaming giant is still only solving part of the problem. Why?

The short answer: Getting to precise, scalable identity is really hard. For starters, EA’s scale is limited because it is only looking at its own data, which doesn’t provide visibility into potential customers that don’t play EA titles but may play related/relevant titles from other gaming companies.

EA can also only see specific devices that play EA titles, meaning that it gets an incomplete and fragmented picture of the person who may play EA games on a personal computer or phone but doesn’t ever interact with EA on a work laptop.

Last, investing in identity-graphs is an incredibly time- and resource-intensive approach that many brands are unable to tackle on their own.

While EA should be congratulated for taking this huge first step, it will still need to work with larger martech identity graphs to solve issues with scale and device fragmentation. Only by teaming up with a martech player will EA be able to delve deeper past the confines of people’s gaming habits on one device and into more characteristics and behaviors across all devices. On top of this, it would be able to identify and accurately reach those potential customers who have never played on EA.

More specifically, partnering with a martech player would enable EA to obtain detailed insights about its audiences, such as time and location of users on non-EA devices, consumer shopping behaviors and spending habits. It would be able to analyze what consumers do before, during and after a gaming session and where those activities occur (both by physical location and on what device)—the list goes on.

This will not only help it deliver the most personalized ads to the consumers it has already hooked—it will also allow it to extend their reach to a huge new batch of customers it didn’t have access to previously.

Of course, digital marketers have a long way to go before breaking away from the iron grasp of Google and Facebook. But this emerging trend of building proprietary identity graphs is taking shape as brands like EA begin to materialize as cross-device powerhouses of their own. And if brands across all industries hope to keep up, they better follow suit.

Brian Ferrario is vice president of marketing at cross-device identity solution Drawbridge.

Image courtesy of EA Facebook page.