An advergame needs to be a game at heart. Internet users know when they are getting sold to. They may bite once, but if they feel they are being taken advantage of they will not come back. Nor will they tell their friends about your site, offer, or game.
DME: Is there some commonality to the sort of advertisers who work with you? Is Advergaming applicable for all services or products?
Ferguson: We have been very fortunate to work with some great clients and they are all different. From the Australian Labor Party (yes, a political party hired us to create a game for an election) to the world’s largest airline, an advergame can be a successful tool. We have launched two very successful campaigns for a feminine product and we have created games for companies who use them internally as human resources applications. As a developer and marketer, we need to hear our client’s message and understand how they will gauge success. We create the game to meet that particular need, not throw a logo on a game application and toss it onto the internet.
DME: The age of your audience is very interesting as well: you say that 42 per cent of them are over 35. So it’s not just ‘kids’ who are playing these games?
Ferguson: Comscore Media Metrix’s research shows that 59 per cent of boys ages 13 to 17 who go online head to game sites. It’s 62 per cent for young men 18 to 24. For women the biggest group of game players is between the ages of 45 and 54. And that, analysts conclude, is an important indicator that games are going beyond kids. We agree.
While a lot of kids play games, a surprisingly larger amount of adults play casual, online games. Kewlbox.com is split 45 per cent female, 55 per cent male. Our game site attracts a wide audience. However, whenever we create an advergame, we keep the client’s target audience in mind at all times. Certain games appeal to certain groups of people. So if a client is trying to attract a key demographic, we will build a game based on our research.
Of special noteworthiness, our peak playing hours are during lunch and at the end of the business day, with Thursday and Friday being our most popular days. Over the last year, we have seen a huge spike in game plays over the weekend. This was not the case 3-4 years ago, when we saw flat game plays over the weekend. More people are playing games at home now and we feel it is because more and more homes have better connectivity to the internet.
DME: How does advergaming fit in with other forms of ‘viral’ advertising/guerilla advertising?
Ferguson: The games are great as covert pieces of entertainment. We recently worked on a guerilla campaign for a soft drink company that had absolutely nothing to do with the soft drink. The game was actually for a “fake” underground sport that was just plain silly. The game was played 250,000 times during the first week the game was released. People passed it around because they couldn’t believe if it was real or not. As the game was passed along, new messaging was revealed.
All of our games have scoreboards. A huge ‘viral’ component is the fact the people love to challenge their friends to play and try to beat their score. We track this activity and have tied in reward systems to it. We’ve even built scoreboards so people can form teams and play against other teams. You have to wonder how anyone gets things done at work anymore.
DME: What sort of European campaigns have you been involved in? Is there a difference between the US and Europe in terms of the likely success of an advergaming campaign? What does the European advergaming market look like?
Ferguson: We’ve made several bilingual games and you can find our games on hundreds sites around the world. Most people do not read the rules, so that should be kept in mind when creating a game. Most of the games we create can be played without any language barriers. The European market has some technology advances, like text messaging, which is now becoming popular in the US. We created a game for Nokia, which involved text messaging that unlocked special features in the game.
While we have found companies outside of the US are more liberal than a US company, they are still pretty conservative. They have a brand and an image that they want to protect. When working with a company outside of the US, we usually work with their agency.
DME: Recently, simple games have been quite cleverly used to sell political ideas and not just commercial products or services, from anti-John Kerry games to pro-Howard Dean and anti-war games. What is the difference, or is there one between what you do and these sorts of games? Of course, the biggest advergame of them all has to be the recruiting games used by the US Army. Could you comment on this, and how this sort of game fits into the concept of advergaming?