Today, the gaming market is a $28 billion a year industry; it’s the fastest-growing entertainment sector in the world. According to IGA statistics, a top-selling game can generate up to 1 billion+ “eyeball hours”—providing marketers with the perfect opportunity to capitalize on a captive audience. And while, these days, you can’t skim two pages of AdAge without spotting an article on advergaming and in-game ads, Herman clearly recalls that when he first set up shop, being taken seriously was a much more challenging endeavor.
“Basically, there had been a dozen or so [in-game] product placements before [IGA],” Herman says, “but no one knew anything. It wasn’t consistent and there were no standards. A lot of promotion deals were [based on], ‘I’ll put my brand in your videogame for commercial airtime.’ There was no money changing hands at that point. Back when I started…videogames were mentioned [in major publications] once every six months. It was just so inconsistent.”
In order to bring credibility to what he saw as a burgeoning marketplace, Herman sought to win faith from agencies and establish uniformity to the in-gaming field via his experience and marketing prowess. “I set up shop at the time with a company called In-Game Ads. We were basically a consultancy to the brands and agencies. I would walk into Ogilvy and Starcom Mediavest and say, ‘Hey, my name is Darren. I know videogames. You don’t. Let me tell you about it and how you get your clients into videogames.'”
It was a gutsy move, and Herman isn’t afraid to admit now that by this point in 2003 he was “in over his head.” But he never lost faith that his concept made sense. “Coming from interactive and doing DoubleClick-type work, I realized that there [had] to be a media serving system that could serve media in and out of videogames. It’s not quite the Internet, but I [was] sure that…something could be developed.” Luckily enough, gaming design pros from companies like Heliotrope, THQ and EA saw his point, and after joining what would become IGA Partners in summer 2003, they were eventually able to flesh out Herman’s initial design and turn it into a tangible technology.
Theoretically similar to product placement in films, IGA’s product allows consumers/gamers to interactively experience product features and brand benefits in a whole new contextual environment. The application was enticing enough that IGA locked its first clients while Herman was literally still in his graduation garb. “We had a deal on the table with Spike Television,” he says, “and I got an email on my Treo saying they wanted to do it. We were fortunate enough to do their first ever in-game advertising placement—so I literally sent our first campaign live while sitting in college graduation.”
IGA’s rise since nailing Spike has been nothing short of meteoric. The company’s client base includes a healthy dose of Fortune 500s and notable brands, including Subway, FHM, T-Mobile, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment. And while the company’s offices — now located in Berlin, London, Santa Monica and Connecticut as well as in New York —are filled with ad agency ex-pats, and parts of their operations do fall precipitously close to playing an “agency” role (not to mention their tagline), Herman maintains that agency work is not really their game. “The way we’ve positioned ourselves in the industry, if you look at us as a whole, some people do think of us as an ad agency because we do a little bit of everything,” Herman explains. “You’d think we’re from an advertising perspective, but we’re not. We’re gamers who understand advertising, which is completely different.”