New Marketing Experiment - Social Network Games

Joe D

Games are an excellent way for online users to interact and spend more time at social networking websites where they are exposed to ads, promotions and other marketing features from the companies who support these popular websites. Some of the most addictive game apps, such as Zynga’s Farmville and Mafia Wars, exploded into a global phenomenon of popularity and worldwide interest in 2010 – and marketers definitely took notice.

In fact, revenues in social network gaming apps and pages are expected to go beyond $1 billion in 2011 – it’s kind of hard not to notice a figure as high as that and dismiss it as a trend or a fluke! Most of the money spent in these games will be as a direct result of virtual item purchases by the 61.9 million users who currently play these addictive social games.

Trend-spotter eMarketer.com believes that this figure will continue to rise throughout 2012, increasing the number of players and the revenue within this market. Experts are saying this new market is an incredible find, particularly when you consider that social network gaming really didn’t even get started until just a few years ago. The expected growth in 2011-2012 will be modest compared to the leaps and bounds growth that the industry experienced in the last two years, however increases will still continue, making room for new opportunities for new developers, publishers, advertisers and investors within the market.

Zynga is definitely one of the top game publishers to watch, with Farmville having become such a global phenomenon, enticing kids, parents, college students and seniors to play the game on a daily basis, and new titles, including the recently launched CityVille, following in its footsteps, projections for the future seem to be very bright. In spite of all this positive news however, eMarketer has published study results that showed the top 15 Facebook application games actually decreased in popularity between September and December 2010. But as so often happens in the online games industry, with the launch of CityVille in January 2011, interest spiked in all games across all platforms once again, jumping back to just 9.6% short of the popularity seen in social network gaming at the beginning of 2010.

So what does this mean to marketers wanting to get into the social gaming trend? There are many opportunities to help brand your company and products via this popular advertising network, with social gaming being most popular on social networks such as Facebook, as well as top game portals like Pogo.com, as well as other heavily populated and trafficked websites.

For one, you can work to integrate your own brand into an actual established social networking brand, the way that Coca-Cola was brought into Zynga’s popular Cafe World game for players to “serve” to their customers in the game – think “virtual product placement.” You can also display ads or sponsor particular features within the game itself – like billboards in the virtual world.

Another popular method is to create a campaign that layers in all of these branding elements, giving users the opportunity to virtually use or see your products, buying traditional ad-space in the game’s sidebar or by adding advertisements within the game itself. An offer wall is another type of integrated advertising that is marketed directly to the players – this has seen positive results. You could even develop your own in-house social game that you could release via Facebook or some other popular site that would give you total control over the branding and advertising opportunity without having to share the space with competitors. Investigate all the possibilities with IMVU.com, the Bonetown.com guys always at ThePhoenixForum, and the people over at RedLightCenter.com.

The best news is that this market is still growing and expanding. There are lots of popular games available to choose from for sponsorship, virtual product placement and advertising. You can advertise directly through the game producer itself or work with the social networks, such as Facebook’s Login brand marketing program. Your best bet is to choose a game that reflects the brand or product that you are promoting, or that speaks to the target audience that you are hoping to attract. As long as the brand and product complement the game or the venue that you are marketing through, you should be able to see some very positive results.