Social gaming – redefining roles and rules of gaming and marketing

Gaming: to most marketers the word still conjures up hazy images of unmarried, unwashed ‘kidults’ playing World of Warcraft in their mothers’ basements. Therefore, they are not always the most valuable target demographic (unless you are targeting basement-dwelling kidults, of course). Yet, this image of what gaming is and who plays games is as outdated an assumption as those who thought the internet was ‘just a fad’.

Nowadays gaming has moved out of the basement and onto Facebook and other social networks and, as smartphones become the consumer norm, gaming has likewise jumped from desktop onto mobile. The result? Games, especially social games, have opened up to the masses as a primary entertainment choice – they’re an everywhere, anytime, free option.

In Australia, 69% of people playing social games on Facebook surveyed in a recent study we ran placed social games as their number one activity on social networks – putting social games ahead of activity posts, sharing photos and keeping up with friends’ profiles. 66% of respondents say they play daily, 47% say they play on their mobile device. Australia is not an anomaly – this trend is replicated to varying degrees across the entire Asia-Pacific region (even globally).

In fact, social games are now one of the most popular activities on the web by time spent, with social gamers spending between one and 10 hours a week, eclipsing the traditional online bastions of news and entertainment portals. Herein lies the first important finding for marketers: if the name of the game (excuse the pun) is to move with consumer interest on the web, then social games need to form part of the advertising mix.

Perhaps more surprising is who is playing social games. In all markets in Asia Pacific females form a clear majority of social gamers, with 57% the average across all countries. This runs contrary to the trend seen in overall web usage in Asia Pacific, where males have held the majority in both usage and time spent online. With so many women playing social games, marketers are acknowledging the fact that they have a captive and engaged audience they can interact with. You want to sell branded products to the women playing CityVille? Here and now is your opportunity. With women being the primary decision maker among social gamers when it comes to household grocery purchase decisions, you will be speaking to the person reaching out for your products in store or online.

It seems like the perfect storm: large audiences, varied demographics, huge amounts of engagement inside the channels on offer… yet marketers have been slow to react to and plan for social games as part of channel selection, and in part this is the fault of social game makers themselves who, instead of touting social gamers as a consumer group, have been using that same consumer power to grow the lucrative micro-transactions that power so much of social gamers’ gameplay.

The challenge and the opportunity for consumer brands inside social games are the same: to capitalise on the time spent inside social games by having consumers spend more time with the brand or product message, and deliver the message in such a way that it complements the social gamers’ mindset of ‘I want to be entertained’.

The future for gaming as an entertainment category is bright, with social games producing an entirely new market of gamers. As Gartner’s ‘Forecast: Social Media Revenue, Worldwide, 2011-2016′ stated, advertising is, and will continue to be, the largest contributor to overall social media revenue and is projected to total $8.8 billion in 2012. The report noted that social gaming revenue more than doubled between 2010 and 2011 and is expected to reach $6.2 billion in 2012, while revenue from subscriptions is expected to total $278 million this year.

On a platform side, gaming consoles such as PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo are planning to embrace this change as they get ready to launch new generation consoles in 2013, where new technologies will socialise the console gaming experience as much as social games have changed the face of entertainment as a whole.

 

Scott Wenkart
BY Scott Wenkart ON 11 December 2012
Managing director, Spiral Media