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Tim Brunelle is playing games. He decided to celebrate the one year anniversary of his agency with a game - Viking Smackdown. You can play it alone or with friends. He is onto something. You can use an iPhone and iPod Touch. Having seen the iPod Touch at work when I was in Canada recently, I think it has little to envy its cousin - aside from the phone bill.


Since I have an iPhone and was curious, I went to take a look. Fun, and addictive. That is the whole point of games, right? Especially if they are of skill, you want to keep trying to see how far you can go. There is already a Top Ten list of high scores. As Tim says on the company blog:

If you're holding the highest score at 5:00pm CST on August 15, 2008 you win an all-expenses paid trip to Minneapolis, MN, the opportunity to don authentic Viking regalia and the chance to throw a birthday cake at our CEO, Tim Brunelle. We'll even broadcast the proceedings on the Internet.

Latest high scores will be shared on Twitter, so if you're playing, add it to your account. Let me know how are you're doing.
Why Games are the Future of Advertising
According to statistics published on the Entertainment Software Association web site, action games were the top selling video game genre in 2006, with 27.5% unites sold. Other popular genres are sport games with 17% units sold, racing and shooters with 10.6% each, role playing with 9.5% and family entertainment with 9.3%.
As far as computer games are concerned, strategy is by far the winning genre with 35.4% units sold in 2006. Role playing games were second in line with 13.9% of the units followed by family entertainment with 12.7% and shooters with 10.9%.
Statistics also show that the average game playing time for women is very close to the average playing time for men: 7.4 hours per week vs 7.6 hours per week.
That is for entertainment. Tim's game reminds more of the sort of social games that are being developed for social networking sites. There are two very well funded startups within Facebook focused on social games. They are:

As Fred says, the social net is a powerful platform for building and launching web applications. When you develop a model for a sustainable business operating web applications on top of other's platforms, you win. The name social game network is quite descriptive - a network where you can play games with your friends.
Fred continues: Building a game network on top of the social web is a big idea. That is for several reasons. Engagement is key.
In a guest post at Lightspeed venture Partners, David Perry, Chief Creative Officer of Acclaim Games, Inc. writes about 29 business models for games. Twenty nine potential ways to monetize video games. Some of those he lists apply to digital marketing, specifically:

  • In-game advertising, product placement built into a story

  • Around game advertising, created using services like Google, personal affiliate deals, etc.

  • Advertgames, just like movie trailers

  • "Try before you buy"

  • Selling branded items

  • Buy something, get the game for free


There are many more ideas in the post that could get you thinking about your products and services.
With ad targeting, as Jeremy Lew, Lightspeed venture Partners, outlines traditionally we have four categories:
Geographic
Demographic
Contextual
Behavioral

What those categories do not tell you with any degree of certainty is who you are talking to. Are you reaching the right people with the right value proposition? It seems to me that the answer lies indeed in engagement.
The Old is New Again
Mindshare is moving from the TV to the internet. Platforms such as Facebook and MySpace are the mainlands where people congregate. These platforms can be seen as the TV and social media applications as the TV shows. As TV ad dollars shift online so will the shift in the type of advertising that is done online.
A world-class Facebook application has hundreds of thousands if not millions of users and has more monthly page views than most leading internet destinations. Apps provide users with unparalleled engagement and interaction, and can be branded with ease.
Banner ads will sadly still be prevalent, but branded apps are the ad vehicles of the future. The most successful apps will live where the masses congregate, within the mainlands of Facebook and MySpace and take the form of tools of expression, niche communities, contests/sweeps, and viral games. This thought also holds true for the iPhone and other mobile platforms.
Forward looking brands will do as they did with the TV shows of the 50s and will sponsor apps that are aligned with their brand promise. It will be seen that the top performing app sponsorships will involve a long term relationship between the brands and the apps rather than a quick 60 or so day program.
An Example
The Ultimate Flirt Facebook app from V05 is an example of a successful branded app. The app is a branded community/game built around the competition to become the Ultimate Flirting Champion. Users engage and interact in a rich manner by answering a Flirt Question of the Day, rating each other on how datable they are, sending each other Flirt Gifts, uploading pictures, messaging each other, and much more.
The app has nearly 300,000 total users with an average of 5,000+ users that are active each day, and it has in one month generated over 2,000,000 page views. The app was developed by Stuzo, Inc. and promoted by Appssavvy (disclosure, this part of the post was contributed by Gunter Pfau of Stuzo).
In Conclusion
This is just the beginning. Branded experiences in the form of applications and games are a way to move up on the engagement meter. Look at those numbers for the V05 Facebook application. Can you give me any direct marketing program that yields 5,000+ active users?
Games are portable, they are open ended in that you can start a new one or choose to play one at about any time, they are social, and they are fun. Online, you can really see what sticks and what generates traffic and interest. They can also be a great vehicle for peer to peer conversations, or word of mouth. They are tool in the hands of the influenced rather than the influentials and have a better likelihood of spreading for that reason.
Have you experimented with games or thought of giving it a try? If not, why? If you have, what have you learned about your customers?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Valeria Maltoni helps businesses understand how customers and communities have changed marketing, public relations, and communications - and how to build value in this new environment. As a communicator she specializes in marketing communications, customer dialogue, and brand management. Valeria has come to define modern business as a long and open conversation. Conversation Agent is recognized among the world's top online marketing blogs. Valeria is a Fast Company expert blogger and a contributor to The Blog Herald. She is a co-author of , a groundbreaking ebook collaboration by 103 of today's top marketing writers. Valeria is a frequent public speaker on brand marketing, customer service, and building successful business teams. She publishes in both English and Italian. Educated at the University of Bologna and Villanova University, Valeria combines New World sensibilities with Italian style. She's an active member of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the American Marketing Association (AMA), the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia (WACA), and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).