Reaching New Audiences via Branded Social Games

MUZIK HAUS : MR WIDGET by rafeejewell

The social gaming market is predicted to reach $1bn in 2011, a result of investment by big brands using games to engage consumers. One of the drivers for this investment is the development of technology leading to a deeper integration of social technology and online gaming, making it more attractive to a wider audience (as shown in both US and UK research).

Branded social games and virtual world environments can provide consumers with the chance to immerse themselves in an online environment dedicated to their favourite film franchise (such as Lord of the Rings Online) or book (like Scholastic’s upcoming Horrible Histories world, based on our HuzuTech platform).

But the most important development that’s opened up the market is the ability to include a social element to games. This stops the game becoming the domain of a single player and opens it up to allow players to chat to each other, share scores and information, and effectively market the game on the brand’s behalf by bringing friends in and posting updates to their existing networks (like Facebook).

Let’s be honest: most brands have, in the past, baulked at the cost of investing in their own branded virtual world. But that’s changing. Off-the-shelf technology (like HuzuVirtual and HuzuSocial) means that brands can build a virtual environment of their own at a fraction of the cost of building it from scratch. And many brands are jumping at the chance.

Still, it’s a big commitment, and if you’re going to get it right, there are some important issues to address:

Attracting and Retaining Players

Brands have to know who they are targeting and why someone would visit the world or play the game. Even if it’s free for them, they will still be investing their time in the world and will need a compelling reason to make the initial visit and to return. For example, are there quests to complete, or complex puzzles to solve? How do players get rewarded for success? Personalization is also a key factor in retaining player interest, allowing players the chance to express their individuality in game through the variety of characters, traits and styles available.

Ease of Use

Is the game simple enough for their target audience to play? Is it easy to navigate? Can it be played on the move and on the latest technology? Can it cope with high volumes of traffic?

The Social Element

Is it easy for players to bring their friends into the game from other social platforms? Can they invite them via Facebook etc? Once in the game, how easy is it for the friends to interact? The social element is often the primary attraction for people that play social games, get this element wrong and the success of the project could be limited.

Monetization

Will the player be able to buy virtual goods? Is there a real reason for them to buy them? Will they be able to unlock premium game elements via subscription or defeat bigger enemies with virtual weapons? The monetization of the game will be heavily tied into player retention – it will be difficult to attract or retain players without a satisfying story arc and little reason for them to spend money on goods without a strong motive.

Get these elements right, and a social game could be a great way to engage consumers with the brand.

Photo (cc) rafeejewell.

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