PuzzleSocial, a one-year-old social gaming company that offers its application through Facebook, has launched a new element to its crossword puzzle games - a puzzle that offers solvers the chance at "game-show" level prizes, starting with a trip to Florida.
The Florida trip contest crosswords operate using what Jeb Balise, CEO and founder of PuzzleSocial, calls "soft currency" - virtual oranges earned for solving the puzzles, which players can spend on entries into the contest.
PuzzleSocial's first effort at tying prizes to solving crosswords will run for a month. Balise hopes to increase the frequency of sponsors and prizes to a weekly basis. In November, PuzzleSocial established a prototype for the current Florida trip promotion with a branded puzzle sponsored by hotel chain Embassy Suites. That puzzle required solvers to enter words from clues that are all about information concerning the hotel chain, and was displayed as a "full canvas takeover," adding the sponsor's logos and information to the screen surrounding the game.
"We're educating users about the brands through games in a fun way, in ways that align users' interests in playing the games with the brands' interests in engaging audiences," says Balise. PuzzleSocial's new promotion adds to what it did with Embassy Suites through the virtual currency and game show-style prizes.
Balise had the TV game show model in mind when planning the marketing for PuzzleSocial's latest offering. In the same way "Price Is Right" and "Wheel of Fortune" have partnerships with companies providing prizes, so will PuzzleSocial. The difference will be that "we have a better reach than TV," he says.
TV's "Jeopardy," after 28 years on air, reaches 8.6 million viewers weekly, while Zynga's Farmville 2 game has 9.2 million users active each day. But the problem with Zynga's virtual goods model, as Balise sees it, is that it is unlikely to generate enough revenue to sustain business as users tire of the games.
The social gaming industry cannot sustain itself with its current model of extracting income from 1 percent to 3 percent of players who will spend money for virtual goods and credits in games, according to Balise. The sponsorship model that PuzzleSocial pursues is better, he adds.
"The gaming company says, ‘Let me get you addicted as quickly as possible and then put a pain point in front of you, and you'll pay me money to keep playing,'" says Balise. "The user is saying, ‘I'm onto you - I'm going to extract as much enjoyment out of this game as possible and not pay you a dime.' There's a conflict going on here. We need to meet in the middle and the way to do that is through brands."
By getting 100,000 people - nothing approaching Zynga's millions of users - to solve custom-created crosswords for a company's brand, he can offer a stronger value proposition, according to Balise. Crosswords, he stresses, have existed for 99 years, and cannot be called a fad, so their appeal is "evergreen."
More than 50 percent of PuzzleSocial's audience solved the Embassy Suites puzzle. Balise hopes the Florida promotion will get 90 percent of its audience to solve the puzzle, and show potential sponsors of future puzzle promotions their reach.
PuzzleSocial also plans to pursue reciprocal benefits from sponsors pointing audiences to its site and Facebook presence through TV ads including PuzzleSocial as the location where their branded puzzle appears, according to Balise. "We want to work with brands to create as many win-wins as possible," he says. "Cross-promotion is easy to implement and will drive a lot of active brand engagement."
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