Video Game Advertising: 'Warcraft' Meets 'Housewives'

Marketers Reach for Women as Well as Younger, Casual Players

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Soap-opera fans, accustomed to an array of female-targeted ads ranging from laundry soap to lipstick, recently saw something head-turning in the middle of their favorite daytime melodramas: a 30-second spot for a video game meant to be played on the handheld Nintendo DS.
Brain Age is targeting video-game ads at the daytime soap opera demographic.
Brain Age is targeting video-game ads at the daytime soap opera demographic.

Expanding market
The ad for "Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day" shows how far the video-game industry has grown into the mainstream, with hardware marketers and game publishers reaching out to demographics far beyond hardcore teen and young adult male gamers.

"It's a natural evolution," says Craig Relyea, Buena Vista Games' VP-marketing, "and it's a positive sign for our industry."

Buena Vista Games is launching the "Sims"-like "Desperate Housewives: The Game," targeting fans of the hit ABC show and casual gamers. The new division of the Walt Disney Co. plans to develop original properties as well as games based on its TV series and films, everything from Disney Channel's "The Suite Life of Zach & Cody" to features like "Pirates of the Caribbean." Marketing around those titles will tend toward lifestyle publications and broad media outlets, not gamer books and Spike TV.

"We'll be looking at who's a fan of the property rather than who's playing PS3 or Xbox 360," Mr. Relyea says. "And we'll be marketing to the audience, not to the medium."

The gaming industry realizes the value of the hardcore fans -- it's those 10% of gamers who are responsible for 25% to 30% of spending. Indeed, among the top 10 video games sold in 2005, only Nintendo's "Pokemon Emerald" appeals to gamers outside a core demographic.

25% of gamers 50+
But there's life, and revenue growth, beyond the "Warcraft" audience. The average game player is 33, with 25% of gamers 50-plus. Women over 18 represent a significantly bigger chunk of the game playing population, 30%, than boys 17 and younger, 23%, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Of the most frequent computer game players, 44% are over 35, and 42% of online game players are women, the ESA says.

Square Enix, a Japanese company famous for its multimillion-selling "Final Fantasy" franchise, is developing PC, mobile and console games with lower barriers to entry to entice women, casual gamers and young kids.

"We need to consider those people who are playing for 5 or 10 minutes at a time," says Daishiro Okada, president-chief operating officer, "and make games more easily accessible."

Software sales dipped this year, as they often do in transition years before next generation game consoles come on line, but double-digit sales increases are expected for games in 2007 and beyond, according to Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter. Those reasons, apart from the new consoles, include the proliferation of online game playing that has primed people for more sophisticated titles, technology of the new gaming platforms that is making them a home-based hub for gaming, DVD viewing, music and more, and even lower-cost games.

The recent arrival of Xbox Live Arcade, an online system, means players can download broad-appeal games like "Space Invaders" and "Geometry Wars" for $5 to $15, much lower than the hefty $50 console game price.

"They're [the new platforms] billed as interactive experiences instead of just games," says Saneel Radia, group director of Play, a division of Publicis Groupe's Denuo. "That's a wonderful sales tool."
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