How Electronic Arts Activates Its Videogame Data

The share price of Electronic Arts has nearly doubled in the past two years, as it reshapes around data and connectivity.

The video game company’s focus on driving player engagement has led to major changes for EA’s advertising team. That team has media buying and attribution responsibilities brands typically delegate to agencies or vendors, and EA is even building a cross-device data graph to fine-tune its own player insights.

Over the past three years, EA has taken over what the company calls “fluid media” – bidded or real-time executions – said Belinda Smith, a former director of programmatic strategy at the Dentsu agency 360i hired by EA earlier this year to expand its in-house buying team.

In-Housing New Houses

Smith is staffing up EA advertising teams to buy media across global markets.

“Previously EA bought all media out of headquarters (in Redwood City, Calif.),” Smith told AdExchanger. “But as we started to understand more about the nuances of buying media globally across a number of channels, we realized we wanted to embrace in-housing in new territories and for new geo-level insights.”

Smith is building a London-based team to manage media in Europe, “where it just doesn’t make sense to have a North America-first approach.” She said people with knowledge of GDPR, the EU’s looming privacy rights law, and “the region’s distinct programmatic markets” can’t be manufactured from across the Atlantic regardless of tech investments.

EA consolidated its business with a single agency, Starcom Mediavest, less than a year ago in large part because it “shared our philosophy about in-housing and [was] supportive of that goal,” Smith said.

Smith is also formalizing the marketing responsibilities EA owns versus what it outsources. The high-touch activations are handled by Starcom, including live events, influencer management and upfront buying, which encompasses broadcast and custom direct deals with publishers.

The Player Graph

When EA began taking data-driven media buying in-house, it faced the same questions as everyone else, Smith said: “Are we going to use second-party data? What’s the good, reputable third-party data? Do we need a comScore?”

The company doubled down on its own identity graph, a cross-device ID set that tracks player activity. “Instead of asking a platform what gamers do online and where to find them, it’s much more efficient and logical to look at our own data,” Smith said.

EA, which makes games for consoles, smartphones and PCs, has a unique set of IDs and data that can be anonymized, hashed and then matched against digital audiences.

Some of the benefits include straightforward personalization, like serving FIFA ads based on someone’s preferred team or player.

But EA’s player graph also details player motivations and preferences: whether the player is motivated by in-game rewards, plays alone or prefers multiplayer, or seeks higher ranks or emotional immersion within a game.

While some of that data is geared more toward game developers than the ad team, Smith said, it can still be used for segment creation, and is the linchpin of EA’s in-house attribution.

By tracking how ads served to known players affect how much they play or what games they play, EA can gauge the impact of certain publishers and channels on their core player set.

“Just having a DSP that has access to lots of good inventory around the world isn’t as nuanced as we want to be,” Smith said. “If you own the analytics you’ll understand the strongest publishers and touchpoints in each region and how to access them.”

Smith said she keeps track of developments among multitouch attribution vendors, but that the company “has a heritage of doing engineering work in-house and has developers who feel like they build the best.”

EA might have a big engineering force, but its game-builders aren’t the same as the “army of engineers” Google and Facebook bring to the table.

EA’s engineering resources “mostly haven’t cut their teeth in media,” Smith said, “but that gives them a lot of flexibility and creativity to see solutions outside of the typical framework.”

1 Comment

  1. Zachary Rabel

    Is this common among AAA video game publishers? I imagine Valve is doing this for Steam (their commerce platform), or mobile-first companies like SuperCell (Clash of Clans).

    Reply

Add a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>