More and More, Marketers Got Game

An upcoming report by GartnerG2 will explore the "advergaming" phenomenon—the use of advertising and promotion in PC, console and Internet games. Advertisers have been making their mark in a number of ways, including game sponsorships, custom-made games, and embedding brands or ads in already-existing games (such as logos or ads used within the game environment).

Though the techniques are not new, advances in the quality and use of game technology both online and offline should allow advergaming to become a significant way to capture and engage consumers. Advertisers who have experienced advergaming say the methods lead to increased brand awareness, customer loyalty, product and product feature awareness, site traffic and time spent on site, according to Denise Garcia, principal analyst and research director at GartnerG2.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, Garcia predicted advergaming will soon be a standard element of interactive advertising, particularly as users become tired of intrusive display formats. Advertisers who wish to further engage consumers may find that games are a more subtle way for an audience to be exposed to and interact with a brand. Garcia predicts game and media companies will increasingly turn to advergaming to increase ad revenue streams, and advertisers will use it to differentiate their products and explain complex product features.

Who's Playing?

So you are skeptical that the gaming audience extends beyond Half-Life-spouting Alienware junkies? Think again. Garcia says that the top five gaming sites reach more than 40 percent of total Internet users, and that "all people (males and females) of all ages are starting to play, which represents the population, not just a subsegment like men 18-34."

Top 5 Gaming Sites


Uniques (MM) % Reach (Total)
EA Online 17.3 13.5%
Yahoo! Games 15.9 10.6%
MSN Games 10.6 7%
AOL Games 8.9 5.9%
Gamespot 8.1 5.4%
Total 60.8MM 42.4%
Source: ComScore, 2003.

Between 2002 and 2003 alone, the number of unique users on gaming sites increased by 1.4 million, according to Comscore MediaMetrix gaming media site key measures. Gartner has found that male users dominate retail and premium games, while females are more likely to play PC and free online games.

2003 Gaming Activity at Least Once Per Week
(By User Gender and Game Format)

Source: GartnerG2 Cross Verticals II, July 2003.

And this isn't just kids stuff. Of the adults who are 18 years or older:

  • 23 percent of those who play PC games are between 35 and 44 years old
  • 25 percent of those who play free online games are between 25 and 34 years old
  • 37 percent of those who play retail games are between 18 and 24 years old
  • 33 percent of those who play premium games are between 25 and 34 years old.

Yet they are not necessarily a wealthy bunch. More than 50 percent of gamers earn less than $50,000 in all the game categories—yet 25 percent of free online game users earn between $50,000 and $74,999.

It's Your Turn

Garcia says marketers who wish to pursue advergaming must remember a few things as they plan their next moves.

First, remember to integrate all existing channels—online and offline—into your distribution. For instance, advertisers can promote an online game via offline means by printing the URL on product packaging or promotions, or even by mailing out a CD-ROM.

Second, integrate the brand, product features or services into the game as much as possible. In that respect, you can use the game to better understand how different customer segments respond to different product features. "For instance, BMW uses specific colors and features of the X3 [model] that players can use to customize their car that they use to play the game," Garcia says. "Toyota does this as well."

Third, "Always ask for users to register and customize the game for them to encourage repeat visits and gather information," Garcia says. "Advertisers can build an opt-in marketing database by encouraging participation and user registration through features like posting high score names, or sweepstakes and contests."

Lastly, promote the viral aspect of some games. Encourage repeat visits with competitions or tournaments, and include a way for users to send email to invite or challenge friends—thus increasing your distribution reach.

Because of distribution and game design flexibility, the advergaming approach will produce the usual questions about bandwidth capabilities and effectiveness tracking. Yet there is evidence that this method may hold much promise. The advantage of advergaming is that, unlike a static display ad, games offer value to the audience, and they may show you their loyalty in return.