Virtual explorer wins first FP Scholarship

A west Auckland business student researching the marketing secrets of the ‘Virtual Frontier,’ has won a scholarship set up to support innovation.

Unitec Institute of Technology student Neil Gautam won the inaugural Fisher and Paykel Healthcare Master of Business Thesis Award, valued at $5000.

He hopes to complete his thesis on Branding in the Virtual Realm of Video Games in October.

Gaming generates tens of billions of dollars every year worldwide, growing bigger year after year but Neil believes that the market is virtually unexplored.

“My research is about marketing within virtual environments, specifically gaming. It is about how people interact and engage as players and consumers in that space. There are multiple ways in which marketing and video games intersect,” he said.

An obvious example might be promotional advertising inside the virtual space, such as tyre brands within car racing games.

Another common practice is for game producers to market other products and services within a game, from new games to updates and collectible merchandise.

A former business strategist and freelance developer and designer, Neil (of Indo-Fijian origin) has interviewed gamers to determine their marketing efforts.

“Traditionally, consumption of advertising is measured through response and recall. But my research shows that involvement of players requires action, play, engagement and immersion, which means the consumers are interacting in a unique way,” he said.

He said there were numerous ways in which players responded to brands in the gaming space. A three-month advertising campaign for Subway within a well-known online multi-player game netted thousands of customers.

Neil is also interested to know when gamers reject advertising.

“For example, when a player is walking around in a virtual city landscape and notices a Coke advertisement. Does he or she have the drink? What players seem to hate is the idea of intrusive advertising. If it does not make sense for a product to be there, it detracts from their enjoyment of the game,” he said.

His research is dedicated to tracking developments in marketing in the digital space.

According to Neil, people need not look beyond the explosion of the Internet to understand the significance of gaming.

“People were quite nervous about the potential of the Internet when that first came out, and what we have seen is that it just blossomed. Forecasters are now saying that games are the entertainment media that will take us from TV and other forms of entertainment into the future,” he said.

Unitec Management and Marketing Head of Department Associate Professor Robert Davis said his own research on gaming and marketing, dating back to 2003, is still underway in collaboration with Auckland University colleagues, funded by the Manukau Institute of Technology.

Unitec is also engaged in other areas of research including interactive marketing, online and mobile environments, postgraduate research on social communities (such as Facebook) and computer games.

With reporting by Unitec Corporate Communications

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