The business of video games for mobile phones must be one of the most dynamic and fast paced industries in the world today. New phones are hitting the shelves faster and faster. Phones are becoming more and more powerful by the month. Innovative technologies like 3D and multiplayer games are pushed into the hands of end consumers. Mobile game development studios are working on steroids to develop better, bigger and more complex video games (and yes, we at Overloaded are very proud that our latest game “Xyanide” has received The Mobile Gaming Award: “This is one of the best games for mobile phones so far” by Midlet Review). But in the midst of this all a new trend is emerging; free mobile video games.
In today’s world end consumers are bombarded with hundreds of marketing messages each hour. Finding ways to connect to end consumers and create awareness is becoming increasingly critical and more difficult for high profile brands like Coca-Cola, Suzuki, BMW and Heineken. Traditional mass marketing (TV / radio / print) campaigns seem to have less effect every year and consumer preferences are even more difficult to predict and influence.
Clever brand marketers are finding in mobile games a new way to reach the young people who are ever more stubbornly ignoring their sales pitches. As more consumers have game capable mobile phones, the potential for advergaming and thus free sponsored games is huge.
For brand marketers there could be a number of good reasons to deploy a sponsored mobile game. First and most obvious is to create awareness for a brand. Second is to introduce a (new) product or service in a way that involves and entertains the consumer and interacts with the actual product. Third is to educate consumers in an entertaining way about the product features and way of usage. Any combination of these reasons is also possible.
Creating awareness for a brand sounds easier than it actually is. Consumers are not easily fooled and today it is simply not enough to recreate Frogger or Pac-Man and simply put your logo on top of it. Coca-Cola for example is by no means linked to Tetris or Arkanoid and consumers will simply have a negative experience if brands chose to do so. Creativity and understanding the brand values become very relevant skills for game development studios to understand and apply.
Currently many mobile games released are focused on console gamers or at least are inspired on console games. Think about the Ubisoft, Atari, Sega, Namco, Capcom and Microsoft games that are heavily pushed by operators worldwide. In contrast, brand marketers are focussing on the casual gamers instead. Casual gamers tend to like games that are quick to learn and have a relative short playtime per game, typical 5 – 8 minutes. Key success factors in casual games are that they have a clear purpose, entertain and involve the gamer with the brand or product. The result will be a game that will be played up to 20 times, each time creating awareness for the brand or product.
A good example of an advergame is from Dutch-based IceMobile who released the Holland Casino Roulette game. The game is free to download and teaches the player the ins and outs of how to play roulette. The game is based around two simple goals: (1) educate consumers on the game play and rules of roulette and (2) get them into the real casino as quickly as possible by having them experience the fun and thrills of the roulette game.
An example of a product introduction linked to a mobile advergame is from German-based Elkware who released the BMW Series 1 Challenge last May. The BMW Series 1 game is actually sold to mobile phone gamers at various operators and portals, which raises an interesting point: can we convince consumers to pay money for advertisement driven games and have them actually feel good about it? If it is your logo slammed on a simple non-related game, probably not. If it is product placement in a complete game from A to Z, probably yes. My best guess; advergames that are free to start, but require payment for additional levels, characters, uploadable high scores to win real prizes, etc.
An example of just sticking “your brand” on a game is the sports game “Dan Parks Decathlon” from Dutch-Based Overloaded. In this specific case various network operators, among others Proximus in Belgium and Eurotel in the Czech Republic put various “billboards” with their logo is this popular sports game during the World Olympics 2004. Downloads where charged as regular games but the game was promoted heavily during the event.
As always, the marketing driven United States is leading the advergame charts. California-based Thumbworks released early 2003 their Suzuki Motocross game on US networks. A simple goal: create brand awareness for Suzuki Motors with a fun and related game targeted at hard to reach 18 – 25 year olds. The free trial game was downloaded 350.000 times in a period of 4 months resulting in approximately 100.000 paid downloads of the game.
Finally advergames are pulled in on demand (downloaded) by the end consumer in contrast to mass marketing that is pushed to end consumers. The result is a true one-to-one interaction which is perfectly measurable and identifiable per country, per operator and per handset which makes it easy to calculate ROI.
Advergames doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either. The demand for quality fun-to-play casual games is there, and so are the distribution platforms to deliver these games to consumers. All that remains is for game studios and marketers to intelligently work together to position brands where they’re welcome, in front of the people who want to play.