In Game Advertising

BACK IN THE DAY, VIDEO game consoles were hooked up to television sets, or played via floppy disks in school computer lounges (Oregon Trail anyone?). What if Super Mario and Luigi stopped mid-game and let products be schlepped to us en route to finding the princess? If it meant playing for free, of course we would have watched. Think about how addicting it was to make it to the next level. Today, marketers can leverage that engagement by taking their message to the casual gaming space.

Over 200 million people play casual games online every month around the world, according to the Casual Games Association. The rapid growth and the engaging environment of casual games present a gigantic and rare opportunity to marketers. However, because of its newness, many marketers are still learning how to effectively leverage it. Since my online video ad network has partnered with many of the largest gaming publishers, I wanted to share some tips on the space. To start, I will focus on the different ad units and the marketing opportunities associated with them.

In general, there are two forms of casual games. Browser-based games are played from the Web browser, while the other format is downloaded to and played from the desktop. Keep in mind, ads in downloaded games are dynamically served — just like browser-based games. Ad units found in both of these forms of casual games are as follows:

·    Pre-game & Inter-level — a video ad that is 15 to 30 seconds plays while the game is loading or in-between game levels. The video ad can be accompanied by a companion banner, usually 300×250. Both the video ad and the banner can be clickable.

·    During-game — these are video or static ads that are on the screen while the gamer is playing. In addition to pre- and inter-level, It is important to distinguish between the two, especially if engagement is an important metric to the advertiser. Generally, during-game ads have lower CTRs than pre- or inter-level ads since gamers are focused on play. Pre- and inter-level ads are more captivating, and can generate CTRs of 1% to 5%, because play is on hold. Consequently the engagement factor affects CPMs.

“One thing advertisers should consider is that gamers who have taken the time to download a game to their desktop are ultimately more invested in the games than those who play Web site to Web site,” said Craig Holland, marketing director for the Casual Games Association. “When you are playing a game on a Web site it is easier to leave the page, or not play as long. Naturally a more invested audience yields a higher CPM and higher worth to advertisers.”

Casual gaming’s popularity is growing so fast that marketers cannot ignore the space. A Parks Associates report  found that U.S. consumers play online games more often than they watch online videos or visit social networking sites. In response to this, new games are popping up like crazy.  The Casual Games 2007 Report found that the number of games being submitted to major online portals has doubled over the past two years. And that doesn’t even consider the popularity of casual games on social networks like Facebook. The rapid growth of the market has prompted companies to create more games for more audiences. The report further explains that the non-paying audience includes both women and men – each comprising about half of this large non-paying player universe.

So how can advertisers leverage the growth of the categories and the expanding demographics? One tactic is targeting ad campaigns based on the game’s content and demographic composition.   

Craig Holland brought up a tactic in our conversation that I found very compelling and noteworthy. Casual game publisher Real Arcade streamed an ad on its home page for the movie “Made of Honor.” The ad offered a free download of the game Wedding Dash (the game was promised as commercial-free). Gamers had to click to watch a lengthy video ad. One can assume the CMPs were high, as essentially that ad was the only money-maker for the game. Did it work? I don’t know, but If anyone has run an ad campaign on casual games, then please share the results in this forum.

Casual gaming is definitely a marketing force to be studied and tested. With a captive audience and exciting ad opportunities to be explored, we are only at level one…in the first version of “Super Mario Bros.” C’mon, Luigi. Let’s find the princess!

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