Marketers Get Into the Game

Amazingly, the computer gaming industry now brings in more bucks than the U.S. box office generates for the motion picture industry. According to the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA), U.S. revenues generated by game publishing, wholesaling, and retailing topped $9.3 billion in 2000, compared to $7.66 billion in wholesale box office receipts generated by the film industry in the same year. In case you can’t tell, that’s a lot of dough — and a lot of people laying out all that money.

According to the IDSA, fully 60 percent of Americans (145 million people) play interactive games on a regular basis. And they’re not all pimply faced high school boys, either: The percentage of men and women is nearly equal (57 percent to 43 percent), and the majority of gamers (72 percent) are ages 18 to 35 years old. Overall, nearly twice as many people played video games last year as attended Major League Baseball games!

It’s a huge industry, something that’s been made frighteningly apparent by the barrage of game commercials clogging the airwaves over the past few weeks. Between Sony’s Playstation blitz and Microsoft’s half-billion-dollar Xbox onslaught, there probably isn’t a TV watcher in America who isn’t aware of the games that are out there.

So why aren’t we marketers doing much with gaming? For years, the entertainment industry and the advertising/marketing industry have been pretty tight, working together closely on television commercials, product placement in movies, and celebrity endorsements. On the other hand, the linkages between the gaming and marketing industries have never been too close.

Why? It’s hard to say, but most marketers’ resistance to the game industry probably has to do with the pimply, geeky gamer stereotype. If we’re not in an industry targeted to the teen market, we probably don’t believe that games can have any impact on our marketing efforts. That’s wrong, and more companies than ever out there are trying to change our collective marketing perceptions — and convince us to start using games as advertising.

The concept’s called “advergaming,” and regardless of its clunky moniker, it’s a concept that has worked well for brands such as Nike (with its Nike Shox email game campaign), Ford (which used a racing game to promote its new Escape), and Pepsi. Companies such as YaYa, WildTangent, and The Groove Alliance have used stunning 3-D technology to create games that rival many commercial desktop and console games. Other companies, such as XI Interactive have brought together some of the finest minds in the gaming industry to create killer sports games. They combine single-player fun with innovative viral techniques that get consumers engaged with brands… over and over again.

Even now, most of these games can be played over dial-up connections with middle-of-the-road computers. But with higher-speed computers and broadband connections becoming commonplace, these games are destined to become killer marketing vehicles for the future.

How? Simply put, games engage users for long periods of time, immersing them in an environment where they can develop an affinity for the brand. Rather than merely watching the action (as they do when viewing a sponsored sporting event on TV), advergame consumers actually become part of the action. Also, since the experience can be closely scripted in a near TV-like manner, the action can be interrupted to show TV-like commercials, or the views can be scripted to ensure advertiser messages are seen. It’s a great combination of interactivity (for the user) and control (for the advertiser).

How can you use games in your marketing mix? Some companies (such as Life Savers) create destination sites (check out Candystand) that host heavily brand-identified games. Others (such as Nike) have created effective viral campaigns in which users can play each other via email, inviting friends to beat their scores. Games have also been incorporated into banners and other rich media ad vehicles.

But the future melding of gaming and marketing doesn’t have to rest on the use of games as standalone ad vehicles. Product placement represents a huge opportunity in future games. Herman Miller could sponsor free furniture objects for The Sims, advertisers could pay for virtual billboards in Madden 2002 football, or The History Channel could release its own take on Civilization III.

The market (and audience) for games is huge now and is going to continue to grow in the future as today’s kids become tomorrow’s sophisticated consumers. It’s time to consider games as a viable marketing vehicle.

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