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More marketers seek attention of online-game lovers – NYT

I’m going to work on a company Dave Moore (CEO 24/7 Media) started a while back.  The company, Ad-Diction, centers around people watching commercials and playing games to recall the details.  Strategy and ecconomics to be worked out.  I have hired Andrei, who I worked with at Game Trust, to redesign the Web site and look at the backend.  I’m setting up meeting with advertsisers, agencies, brand managers, CMO, VP Marketing, and folks that run game portals.  Below is an article Dave emailed me. 

More marketers seek attention of online-game lovers

Advertisers are increasingly interested in reaching the diverse group of Web users who solve puzzles, play word games and decipher mind benders online.

The New York Times  – By Louise Story

Published: January 24, 2007, 6:21 AM PST

Casual game sites have learned how to play the ad game. The sites–which offer puzzle and strategy games–once focused on selling the actual games after the dot-com bust drove many advertisers away. But these days, they are becoming popular marketing spots as they begin to accept more branded messages.

Last year, advertisers spent about $150 million buying space on casual game sites or in the games themselves, up from $74 million in 2002, according to DFC Intelligence, a game industry research firm in San Diego.

This is all possible, of course, because advertisers are increasingly interested in reaching the diverse group of Web users who like to solve puzzles, play word games and decipher mind benders online.

In December, about 65.9 million people played online games, which include puzzle games and action video games. That was up 13 percent from December 2005, when 58.4 million clicked online for a quick round, according to comScore Networks, an Internet research firm. While traditional action games still draw more men than women, casual games are more popular with women and offer the kind of friendly online experience that ad executives say companies want to be associated with.

Big Fish Games, a casual game site known for its game Mystery Case Files, for example, says about 75 percent of its visitors each month are women. And, according to Forrester Research, about 51 percent of people over age 30 play online games.

"The gamer is actually a much more of a mainstream consumer than you may think," said Shar VanBoskirk, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. "Consumers are really filtering out advertiser messages, and games are one way that they’re actually still engaged."

Redefining "free"

PopCap Games, a company known for the Bejeweled puzzle game, is testing ads in the premiere versions of its games. Like many online games, PopCap’s are available in two versions–a free basic version and a fancier version for a fee, which it calls premiere. Traditionally, Web surfers tried the fancy version free for an hour before deciding whether to buy it.

Now, under a test PopCap is running with its game Zuma, consumers can download the fancy version and play it without ever paying–if they are willing to see ads.

AOL Games, a unit of Time Warner, is testing ads in the one-hour trial version of its deluxe games, said Ralph Rivera, vice president and general manager of AOL Games. About 95 percent of people who try games do not end up paying for the deluxe version, he said, and AOL would like to reach those users in some way.

"Within AOL, games is only second to e-mail and IM as far as time spent per user, so you’re talking about a very highly engaged audience," Rivera said. "Any time you have a highly engaged audience, you have advertisers who are looking to get in front of that audience."

Big Fish Games charges for downloads of games and also carries about 200 free puzzle and strategy games online, with ads. Starting last month, visitors who clicked on their first free online game of the day got a Sponsor Select pop-up screen giving them a choice of ads for that game.

About 25 percent of the people who play games on Big Fish have chosen to pick their advertisers, according to AWS Convergence Technologies, the company that operates Sponsor Select.

Choosing a sponsor

On Tuesday, for example, visitors could select either Better Homes and Gardens, Orchard Bank MasterCard or Windows Live Search to be the sole advertiser in the first game they played. The rest of the games they played showed them a variety of ads. "You’re going to get ads no matter what," said Paul Thelen, chief executive of Big Fish Games. "The advantage of Sponsor Select is it’s more likely to be relevant to you."  Big Fish started offering free games online a year and a half ago. Four years ago, after the dot-com bust, it was not possible to make much money from ad-supported games, Thelen said. Now that is changing. While Big Fish still makes most of its money from user-paid downloads, its fastest-growing revenue area is its advertising.

Whereas advertising in games used to be specialized, involving a lot of negotiation, the growing number of ad options for casual games is making game advertising more accessible to brands that once focused on traditional advertising, ad executives said. "You don’t have to be as adventurous or as bold to make it happen now," said Art Sindlinger, vice president and activation director at Starcom USA, a Publicis Groupe media-buying agency.

One appealing aspect of casual games is that players often start friendly dialogues with each other, and brands can associate themselves with that community building, said Saneel Radia, vice president and group director of Play, a gaming division of Denuo, which is part of the Publicis Groupe.

"If you look at the communication on a board of pool in Yahoo Games, it’s, ‘Oh, where’s your family from?’" Radia said. "Go to XBox Live, and it’s, ‘I’m going to crush you.’"

Some advertisers have taken casual gaming a step further, creating their own casual games–sometimes called advergames–and posting them on their Web sites.  When the Dodge Caliber came out last spring, the Chrysler Group, part of DaimlerChrysler, posted five casual games on its site, and one called Caliber Buzz was played three million times within a month, said Vanessa Kelley, manager of cross-brand gaming at Chrysler. Online games are now a regular part of Chrysler car debuts, she said.  "It’s the wave," Kelley said. "These people don’t watch television all that much. They are online. They’re playing games."

Entire contents, Copyright © 2007 The New York Times. All rights reserved.

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