One of the latest trends, says Ferguson, is moving advergames away from single-player experiences toward multiplayer, community-based platforms. “It used to be an advergame was a single instance … People play the game, and the experience was over. Now, the games are becoming a much larger experience where there’s lobbies, there’s chat, there’s a longer experience by playing through multiplayer,” he says. “… Companies are now building a community around it. So the more I play, the more achievements I’m unlocking … I now can display what I’ve earned; I can now post my scores to scoreboards so people can see how I’m competing. So it’s not just a five- or 10-minute experience now; it’s something that lasts over several months, and people spend hours and hours involved with the brand.”
The rise of social media also has made advergaming more effective. By integrating a game into social platforms like Facebook and MySpace, it allows users to spread the games virally and direct traffic to the marketer’s site. That goes for mobile devices as well. Ferguson says Blockdot has been “doing a lot of iPhone advergames … building an online game, then building an iPhone component so it makes for a more comprehensive piece.”
Best Practices and Opportunities
Rovello and Ferguson say Internet users don’t mind seeing advertising messages in games. They’re smart and understand that there’s a value exchange when they take time in a game. With that in mind, Ferguson says subtlety goes a long way; a game doesn’t have to hit players over the head with the brand message. Here are some more best practices he suggests:
- Find a balance between effective advertising and marketing and effective game play. The game can’t simply be an ad, but it does have to have a marketing component to it.
- Understand how to virally spread your game. Allow people to place the game on third-party sites, and give the user the tools in order to do that. “Don’t just put the game buried deep within your site and expect people to come and hang out.”
- Add scoreboard systems, and create a deeper experience.
- Find ways to reuse games. “Realize that after that campaign’s over, you still have an entertaining piece of content and that you shouldn’t just toss it away,” adds Ferguson. “… That’s probably the biggest mistake that people make: They build an advergame thinking of it as an ad unit, and when the flight is over they take it down, yet people still desire it.” That’s why Blockdot runs a gaming portal, Kewlbox.com, that continues to run games even after the campaign is over. “We just may change the marketing message within the game, so that promotion may be over but the brand is still there.”
Entertaining games are strong because “you’re potentially associating your brand with something that people are doing for stress relief and fun, making for a positive brand association,” says Rovello. But Ferguson says there is also a tremendous opportunity for educational gaming, i.e., games that inform consumers on topics such as credit cards and finances.