It takes some impudence to call yourself “the premier” of anything, but for a company like IGA Partners —whose tagline reads “the world’s premier in-game advertising agency” — such braggadocio may be justified.In just three short years, the company has evolved into a multimillion dollar, worldwide operation by pioneering what many believe today to be the most potentially lucrative form of digital marketing: placing real world advertising into virtual PC and videogame environments. Now it’s practically de rigueur for bigwig planners to discuss in-game ads as part of their media mix. But in 2002, the concept was virtually unheard of—as was IGA.
Humble beginnings often define a successful company, its formulation incited in a moment when peaceful contemplation turns into sudden revelation. IGA’s roots can be traced back to just such a scenario, with thanks to the great outdoors.
For Darren Herman—co-founder and director of business development at IGA—a little trek through the woods in late 2002 provided the inspiration for opening up the in-game marketplace. By 2002, Herman had already punched his clock in the online space, having been involved with or built up a handful of companies that are still thriving today. Herman’s resume up to this point already included work with full-service interactive agency I33, a position as Product Manager & In-House Entrepreneur at Conducive, as well as having founded ICS, a technology company that hosts sites for small to midsize businesses. His prolificacy even earned him a spot on an MTV documentary spotlighting the top 5 US college entrepreneurs.
But having spent the better part of the 21st century working in the music industry doing online promotion/tour management for bands through his own Dynamify Productions (which entailed work with Sony BMG, Columbia Records and the South by Southwest Music Fest among many others), the business major was now at a crossroads in his career.
While up in Saratoga Springs, New York, Herman recalls that one day he had occasion to take a walk through the woods. “They had these beautiful hiking trails…in the middle of nowhere,” Herman says. “I was taking this walk through the woods one day, thinking, ‘I was just in the music industry, I’ve done a lot of interactive. What’s next?'”
What was next, it turns out, had everything to do with his twin passions: video gaming and interactive marketing. “I’d just played video games the night before with a bunch of friends and I’d always been toying with putting a product placement within a game,” Herman recounts. Pausing to ask the question turned out to be enough to turn his thoughts into actions.
Meeting Herman in the sparse yet colorful New York City headquarters of IGA Partners, it’s amazing to see how far he’s taken the ideas generated during that idyllic stroll, over such a short period of time. Bearing a healthy resemblance to tennis ace Pete Sampras, but with a baby face that defies his decade’s worth of experience online, the New York native with South African blood tells me that it was both the relative obscurity and untapped potential of in-game ads that spurred him to pursue the medium.
“I worked with all these brands and thought, ‘Well, they’re going to have to get in videogames. There are 500 million gamers out there,'” Herman says. “So I started researching videogames: how many people play, how big the industry is, and how many titles come out per year. After realizing there are over 500 million gamers and that it’s an $11 billion business with over 4,000 titles that come out a year, it was like ‘Whoa, this is a huge marketing platform. There’s something here.'”