Video games and brands have been bedfellows since the '80s, with Purina dog food company creating the first recorded advergame "Chase the Chuck Wagon" for Atari in 1982. A generation later, we're walking around with powerful computers in our pockets, and these advergames have evolved -- brands are now starting to see mobile gaming as a communications channel in itself.
The mobile gaming stats
- In 2014, there were almost 2 billion smart phones in use worldwide and by next year their adoption is estimated to increase by 12.6 percent.
- Mobile gaming is now the most popular activity on smart phones and tablets, accounting for 32 percent of time spent playing games.
- By 2017, the global mobile gaming market will be worth an estimated $40.9 billion up from $17.5 billion in 2013.
- Mobile gaming is now a very popular and mainstream medium.
Don't use 20th century tactics for 21st century platforms
Advertising in mobile games particularly has been touted as one of the 'next big things' for a while, but marketers and brands are still asking -- how can we make the most of this phenomenal global market?
If advertising on TV and websites is considered interruptive (75 percent of TV audiences who had DVRs fast-forward commercial breaks at an estimated loss to advertisers of $75 billion per year) -- it's clearly not the optimum small (mobile) screen solution for brands.
The bulk of advertising in mobile games today is for other mobile games -- like "Clash of Clans" and the ubiquitous "Candy Crush" -- to generate more players. And this approach works...to a point. The cost-per-acquisition is continuing to rise, and because of the immersive and interactive nature of gaming, players are focused on gameplay, not engaging with ad messages. Ironically, these hugely popular mobile game brands are now actually moving away from in-game advertising and adopting the same media tactics as mainstream consumer brands to enter new markets and reach new players.
In 2013, King, the publisher of "Candy Crush," stopped all advertising in their games because they make more money from in-app purchases, and last month SuperCell, the publisher of "Clash of Clans," had a global advertising push and took over the world famous "scramble crossing" at Shibuya Station in Tokyo to plug their three-year-old mobile game. Brand advertising works, but not so well in mobile games.
Mobile screen real estate
Whether brands sell cars or confectionary, they want an app presence on consumers' smart devices. Consumers want app experiences they value, engage with, and retain. High-quality mobile games can be fun and entertaining brand experiences, but can also be used to provide data analytics that measure every element of player activity in-game, data that delivers consumer insights and preferences.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has over 27 million customers every year, but has low brand awareness in the US and China. Instead of using high-cost advertising channels, they've adopted branded mobile games to connect to new customers. Their first game, "Aviation Empire," is a "The Sims"-style game where players build their own airline, choose their travel routes, and invest in their fleet of KLM planes.
However, KLM also connected the player's online and offline activities via the game, enabling destinations to be "unlocked" upon check-in in the real world. With data analytics, they're building a better understanding of their customers travel habits, so they can work on delivering tailored offers to them and building brand loyalty through innovative gaming experiences.
Drawing in consumers
For commercial game developers, the biggest obstacle to success is discoverability. Here, with established communications channels -- customer base, social communities, even product packaging and point of sale -- brands have a big advantage which can give their mobile game a significant head start.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood -- soon to be followed by Paris Hilton and Katy Perry mobile games -- has millions of downloads, millions of hours of brand engagement, and is making millions of dollars -- raking in an estimated $129,000 per day, from 42,000 installs daily and 2.5 million daily active users (DAU). These games are high-quality and have the "sticky" ingredients necessary to keep players playing, but they're not ground-breaking in their design or execution -- they are just an accessible and desirable extension of the celebrity's brand. They deliver exactly what their fans want -- an easy and fun connection coupled with an immersive gameplay experience that they can enjoy over and over again.
Make a great game
Consumers want to connect to brands, but on their own terms, and most of them don't mind being sold to if they're being entertained and rewarded. Media consumption has become so fragmented, but with mobile games, brands have the opportunity to deliver a great brand experience, understand their customers better, bring in new ones, begin one-to-one relationships, develop opportunities to sell products directly, and even make their branded mobile games a separate revenue generator.
Everyone, young and old, is playing mobile games, and brands can engage and connect more successfully by giving consumers what they want.