Gaming has exploded in the past three years, largely due to the influx of a new audience: adult women. And in general, gaming has become a majority activity-according to a recent Pew Internet survey, more than 51 percent of U.S. adults play games.
Time spent per visit on casual gaming sites exceeds all other categories, including social networks and online video sites. By all counts, this trend looks to be a permanent shift in attention online. Keeping this in mind, how can marketers adapt to the changing landscape?
First of all, the term "casual" is a misnomer. Casual gamers spend nearly as much time playing games as traditional "core" gamers, averaging around nine hours per week. Casual games are easy to pick up and play regardless of prior experience, with gradual learning curves. This is a major contrast to traditional games that can require weeks of play for a new gamer to become proficient.
But aren't these games for kids? The 12-17 age range is the most saturated for gaming, with some studies indicating more than 90 percent play games. But the activity remains strong for all ages. And as the median age of players increases, the role of gaming in the mix of online activities will grow as well. In a Deloitte study, 51 percent of Boomers (43-61) play online games weekly, more than any other tracked activity, including social networking and online video. For Matures (62-75), 48 percent played games. The only activity with a greater share of activity for that group was research into financial and investment information.
Marketers can get involved in the casual game space through four formats:
• Advergames are generally a bad idea, unless there is significant attention paid to quality and a clear syndication strategy. Just building a cheap game and putting it on the brand Web site will likely result in wasted time and money.
• Interstitial ads are similar to Web video placements where 15 seconds of video loads in a pre-roll, mid-roll or post-roll spot. These units are common in ad-supported downloaded games, usually with mid-roll spots during level loads.
• Display ads surrounding gameplay on browser-based games are fairly straightforward, though sometimes advertisers overlook the potential of keeping the messaging contextually relevant- there are many themed games, and puzzles are extremely popular. Customizing display ad messaging based on various game contexts can be a worthwhile investment.
• Dynamic in-game advertising in casual games offers various solutions; even Google has one. The space is not as mature as the in-game advertising within traditional games. Dynamic in-game ads need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as some executions will look bungled, and others will work brilliantly. When done right, dynamic in-game advertising is the most accountable method of placement possible.
The casual game space is in a process of maturation. While traditional gaming and marketing within games is institutionalized, casual is still working out the kinks. The category's landscape is also fragmented, which presents a problem to marketers for everything from reach to reliable analytics. However, because of how quickly it has grown and the current economic climate, casual gaming is a bubble waiting to pop. Many companies will go out of business, and only the best in breed will survive.
It would therefore be prudent for marketers to start running smaller scale ad campaigns in the space to create learnings and establish relationships. Once the market consolidates, there will be a few key companies providing turn-key solutions. Initial forays into the space today will pay off in spades when that happens.
Casual gaming is a cutting-edge development, but one that has resonated with demographics not typically seen as early tech adopters, namely women over 40. Casual gamers spend a considerable amount of time every week playing, and marketers need to keep up with this shift in marketplace mind share and attention.
While the space is fragmented, it's a great time for marketers to get their feet wet. Out of the many ad formats, working with interstitials and in-game solutions will provide the most productive learnings.
Now it's just up to marketers to start playing.
Josh Lovison is the game practice lead for IPG Emerging Media Lab. He is based in Los Angeles.