The following is a guest post from Jennifer Bartlett, business development manager at Sometrics.

Brands are becoming increasingly comfortable in the world of virtual goods and currencies, engaging with gamers via display units, CPA offers, sponsored items and more.  But with so many games competing for those advertising dollars, how can you stand out as an individual publisher? 

The key is knowing your audience and conveying to potential advertisers who your players are.  Then it’s a matter of optimizing where ads are placed and how they interact to generate more results for advertisers – and for yourself. 

It’s not always enough to provide access to a coveted demographic. Other publishers may promise the same.  But if you can demonstrate that you know how to place the ads where they’ll get the most attention, show you know how to merchandize those ads to maximize response rates, and tout a proven record of quality and enjoy the confidence of your players and other, it’s a no-brainer for advertisers to choose you.

Here are some ways to accomplish that:  

  • Promote offers in a positive way. Show that recurrence of participation with valid information is rewarded.  With a robust reward system in place  (e.g., virtual currency in exchange for completing a survey with successful information) you’ll be able to consistently deliver the legitimate customer leads that advertisers seek.  Of course, this is also important for your partners who manage inventory to keep in mind – solid fraud controls and direct messaging play a key role.
  • Build confidence and trust. This applies to both players and advertisers.  When you get ads and offers through networks, make sure they are tested for quality and usability, and that they are scam-free.  Insist on transparency from your networks, so you will know if unusually large numbers of people are abandoning the action midway through (a possible sign that players don’t like what they see when they get further into the action) or if high numbers of customer service requests are being submitted.  
  • Make sure messaging is clear. Players need to know exactly what they will receive by interacting with offers.  This helps increase participation when they see how easy it can be to accumulate virtual currency. In turn it reduces incompletes and fosters trust.
  • Collect detailed demographics and analytics. From social gamers to devoted MMO shooters, users have distinct profiles based on gaming habits, offering a huge value for ad targeting.  Having specific audience demographics and targeted analytics at your disposal makes that information easy for brands to understand which audience they are reaching.  Give targeted examples of how you’ve been able to react to player trends by shifting ad placement to enhance results.  Don’t take it for granted that an advertiser will understand the value of the analytics; connect the dots for them.  
  • Offer advertisers a way to truly stand out. By displaying certain ads outside of the existing or standard ad container, in prominent locations and with high interaction potential, you give clients a unique twist on standard packages.  Offer a wide variety of ads and ad units so that all types of users will be shown ads suited just for them.  Showing easy-to-complete offers in the early stages of game-play is a successful way to earn users’ trust and build repetitive behavior.  Work with your partners and the data to figure out the best ad/real-estate combination.

In addition to making your own games and ad capabilities attractive for brands, know how to sell the idea of advertising with games in general.  Be familiar with some of the pro-game messages that get brands excited: 

  •  Online game publishers enjoy massive scale.  According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 68 percent of American households play computer or video games.  The top 10 Facebook game publishers have 140 million active daily users combined, as reported at www.appdata.com.  Zynga's games alone attract roughly 65 million daily active users  and 225 million monthly active users.   
  • Online games are not just for boys.  The ESA reports that 40 percent of all players are women, and women over 18 years of age are one of the industry's fastest-growing demographics.  Today, adult women represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (34 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).  The demographic is wide—and valuable.
  • The viral nature of games is a huge benefit for advertisers. People typically play games more than once, and often share the games they like with their friends.  In a Blockdot poll of casual game players, conducted in October 2008, 74 percent of respondents said that if they play a game title once, they will play it an additional four or five times, and 67 percent said they pass along game links to their friends or challenge them to beat their high scores.
  • Games aren’t just about branding – they drive results, often more effectively than regular display ads.  ValueClick reports a typical click-through rate (CTR) of .5 percent for its display ads. The offer industry has seen ads deliver CTRs higher than 10 percent.  Even without a completion, impressions are being rendered.
  • Gamers are active players, not passive observers.  You’re giving brands a chance to be part of that experience – often in the very moment when players want or need that extra virtual currency and are willing to give their time.  This is a level of attention that few, if any, other mediums can offer.

This next year should be a good one for game publishers who practice these ad tactics, especially for those who put their game face on and are ready to compete.

Jennifer Bartlett is business development manager for Sometrics. She has a background in both online and traditional advertising, and specializes in cultivating success through strategic partnerships. She studied business statistics in college, and worked with Nobel Prize-winning professor Clive Granger on network research. Before joining Sometrics, Bartlett served as production manager for One Eighteen Advertising, a full-service agency. Prior to that she was project & product manager for Tag Digital Media, an Interactive Marketing Agency, and worked in business development and operations for Allodic Marketing, a Digital Signage Agency. Bartlett holds a bachelor’s degree in management science and a minor in Chinese studies from the University of California, San Diego. She was the recipient of Cal-IT2 Undergraduate Research Fellowship. She can be reached at  jennifer@sometrics.com.

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