To kick off Ad Age's Digital Conference in New York, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello introduced the new mass media: gaming.
EA, the creator of game favorites such as "Madden," "FIFA" and "Battlefield," projects there will be 3 billion gamers globally by next year, up from 1.5 billion now and 200 million in 2000. EA itself has 230 million consumers on its web and game properties.
"As a marketer for many years, I've asked myself the question: Where has my target audience gone?" said Mr. Riccitiello. "They've migrated to gaming."
But gaming is a different sort of medium. While consumers often use the web or mobile devices while watching TV, gaming seems to keep more of consumers' attention. From self-reported media habits, EA found consumers don't text message, surf the web and watch TV while they're gaming. "People don't really do anything else when they're playing games, they're focused on it," Mr. Riccitiello said. "Multitasking is almost nonexistent while gaming."
By hours spent, gaming also trumps most major web properties. U.S. consumers spend 15 million hours per week gaming vs. 9.5 million hours on AOL.
The gaming industry started to go mainstream 10 years ago and, as a marketer, that's when EA began to run mass TV campaigns, Mr. Riccitiello said. "That's when it turned from a niche into something short of a mass market," he said. "It felt like a real industry, something that really mattered."
But that growth is skyrocketing now, largely thanks to exploding smartphone sales, which put a gaming platform in millions more consumers' pockets. "Anyone with a phone can play a game," he said. Gaming is the No. 1 category in the iPhone, iPad and Android app stores. It's also the top app category on Facebook. Even the first game offered on the grey-screened Kindle outsold the top book.
"Where we were once an industry that talked about having attention and lacking reach, we now have that attention and staggering reach," he added.
EA is now trying to figure out how to be both a major entertainment marketer -- keep an eye out for $100 million-plus campaign for the "Call of Duty" competitor "Battlefield 3.0" this holiday season -- and a major media company.
"We're at the very early stage as gaming as a media," Mr. Riccitiello said. "The numbers support that it should be, but frankly we've been more focused on selling our apps than our audience."
Barack Obama, when he was a distant third in the primaries during the last presidential election, took out ads in EA games such as the "Madden" and "NHL" franchises to reach youth. "That obviously worked out for him," said Mr. Riccitiello. EA is also using its own properties to promote its own brands, which will see 25 new products introduced in the next year.
But EA is still working on how best to work with advertisers, Mr. Riccitiello admitted, which means advertisers can enjoy bargains on new programs.
"It's not easy -- it's not selling a commercial on TV or fashion ads in a magazine," he said. "At this point in time, you can do really unique things. But those opportunities are going to be bloody expensive in three years. We don't know how to price them now. If you want to make a name for yourself to doing something bigger and better, you can make an impact here."