Once upon a time, video gaming was the province of 13- to 24-year-old males. Now, more than 122 million people -- or about 57% of the population -- play games today. And these gamers are almost evenly split among men and women -- 56% to 44%, respectively. Market researcher Interpret, in fact, breaks down video gamers into nine segments, grouped not by age, gender or even playing time, but, rather, by game preferences. Those include casual, rocker, education and racer gamers.
So say I buy that grandmas across America are jonesing for "Bejeweled" -- but no one's buying anything in those games.
Au contraire, my stuck-in-the-'90s friend. WiFi in hand-helds and internet connectivity in all new consoles now make direct purchases possible. While that may not be common behavior yet, the ability to influence consumers and interact with them provides an advantage over traditional media that is well-documented in video-game-advertising research. A study from Interpret and Microsoft in-game advertising unit Massive last summer showed in-game ads can significantly boost recall rates as well.
OK, getting convinced. How do I begin to find the target group I want to reach?
It's no different than TV-channel segmentation. Broadcast-media buyers can tell you that Lifetime and WE are the best places to reach middle-age females, while video-game media specialists might point you in the direction of iVillage, PopCap Games and "The Sims" game franchise. Ad agencies often have video-game media divisions, such as Denuo's Play, or experts included in their digital division, like OMD Digital and Interpublic's Emerging Media Lab does. A wide range of players, such as in-game ad seller Double Fusion, talent agency United Talent Agency, media companies such as NBC Universal and advergame creator Blockdot include video-game development and placement as capabilities.
Are you sure gaming's not a fad?
McDonald's gave away 12,000 Atari game systems and computers in 1982 as a promotion, in one of the earliest game-related marketing moves -- and the space has continued to evolve. Today brands are creating iPhone advergame apps like Dr Pepper's Matchcaps, first launched online in 2007, and today's top-10-App-Store-rated Volkswagen Polo Challenge 3D.
So is video-game marketing like TV product placement, where I can stick my product in a TV show?
Those opportunities exist but are limited by relevance. It just wouldn't make sense -- in fact, it might annoy fans -- to see "Halo" futuristic hero Master Chief drinking a Diet Pepsi. Fantasy, role playing and shooter games all tend to be less-than-appealing for "real" brand product placements. Sports games, like the stadiums and arenas themselves, offer more opportunities.
Other types of video-game marketing include advergames, pre- and post- roll before and after games, virally seeded videos, trailers, dynamic in-game ads and virtual branded items and game-level giveaways.
What about the economy? Who's spending money on games when food and shelter comes first?
People are making drastic cuts in discretionary spending, but video games are holding steady, and even growing. This February, when just about every other industry was suffering greatly, gaming sales were $1.47 billion, a 10% increase year over year, according to NPD Group. Year-to-date sales are $2.81 billion, up 11% over last year.
"Games make an inexpensive recreational alternative," said David Cole, analyst at DFC Intelligence. "People still need to be entertained and sitting home playing games seems to be a growing alternative."