Monday, March 24, 2008

Games: They're Not Just For Kids (or Guys) Anymore

If you're like most people, you hear "computer gaming" and you immediately picture a certain type of teen boy clutching a gamepad and staring at a monitor. For the sake of marketers everywhere, I would like to join with those who are trying to dispel that musty stereotype.

Branded gaming, or advergaming, provides an excellent mechanism for creating deeper engagement with consumers. Perhaps the most publicized example of advergaming right now is CandyStand, a collection of "Casual Games" sponsored by Wrigley that receives 4.4M uniques a month (according to Quantcast). ("Casual Games" are defined as simple games that are easy to learn, feature simple rules, and don't require a long time commitment to complete.)

One of the keys to successful advergaming is to match the game to the intended audience. Not every audience is suited for an advergaming strategy, but before you leap to any conclusions, you should know that online games appeal to just about every demographic category. The stereotype that games are only for a younger male demographic is not supported by recent data, and this bias can cause marketers to overlook an Experiential Marketing (XM) strategy that is relevant to a wide audience.

A glance at the Quantcast data for CandyStand may surprise you. Female visitors comprise 59% of CandyStand's visitors, and a majority of traffic comes from those 25 and older.

The feminine and older bent of CandyStand visitors is not unique among game sites, according to several studies of advergaming:
  • ClickZ reports that one-third of adults spend 10 hours or more playing games each week, compared with 11 percent of teens.

  • ClickZ also shares that video game players break into nearly equal thirds of under 18 year olds, 18-49 year olds, and 50-plus year olds.

  • Playing games is a more popular online activity in the U.S. than watching short video clips or visiting social networking websites, according to a report from Parks Associates. Thirty-four percent of U.S. adult Internet users play online games on a weekly basis, compared with 29% who watch short online videos and 19% who visit social networking sites with the same frequency.

  • According to Big Research, gamers come from all ethnic groups with Hispanics and African Americans making up almost 30% (29.9%) of the gamer market.

  • The Entertainment Software Association says that online games continue to grow in popularity. 51% of most frequent game players say they play games online, up from 19% in 2000.

  • And just today comes word from MediaPost that Consumer Product advertisements on Gaming sites tend to perform much better among women ages 45+ compared with younger females. And this is not a small audience, says the report. 8.3 million women ages 45+ say they access the Internet to play online games.

There are several ways to put a game strategy to work for a brand. Some brands find that creating their own casual games helps to encourage greater consumer engagement. For example, Viacom is investing $100M in an online casual gaming strategy that will extend TV and movie properties online. Says Michael Cai, the director for broadband and gaming at Parks Associates, "Sitting and watching Dora DVDs is quite different from playing Dora in a game. It’s definitely more engaging — and the brand affiliation is stronger — in an interactive setting.”

Other casual gaming sites exist to offer advertising and sponsorship opportunities. With 5 million visitors per month, Yahoo Games is a leading online gaming site supported by sponsorship and advertising. Of interest is that Yahoo Game's demographics further reinforce the demographic trends in casual gaming--65% of visitors are female and two-thirds of the site's visits come from people over the age of 35.

Games also offer unique opportunities to create brand impressions that are more relevant and conspicuous than typical online advertising; last year on Shockwave, players struggling with a jigsaw puzzle game could press the “easy button” sponsored by Staples to see a solution hint. And, in case we haven't yet beaten a dead horse about the diverse appeal of online gaming,'s visitors are 66% female with slightly less than half of visitors being between 35 and 54 years of age.

Advergaming provides a range of non-traditional ways for brands to reach consumers of all genders, races, and age groups. So, if you still think online games are for teens and boys, here's your homework assignment: Go to CandyStand, Yahoo Games, or Shockwave right now and see if you don't find a fun way to waste a few minutes. Or, click below to enjoy Blocky, one of the most popular games at Shockwave.

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