Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Social Gaming - a growing opportunity for brands

I'm not a gamer - I flirted with games on the various computing devices I've owned since the age of 10 - but they have never dominated my life in the way that serious 'gamers' tend to allow.

Its also very possible that your 30-something blue-chip client - either a brand manager or media specialist - isn't a gamer either. Far too busy to waste hours on some driving or combat game.

Perhaps a reason why the true power of games has yet to be realised by brands. The lack of client empathy held internet investment back for years in my opinion. Clearly there are great examples of brands using gaming as part of the communications mix. Notably Burger King's 'King Game' series - sold at their restaurants. Plus examples of brands involved in MMO like Puma and Football Superstars (a ZO client and newcast deal).

My attention was drawn again to the subject today when I saw a story on Mashable about the hugely successful Madden NFL franchise begin translated into a Social Game. It grabbed my attention because as an NFL nut, this is one gaming franchise I have sunk some cash into over the years. Most recently buying the highly addictive IPad app for Madden 11.

Then I started to do some reading, and the numbers are really quite startling:

Around half of Facebook's now 500 million users play social games

56 million Amercians play social games

Facebook's hit games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars have made their developer - Zynga - a $4bill (valued) company

This was a trend that very few people saw coming. The fact is that Social sites, well lets just say Facebook shall we, has lowered the barriers of access to gaming (console, game cost) much like You Tube has done for video. People are playing, often relatively low quality, but free games on a regular basis in huge numbers.

"Now playing games is literally a click away, and you don't have to look for them because your friend will tell you where they are. That's been a key driver" said Kristian Segerstrale, co-founder of Playfish: a social-gaming company, one of the big successes on Facebook and bought by Electronic Arts for nearly $300m at the turn of the year. Playfish indeed developed the Madden NHL social game for EA.

So millions of consumers are welcoming and enjoying these "15 minute" gaming experiences. what amazes me is how few brands are really utilising this massive opportunity. A chance to build 'old fashioned' media metrics like reach (just look at the hours spent on social and gaming by obvious audience like teens but also less likely ones - Housewives with kids). Plus building unique brand experiences - that are sharable, competitive, fun.

Chocolate manufacturer, Cadbury, have seized on this opportunity with the launch of their hugely innovation London 2012 campaign - Spots Vs Stripes. Reading the background to the thinking, it was all very analogue - the simple pleasure we get as humans from competing on any level - a race up the stars, thumb wars in the pub. So Cadbury have created a massive social gaming platform

With many client companies still at the early stages of their social media development - indeed maybe we'll always be at the beginning of the learning curve, as the curve tends to accelerate at pace - more should consider the potential in developing social games as part of the on-going strategy. I know plenty of non-game playing brand managers who'd love to have key consumers spending 15 minutes with their brands.

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