Companies such as YaYa, Microsoft Corp.'s online gaming site Zone.com, Flipside, Uproar and BoxerJam are attempting to fill the void. While much of the action still focuses on automotive advertisers, today's games are fully centered on using online to learn about the audience. Jupiter Media Metrix estimates that 45 million people will play online games on the Internet this year and as many as 73 million by 2004. Online game play is also sticky, with analysts estimating that people return repeatedly for as much as 10 minutes per session.
But the metric that may be most interesting to advertisers is the ability to learn more about the audience who plays them. YaYa, which has created games for Burger King around the Rugrats characters, Ford Motor Co.'s Escape brand, Nike and Pepsi-Cola, specializes in customer relationship management. Keith Ferrazzi, YaYa's CEO, says there's a lot marketers can learn by applying data analysis techniques to the game playing audience.
"Clearly, consumers' preferences change [each time they play], but by using regression analysis, you can determine behavior," said Mr. Ferrazzi. Most games that are used for data collection and as a CRM front-end are e-mail-based. YaYa's Ford game enabled players to customize their car in the beginning. Pepsi's allowed them to select a character for game play. Both enabled psychographic data collection.
Mr. Ferrazzi said marketers are demanding more strategic thinking and results from their online plays. Thus, even though brand awareness is a powerful draw for some advertisers, his company focuses on CRM. "Everyone can do the brand thing and can count impressions, but nobody is looking at the relationship with the consumer," he claims.
A recent game for Ford's Escape yielded a 41% play rate with 8 to 15 minutes of average play time. YaYa's proprietary viral Zoomlet application, which enables players to forward the game to friends, allowed Ford to nearly double its original list of prospects, which was the company's metric for its effectiveness.
Another popular game site, MSN's Zone.com, has more than 18 million registered users. Microsoft estimates that people spend on average about 4 hours per month playing online games. Zone.com relaunched recently to target a broader audience of casual gamers. It recently launched OutSmart, in which players test their wits against celebrities. KidsHub, an online gaming area, is also in the works, sponsored in part, by Lego.
"Obviously, being a part of MSN, we do have an opportunity to have some of the big brands worldwide come to us looking for ways to take advantage of online advertising, online marketing," said Chris Di Cesare, group product manager-online games, for Zone.com and executive producer of OutSmart. The team at Zone.com has run advergaming programs with The Chrysler Group's Dodge brand, RadioShack's remote-control cars, and Toyota Motor Sales USA's Tundra and Tacoma trucks.
"I think we're learning as we go," said Bo Puffer, Dodge communications specialist. "It's a great way for people to experience your brand."
As Dodge mulls next steps, he says the brand wants to integrate several of its Nascar partners and its Dodge Ram pickup truck into the game. For Dodge and other marketers, the CRM element of advergaming is critical.
"We want to know if there are more people interested in Dodge and capture that data, communicate with those people during their buying process," Mr. Puffer explained.