EXPANDED GAMES ADD 'STICKINESS' TO PORTAL SITES: EXTRA VIEWERS INCREASE SWAY WITH ADVERTISERS AND WALL STREET

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As technology improves, portals are adopting gaming content. These game sites are just beginning to court major advertisers with experimental ad models ranging from interstitials to branded game pieces.

Excite (www.excite.com), which launched its game area in May, last month relaunched an expanded version. Lycos has a games area, and Infoseek is expected to launch its game site shortly. Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) was the first portal to tap games content when it introduced Yahoo! Games in March, with free Java-based games.

"It's one of the things you want to get in now and establish a foundation for," said Jan Horsfall, Lycos VP-marketing, of its games site (www.lycos.com), which is managed by Go2net, Seattle. "It's an integral element to community."

Even more important, gaming content is sticky, keeping users at the site longer. Average session length in Lycos' gaming area is four times the site's average, which is 7 minutes per user, Mr. Horsfall said.

CLASSIC GAMES LURE EYEBALLS

Since launch, Yahoo! Games' usage has grown from less than 1,000 simultaneous users to more than 12,000 during peak periods. It has 14 games with chess and spades the most popular, followed by backgammon.

Free ad-supported classic games and game shows have followed in the wake of paid services for action games. When subscription services began to plateau, said Mark Mooradian, senior analyst at Jupiter Communications, gaming sites, such as Mpath Interactive, Mountain View, Calif., started to adopt more traditional games with broader appeal. Last year Mpath's Mplayer.com site began offering traditional games, along with its offering of branded board games, of which 85% are free. About half of the 2 million registered users on Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Gaming Zone play classic games.

"Classic games and parlor games are increasingly popular," Mr. Mooradian said. Sites realized the audience for action games was finite, he added. "Diversifying into classic games became an opportunity to widen your subscription base" and attract the attention of Wall Street and marketers.

CONNECTING WITH ADVERTISERS

Gaining advertiser's attention hasn't been easy, though.

"I think the industry is finding the click-though rates are lower than average," said Kirby Winfield, marketing director at Go2net, which runs PlaySite (www.playsite.com). "That's why we're looking to branded game pieces."

Mr. Winfield said Go2net has been approached by a soft drink marketer and others to put their brand on game pieces. Go2net also has been busy pursuing a distribution model, licensing its technology to Lycos and Infoseek, and co-branding sites for Internet access providers MindSpring Enterprises and EarthLink.

Erik Lundberg, director-sales and interactive marketing at Total Entertainment Network, San Francisco, which runs the Excite Classic Games Channel, said certain areas have higher click-throughs. While a chess player is waiting for an opponent's move "might be a great time to click on an ad," he said.

REMINDING USERS ABOUT ADS

Some game sites, such as game-show site Uproar (www.uproar.com), are running banners to remind consumers to click on ads to support the free content. President-Chief Operating Officer David Becker said Uproar's research found one-third of users were afraid if they clicked on ads, they'd lose their place in the game.

Interstitials, full-screen ads that play between pages, are also popular. This week online entertainment company BoxerJam Productions, Charlottesville, Va., relaunches its game shows site

(boxerjam.com), with anchor sponsors from Omaha Steaks, Avon and Preview Travel. Its interstitials cost up to $45 per thousand impressions in banner packages.

Mplayer also runs interstitials.

"It's sort of like a commercial break," said Kristin Asleson, VP-strategic marketing at Mpath.

Mplayer, which charges $60 CPM for interstitials, gets 500,000 unique users a month. It also sells split-screen ads and branded icons.

Advertisers are "realizing they have events in real life and this is no different," said Ms. Asleson. "Every night we have as many people as at a sporting event."

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