Marketers see Web games as perfect fit for their ads

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Playing games online is becoming serious business.

New entertainment Web sites--ranging from Engage, where participants shoot 'em up in multiplayer games, to beZerk, which offers trivia games--are emerging as places where advertisers can find loyal users, prime demographics and "beyond the banner" creative.

"We do not sell eyeballs," said Jeff Leibowitz, president of Engage Games Online, a gaming network launching March 15. "We sell mindshare."

For advertisers, the allure is the ability to develop ads that fit naturally within the gaming environment.

`A CERTAIN MINDSET'

"You want to be where people are in a certain mindset," said Coby O'Brien, senior VP with Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive, New York. "It's a great way to make an impression."

The audience demographics are equally enticing: About 80% of players are men 18 to 34, and the average session ranges from 25 minutes to more than an hour.

Engage will charge players $1.95 per hour to participate in original online games as well as versions of existing PC games. The company's ad model focuses on sponsorships that include placement on "satellites" that circle a three-dimensional globe on Engage's home page.

Another company, Mpath Interactive, this week introduces the ad-supported Mplayer PLUS, a $29.95-per-year area offering premium games. A free area, also ad-supported, has been live since November.

ATTRACTIVE DEMOGRAPHICS

"Our players represent an attractive demographic," said Kristin Asleson, VP-general manager of Mpath's Mplayer. "They are heavy purchasers of PC hardware, software and entertainment."

Current advertisers on Mplayer include ZD Net, The Web, Happy Puppy and Intel Corp. Ads go for $25 or $35 per thousand.

Mpath and another gaming site, Total Entertainment Network, or TEN, position ads in the center of a page, so users see them while they're making game selections.

TEN has attracted 25,000 subscribers since its September launch; users pay either a flat monthly rate of $29.95 or $9.95 for five hours per month.

Ads cost $38 per thousand impressions for three months or $55 per thousand for one month.

For some advertisers, the appeal of going beyond the banner is only one factor in the decision to sponsor a game site.

ADS BECOME THE GAME

"Positive association with the ad has as much value as the technology of the delivery," said William Derella, CEO of Entertainment Resource Group, New York, which placed client 7UP on Berkeley Systems' beZerk's game site. beZerk ads appear as interstitials, between rounds of the site's games.

Other advertisers are collaborating with game makers to make their ads part of the game.

Interactive Imaginations last week introduced a new ad model where full-page ads are interspersed throughout a player's path.

Interactive charges 15 cents per full-page delivery.

Copyright February 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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