The online casual gaming market is expanding rapidly and, with it, the opportunities for marketers to repeatedly place their brands and advertisements in front of millions of consumers. The online gaming market already attracts US$550 million in advertising revenue each year and is set to continue its current growth trend for several years.
The placing of brands in the line of sight at sporting events isn't new, and neither is roadside billboard advertising, but placing these same adverts on billboards, floors, walls, and vehicles in simulated environments - such as computer games - seems to be something that's catching on with marketers the world over.
The online entertainments firm Shockwave.com has recently launched a large-scale online casual games platform, offering advertisers more than 50 million ad impressions per month by placing branding and images inside internet-based computer games that consumers can download and use for free. From action games aimed at young males to puzzle games aimed at older females, the Shockwave.com Immersive Network gives marketers access to an estimated audience of 20 million casual gamers.
In one month Shockwave.com attracted 20 million unique visitors who conducted more than 25 million game sessions. Of course there have been a few early groans about ad placement from a very small number of 'bloggers' who have simply failed to understand that the advertisers are the very companies that are making these games possible. But these are limited in number, and they're quite at liberty to put their hands in their pockets and buy ad-free games from the shops. But for the majority, games do provide a useful stress-busting and boredom-relieving mechanism supported - as is any TV sports show - by commercial sponsors.
The first ad-impregnated game launched by Shockwave.com is Switch Wakeboarding, featuring ads from a variety of brands (the game is available online here). Among the initial advertisers in the new network are well known names such as Intel Corporation, Microsoft Game Studios, and SBC Communications.
According to Dave Williams, general manager for Shockwave.com, "The network offers advertisers new opportunities to reach one of the largest and most active gaming communities. And placing the right advertising within the correct context will also add to the realism and entertainment of the gaming experience."
Before, during, after
The Immersive Network currently delivers some 10 - 12 million ad impressions per month, and inventory on the site is expected to reach 50 million or more impressions each month by early 2006 as more games are added and existing games are popularised by word of mouth. In addition to in-game advertising, Shockwave.com will continue to offer advertisers packages with pre-roll insertion opportunities and integration throughout the Shockwave.com web site as well, with all advertising being customised according to the client's needs.
The ad impressions themselves generally run from three to seven seconds in action games, although they could be much longer in some cases (such as racing games where ads can be displayed on the hood of a car or other static surfaces). Shockwave.com also offers its advertisers detailed reporting on audience impressions, day of week, time of day, geo-targeting, creative rotation and frequency caps.
Games that did well
The Shockwave.com web site attracts more than 22 million online gamers monthly, serving them some 78 million web page views, and providing 2.5 million downloads each month. More than 25 million gaming sessions are played each month. The company maintains its gaming 'freshness' by having relationships in place with 75 major game developers and publishers.
In terms of 'Advergaming' (as Shockwave.com calls it), examples of successful commercially-backed games include RadioShack's ZipZaps (to support the promotion and sale of ZipZaps ultra-small radio controlled cars), Mattel's Battle X (to support the sale of HotWheels 'Battle X' toy vehicles), and the Hemi Highway driving game in which speed-freaks are let loose on the track in a Dodge Charger.
The ZipZaps game has been played more than 30 million times, and more than 50% of players said they were more likely to buy the toy after playing the game. And of those who now have ZipZaps cars, 26% of those surveyed were either "somewhat" or "strongly" influenced by the ZipZaps game.
The Mattel Battle X game has served more than 2.3 million online gameplays so far, and commercials before the game (linking back to HotWheels) saw a 33% click-through rate, and those after the accompanying Battle X animation clip (also linking back to HotWheels) saw a 20% click-through rate. The animation was not viewed by all game players (total viewings: 300,000).
The Hemi Highway game made the biggest splash though, serving 1 million gaming sessions in its very first week online.
According to Nielsen/NetRatings (in September 2005), one-quarter (25%) of the total web-using population visits a games site at least once a month. A recent Yankee Group report highlighted that, since the industry began in earnest a few years ago, online gaming has grown to reach some US$353 million in annual revenue from direct sales and subscriptions, plus US$450 - US$550 million in advertising revenue. Direct sales and subscriptions now represent 4% of video game industry revenue and, by 2008, direct sales and subscriptions to online games are expected to reach US$1.1 billion (10% of the video games industry revenue).
A recent Jupiter report said that online advertising will continue the steady growth it has seen since 2002, with total revenue growing to reach US$18.9 billion in 2010. This seems likely as 81% of the networks that offer broadband-delivered video already use an advertising-supported model to generate revenue. And finally, according to Klipmart Research (in September 2005), online video ads are reported to have up to 4 times more impact than other online advertising formats, with the majority of viewers watching over 70% of the content provided.