Casual Games Don’t Equal Casual Consumers

While the recent success of games such as “Halo 3,” “BioShock,” and “Call of Duty 4” has proven there’s a large game-playing population that continues to grow, many advertisers need to reach the mothers, wives, and girlfriends of those guys playing these highly recognizable console titles.

Most of these women would never admit to being gamers, yet they may find themselves sitting in front of a computer screen racking up the points in games like Bejeweled and Diner Dash. Whether they recognize it or not, they’re just as involved in casual games as men are with hardcore games. Women over the age of 18 comprise 30 percent of the gaming population, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). Marketers shouldn’t let that word “casual” keep them from leveraging the opportunity to reach female consumers through games advertising.

The “casual” label implies that these games are played without serious intention or dedication. Statistics on casual gamers would indicate otherwise. Based on an AOL study conducted a few years ago, women over 40 spend an average of nine hours a week online playing casual games, which accounts for a significant amount of their total online time. These women spend nearly as much time as the average hardcore gamer spends on the console (10.7 hours per week), according to NPD Group. Surprisingly, the casual gamer sits for an extended time during these gaming sessions. As reported in PopCaps 2006 survey, 43 percent of women play for more than one hour during a session.

Based on these facts alone, brands shouldn’t rush out to create advergames all over their Web properties. While hardcore console gamers feel that game advertising adds realism to the game play, casual games are usually interrupted by game advertising. Ads in casual games usually take the form of branded interstitials or skinned game mechanics. These branded components can delay the game experience and annoy the gamer while not taking full advantage of the engagement between the consumer and game.

Candystand, a branded casual game site created by Wrigley’s, is a good example of incorporating brand messages into a game environment without disrupting the gamer’s experience. Gamers can choose to play their favorite games, such as sudoku or solitaire, with light branding or play games using Wrigley’s brand assets in a customized casual game experience. Candystand is successful for a number of reasons:

  • It offers free games that don’t require a login to participate. Consumers are more likely to jump right into the games when no registration data is required. By removing hurdles to the initial game play, the number of participants increases.

  • It integrates games from a number of leading casual game providers. The site includes diverse and recognizable games from various developers, which doesn’t limit the content based on one developer’s intellectual property.
  • Relevant prizes are awarded for interacting with select games. Casual gamers will play games even longer if there’s an opportunity to take home a reward for playing a game they would have played regardless. This is a key opportunity for brands to collect consumer information that wasn’t required at the initial signup.
  • The site doesn’t hide that it’s provided by an advertiser. Wrigley’s created an online destination instead of burying games on its product sites. The consumer is still able to opt in to additional information on the products, including making online purchases.

Most of these reasons seem pretty straightforward, but Wrigley’s turned these simple consumer insights into a leading gaming site and effective marketing tool. Other popular game sites are beginning to explore complete ad-supported models, but many continue to offer subscriptions or pay-per-download features. As these gaming sites look to advertisers for help with underwriting costs and building their consumer bases, brands should remember there’s nothing casual about these games. When brands look to reach female consumers, they shouldn’t let the “casual” label limit the opportunities in casual games. If it helps, you can look at them as “casual-core” gamers.

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