Social Games

Zynga, creator of FarmVille, recently valued at $4 billion dollars had become a legitimate interactive social channel for the masses.

Why Would Your Brand Consider Partnering With A Social Game?

Targeted Audience
As Irfan Kamal pointed out in a 
previous post, what’s intriguing about social gaming is that players are not your stereotypical, male teens in their parents’ basement.  For example, 60% of FarmVille players are women (that’s 48 million female players), and many of them are in the 30-40+ age range.  Whatever your audience, there’s a good chance you can find a game that fits.
High Engagement
Through games, consumers can interact with brands in ways that are informative, rewarding, and fun.  Direct brand engagement can last 20 to 30 minutes - throughout the entire play period - multiple times a week. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for a display ad or social network fan page to offer this level of connection with the consumer.
Unforced Advertising
This depends on the game and campaign, but in-game brand interactions do not have to be invasive.  Games provide the opportunity for brands to explain themselves in a way that’s casual or even helpful to players.
Viral Component
Whether it’s when they first sign up or at various check points, games often ask players to share information with their social network.  Brands can latch on to these viral interactions to increase awareness and drive action.
Micro-payment Success
Social games are usually free to play, but leveling up or progression can take time.  In order for a player to catch up to their friends, players can essentially purchase progress in a variety of forms, spending $1 or $50 dollars at a time.  As consumers open their wallets more often for these micro-payments, they become more comfortable opening up their wallets for games in general - which can only benefit the partnering brands.
Three Ways Your Brand Can Get Started
Lead Generation Through Rewards
A very popular tactic, this type of marketing asks users to engage the brand, such as filling out a survey or registering for membership, in order to receive in-game currency.  Though this seems simple, its results are questioned as consumers may not actually be interested in the product.   Many times advertisers ask consumers to sign up for a free trial, only to see the trial canceled as soon as the game currency is delivered.  I should also point out, if you’ve followed the industry recently, you may have heard about TechCrunch’s articlein which it renamed FarmVille, “Scamville” as brands began tricking players into signing up for paid services without their knowledge, leading to harsh criticism of both the game and brands involved.  If you decide that this quid pro quo lead generation is the route you want to go, I cannot stress enough the importance of transparency.
One way to avoid this sticky situation, is to follow the Microsoft search giant’s lead.  Bing recently placed a rather creative looking display ad which offered players, without ever leaving the game, a chance to earn FarmVille cash for becoming a fan of Bing on Facebook.  The low barrier to entry and minimal commitment paved they way for incredible results.  In one day, Bing’s Facebook fan page increased by 425,000 fans.  Though one might immediately question how committed these fans are to the brand, Microsoft continued engagement through the fan page with posts such as, “Any FarmVille fans out there? Try using Bing to get the most out of your crops and animals,” and linked to helpful search results.  Microsoft reported the first update drew 585 comments in four hours and 20,000 click-throughs.
Sites like GamePoints help consolidate these lead generation offers.  Users log-in to shop at retail partners, redeem coupons, complete online surveys, and engage with brands in a multitude of other ways for virtual currency in more than 1,500 games.  The site has attracted many well-known brands, including Macy’s, Netflix, Disney, Fandango, and iTunes.
Branded In-Game Items/Missions
mafiawars_publicenemiesIf you want to kick things up a notch in terms of creativity, you can insert your brand into an existing game.  Though a common place in console games for decades, sponsored virtual products are now appearing more often in social games, especially with non-profits brands. partnered with Zynga and designed a special fish which was purchased by 70,000 FishVille players for their virtual aquariums, raising $13,000 in five days. In addition, site traffic to increased 10 times during the campaign.
A great for-profit example can be seen in the partnership between the gangster movie Public Enemies and Mafia Wars.  “Public Enemies Week” allowed players to complete special movie-themed missions and unlock “Loot” which included virtual items from the movie.  During the campaign, movie-branded items received 55 million interactions and 7.6 million Facebook Newsfeed posts.  The campaign itself received 25,000 ‘Likes’ and more than 26,000 comments on the Mafia Wars Facebook Fanpage.  There’s a very detailed analysis of this successful campaign from AppsSavvy here.
Build Your Own Game
Now if you have an established fan base and time on your side, building your own game might be something to consider.  When executed correctly, brand engagement is practically limitless as you control all aspects of player interaction.  However, a big drawback can be brand fatigue, as users don’t want to feel like they’re interacting with a commercial.  One of the earliest success stories was Parking Wars, a game built for A&E’s television show of the same name.  A relatively simple concept, players earned virtual money by parking on each others’ streets.  When parking meters ran out of time, players would issue tickets to their friends and this back-and-forth, kept players coming back over and over again. In two months, the game had more than 400,000 players, yielded 250 million page views, and assisted in a successful first season of the show.
The game creation process has been simplified by the emergence of template-based games.  For example,Hive Media’s “Collaborative Content Delivery Platform” allows brands to simply upload videos, images, and text to create a role-playing, location-based, or avatar-based game.  Through this platform, brands are also able to add their own virtual goods and in-game advertising.  Creating your own game offers a vast amount of engagement opportunities and big brands you wouldn’t expect, like the United States Government, are eventesting the waters.

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