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When it Comes to Marketing, Has Gaming ‘Come of Age?’ Adweek Explores in Special Issue

July 16, 2010

Adweek Gaming Special

“Gaming has come of age,” and is no longer confined to “Joystick-obsessed guys who once hunkered down in basements for hours,” Adweek declares in this week’s Digital Special Issue looking at the hobby in depth.

Despite the fact that Adweek also said that in 2009, there’s no doubt that today, gaming is fertile ground for marketers to reach consumers across numerous demographics in innovative and engaging ways. It seems like every month there’s a new study that aims to break our assumptions about who gamers are (the audience is older than you think and skews more female than you think), and the proliferation of mobile devices as gaming platforms means that more and more of people’s idle time is now spent gaming – which, for a savvy marketer, is an opportunity to reach people.

Adweek’s special issue is packed with some great insights into gaming culture and opportunities for marketers that are definitely worth checking out. Below we recap a handful of articles from the issue.

Beyond Breakout takes a look at how brands can offer game experiences in the real world through platforms like Foursquare or technologies like QR Codes and UPC scanners. It can be tough for brands to get involved, though, as our own Sarah Hofstetter noted in the piece: “When you’re comparing [smartphone-based outreach] to a 30-second TV spot-a reach of 1 million versus tens of millions — it’s hard to connect the dots.” Getting large brands to sign on to real-world gaming initiatives, she adds, “is a matter of convincing marketers that there’s scale and reach.”

The rewards are there, though — connecting the digital world to the real world is a great way to extend the online experience deeper into a consumer’s lifestyle. For brands that deal with customers as an intermediary between their supply chain, it’s also a great way to give some extra love to those customer partners by incentivizing consumers to interact with their physical locations.

The Real Deal takes a look at the very cool “Birth of a Spartan” series Microsoft put out to promote its upcoming title Halo: Reach, the latest in an extremely successful franchise. The article discusses how more and more live action content is being used to promote games, but I think there’s something else at play here. The reason these features are so popular is that gamers dying for in-universe content between major franchise release, which can be separated by years.

Marketers that are promoting entertainment properties with strong followings can keep the fires burning and even increase interest levels with short-form content during the off-season. Some networks like NBC have tried this with Webisodes, but a key differentiator with “Birth of a Spartan” is the budget — Microsoft dropped $10MM to give the series a level of polish most Web series can’t aspire to.

Madden NFL 11: The Ad Game goes into the latest product integration in Madden NFL 11, and how it can go wrong. In the latest incarnation of the popular football franchise, Electronic Arts added a new, branded player statistic — “Swagger” — sponsored by Old Spice. Many Madden fans are annoyed — even though Madden as a franchise has in general been pretty ad-heavy. The big problem being articulated is that previous brand integrations haven’t had any effect on gameplay, while the Swagger stat actually has an impact of the player’s performance. As a general rule, brands getting into the nuts and bolts of how games operate, rather than being more cosmetic, is very risky — especially in games that are played competitively.

So what should marketers be considering in the wide-open space of gaming, and when is gaming a good idea for a marketing plan? A couple of thoughts:

  • Value exchange is critical: If you’re going to integrate your brand into a game experience or even interrupt a game experience with your brand, it’s absolutely essential that you provide some value to the gamer. Gaming isn’t like television in that ads aren’t considered part of the deal, and if you interrupt a game experience without offering something in return, your brand will be the target of considerable ire.
  • Games are great to re-engage an audience: Because of their long lead-time and high cost, games aren’t ideal for one-off campaigns, but for continuity programs, they can be a fantastic way to encourage an audience to engage with a microsite, Facebook page, or other online property over and over again.
  • You don’t have to launch a game all at once: Trying to create an engaging game is a daunting task, but fortunately, you don’t have to do it all at once. Farmville has been wildly successful at maintaining it’s user base for a long period of time, in part because they launch features over time – they didn’t try to create the whole experience at once and then release it into the wild, they created a framework and rolled out new features every couple of weeks, which gave users a reason to return.
  • Games can be anywhere: If you want to get your brand into gaming, it doesn’t necessarily mean creating the next Modern Warfare. You can add game elements to nearly any sort of online or even real-life experience – as evidenced by platforms like Foursquare, MyTown, and SCVNGR. For a deep dive into this concept, check out Jesse Schell’s DICE 2010 talk about the future of gaming in real life – the good stuff starts about 21 minutes in.

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What do you think? Will marketers soon begin making the most of opportunities in gaming? Let us know in the comments below.