Commentary

Casual Games

While a lot of the attention in the video game ad market is focused on the bigger-name franchises from major development houses, potential in-game advertisers have a whole other sector to look at--casual games.

A recent survey by TryMedia Network has shown what anyone who's ever tried to sit down and play only 15 minute of "Bejeweled" or "Bookworm" already knew--casual games, they're not so casual. The survey, which queried 789 gamers, found that 37 percent of the players play nine or more sessions per week, and 66 percent say each session lasts more than two hours.

And the market for casual games is quite different from that of the more involved platform and PC games. According to the TryMedia survey, 71 percent of casual game players are female, and 65 percent are ages 35-60--a far cry from the young male demographic that most in-game advertising promises.

But casual game developers and publishers face some significant issues in the production and monetization of their products: The design of many casual games makes them easy to clone, and--much like content all over the Web--players expect to get these games for free.

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"The model developed initially on a shareware model, which made sense in the early days of casual games," says Dave Williams, CEO of Shockwave, one of the biggest casual games publishers on the Web. Williams' firm allows users to play an hour for free on their popular downloadable casual games. But with a library of 160 games, Shockwave is essentially giving away 160 hours of free play, likely enough to keep the average gamer sated until he or she can find a new source of games.

"The challenge for the downloadable games market now is 'is there a better way to monetize those 60 minutes?'" Williams asks. "If we can monetize that 60 minutes of free play better, that's going to open up a lot more possibilities."

One of the possibilities, Williams says, is promoting Shockwave's library of casual games more, and getting more plays. Currently, the conversion rate for the free play is between 1 and 2 percent, he notes, but if advertisers were to pick up the slack, and add a new revenue stream, his casual games publishers could afford to promote their downloadable offerings more.

It's certainly not a new idea--consumers have wanted free content since the inception of the Web, and advertisers now play a major role in seeing that they get it. If Trymedia's numbers are to be believed, casual gamers are not so casual, and their demographics are little like the common perception of gamers. Advertisers should not be casual in overlooking this space.

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