Moms are unsung players in gaming world

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While their families sleep, many women find relaxation by meeting friends for bridge, solving mysteries or seeking satisfaction at a place called Pogo.

The best part is they don't even have to leave home to indulge in these pastimes. Fun, relaxation, intellectual stimulation and friendship are all available at gaming locations across the Internet. Females over age 40 spend the most hours per week playing online games-nine hours compared with six hours for men-according to an AOL Games-sponsored study conducted by Digital Marketing Services in February.

Stressed and overworked, some 28% of them play games between midnight and 5 a.m., according to the AOL study, when they can finally take time for themselves.

They also represent a missed opportunity for advertisers.

Not only is this group indulging more hours gaming than the young male players advertisers typically go gaga over, 43% of the average gamers are women according to an Entertainment Software Association study.

"The reality is that gaming has always been a very female activity," said Julie Shumaker, director-ad sales, Pogo.com, the giant gaming site operated by video game maker Electronic Arts. Pogo.com has 15 million unique users every month. Since 1999, over 60% of them are women.

What's the appeal? "It's an easy way to de-stress-to have something that's just fun and easy by yourself," said Jessica Rovello, chairman of online games developer Arkadium.

In general, online gaming has grown to be a national passion. Marketers are falling over themselves trying to reach young males with entertainment-oriented messages. But the second-largest group of online gamers (women 18 and older) are almost invisible to advertisers.

silent majority

"It's the single largest opportunity for advertisers right now," said Dave Madden, exec VP-game publisher WildTangent. "In the casual gaming area, women are the silent majority that all of a sudden advertisers will wake up to."

Certain brands were pioneers. Nabisco's Candystand game site has been live since 1997. Proctor & Gamble launched a Tide banner ad game in 1998 that invited the user to soil a shirt and then wash it.

Others are enjoying great results on the crest of the trend.

Chrysler Group, for example, presented an advergame geared toward women last year that pulled a 15% response in Web visitors requesting vehicle brochures, according to Mike Vann, VP-sales and business development at YaYa Media, a games agency owned by American Vantage Media, a media and entertainment holding company.

The "Chrysler Get Up and Go" campaign gave Web site visitors a test to determine their travel personality and uncover which of the automaker's vehicles suited their profile. A share-with-a-friend button encouraged pass along so the player could find out who among her friends was a compatible day-tripper. The viral feature had open rates of 66%.

A registration form following the game let players request a brochure for the vehicle for which they wanted more information. Everyone who registered got a chance for a road trip getaway at a Wyndham Hotel & Resorts venue.

They also engaged with the test for an average of 7.6 minutes. That's no accident, Mr. Vann said. "Women are busy. We didn't want to lose them because the game was too long. We didn't want the game play to go over 10 minutes."

Chrysler's goal of stimulating consideration of vehicles was achieved because of the nature of the game, he said.

the lure of value

"Women like to have more intelligent and collaborative gaming experiences," Mr. Vann said. "They like to receive something of value out of the experience-a coupon, incentive or dialogue with another person. Men are happy to go around and around in a circle for hours and just be happy collecting points."

Not exactly, Ms. Shumaker said. "The video games that men immerse themselves in are very difficult," she said, pointing to regular surveys that Pogo.com conducts.

Men love competition and action. Women are drawn to card, puzzle and word games "that have less to do with competition and more to do with self-fulfillment and community," she added.

Virtual friends who connected on Pogo routinely meet at a certain time and in a certain chat room lobby to engage in a various Pogo offerings. "The No. 1 feature they look for is community," she added. "It's the bridge club of the 21st Century."

Coca-Cola Co. learned that women like strategy when it developed the Vanilla Coke Mystery Game. "We didn't intend it to be, but 74% of the people who registered on the site were women," said Juan Pablo Gnecco, founder of interactive agency Studiocom, which created the site.

The mystery involves finding "the boss"' by querying animated suspects sitting in a nightclub, and uncovering clues. The Vanilla Coke brand appears throughout, but the game rolls on independent of the signage. It is a serial, unfolding a different episode each week. If you solve that week's puzzle, you win a prize, such as a Vanilla Coke T-shirt or CD.

time commitment

The site is successful as a branding tool for the soft drink manufacturer, said Lisa Diehlman, director-interactive strategy at Studiocom, because "there is a time commitment involved," she said. "The time spent gets the user more involved with the brand, and making that connection forms a bond with the brand."

Technology has enabled people to get what they want on demand. Meanwhile, in the age of TiVo, consumers are turning away from promos and commercials.

"How do I reach people who do not respond to advertising?" asked Greg Smith, director-media practice, Carat Interactive. "What's your ad agency going to tell you? Duh. Do a different kind of ad-an ad that creates a brand experience."

Yet, the advergame must also dovetail with the product, creative executives point out. Look at women, they say. What are they experiencing? That's what the advergame must reflect.

"You're not talking about an ad," Mr. Smith said. "Ads have permission to intrude. This is something where you have to be more subtle."

Joy Farber Kolo, senior VP-managing supervisor at public relations firm Weber Shandwick, was surprised to hear that the Web site quiz she developed as an extension of a PR campaign for Suave Naturals body washes and lotions was considered an advergame. The personality test guides the woman to reveal her "fragrance personality." Some 5,000 people have taken the test since March, driven there strictly by media coverage for the Unilever products. The effect is what she hoped for. "It gets consumers involved with our brand and touches them directly," she said.

And involvement, particularly if it goes on all night, can't be a bad thing.

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