Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Next Up in Casual Gaming: Video Ads and Social Media

Yahoo is launching a new concept in ad-supported gaming that seems like it can't miss. Until now, marketers have exploited consumers' increased interest in "casual games" either by advertising around the games embedded into Web pages (such as at Yahoo! Games or KewlBox) or by creating their own branded games (such as Wrigley's Candystand).

But now, Yahoo is looking to combine the power of TV advertising with the engagement of games by offering video ad-supported games that are free to download. Gigamon reports that Yahoo hopes to have 400 such games available by year end. Yahoo’s new strategy is worth noting if for no other reason than they are already a leader in the casual gaming category; the game section of their site averages 18 million unique monthly U.S. visitors.

Casual Games are interactive games that are typified by easy rules, intuitive controls, little learning curve, brief play times, and repeatable game play. This sort of game appeals to a very wide demographic, unlike typical console "twitch" games which rely on higher reflexes and coordination. Classic examples of Casual Games include Bejeweled and Tetris.

Yahoo already has dozens of these "games with unlimited free trials" available on their site. It is apparent the intended target and appeal of these games is much wider than for typical video games based on their titles and characters. Many of the games feature female characters and subject matter less oriented towards sports and battles than to collaboration, healing, and creating. Games include Cake Mania, in which you help Jill open a bakery, and Chocolatier, which involves players in a quest to travel the world to find chocolate ingredients.

I wanted to test one of these free games to see how the ads worked, so I downloaded Elf Bowling 7, a game that's been popular in different online forms for years. The 25 MB file required two minutes to download via my broadband connection. Ironically, as my digital game was installing, I was presented with a banner ad for, a site dedicated to encouraging citizens to get more exercise. (Advertising an exercise message via a video game is either brilliant or poorly targeted--I can't figure out which.)

I saw no video ads while playing the game, but upon exiting I was presented with a very small, 15-second Ad Council ad for Born Learning, another government site. Based on this limited test, it would appear big brand advertisers aren't yet participating in this new Yahoo ad platform.

With more folks spending time with casual games, the idea of sponsoring games via video ads seems like a can't miss proposition--provided advertisers keep the interruptions brief and infrequent. Still, to make a bigger and more lasting impact with consumers, the better course may be to develop just the right game for the right audience and make sure the game play and brand work collaboratively to provide a captivating, branded experience.

Better yet, build in social media tools so that people can play against each other, chat, and share game ratings and tips from within the game itself, and you have a recipe for substantial consumer engagement. To get a sense of how addictive social gaming can become, check out the new site ImInLikeWithYou and spend some time with Blockles.

Essentially a competitive version of Tetris, Blockles players battle head to head and increase the challenge for each other by activating power-ups that add rows of blocks or scramble the opponent's playing field. The combination of live game play, taunts, and leader boards make ImInLikeWithYou an addictive site for anyone who thrives on competition.

ImInLikeWithYou is not aiming for a wide demographic (as is made evident by how Blockles is advertised as "Like an STD... but more fun.") Still, it's easy to see how these sorts of social gaming tools might be applied to different types of games in order to create wide appeal to non-traditional gamers.

Thanks to Andy for sharing the link to the Gigamon news article!

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