Are marketers missing a trick with online gaming?

By Erik Goossens

Look at the modern family room and you’ll see a range of different screens in use; from the TV itself to touch devices and laptops. Smart TV may be trying to re-address this, but the reality is that it is still some way from reaching its full potential due to a disparate selection of operating systems and a cumbersome interface.

The problem this poses for brands is that as the first chinks in TV’s armour start to appear they are left looking to find an alternative. Could online gaming be the answer?

Certainly the audience figures would seem to point to this. In January 2014 online gaming websites had 662 million unique visitors worldwide (comScore). This represents 41% of the total internet audience. Not only that, online gaming offers a true cross-screen experience as it increasingly gives users the ability to play pretty much the same games across all devices. Indeed, 50% of the total internet audience also played games on touch devices in January.

This cross-screen appeal is further highlighted in the recent “Europe Online Gaming Market 2014” report produced by international market research firm Research and Markets, which looked at device usage across Europe.

The report found that online gaming is a huge market in the UK with around 20% of the overall population using the internet to play games. Within this user base tablets were the first choice of over a third of mobile device owners, while half of all tablet owners played games. In Germany, consoles and PC are still popular for online gaming, but mobile and social platforms are gaining importance.

Meanwhile, in France, online games are expected to grow and take a large share of the total games market, and here while the desktop computer was the device most frequently used for online gaming it was closely followed by smartphones. In Belgium, the largest group of gamers played social or casual games, with the mobile audience also being significant for online gaming. A similar pattern was observed in Spain, and in Italy the PC and consoles are still used as much for games as smartphones and tablets.

In a recent gaming conference in London, Nadya Powell, UK managing director of social communications MRY and a staunch advocate of online gaming as a media channel, summed up the current position and opportunity, “Gaming is a huge part of people’s online activities; it is the most popular activity on tablets and second most popular on smartphones, and it offers huge reach and engagement.” Despite this, Powell explained, brand spend in online gaming remains low.“ Budgets assigned to gaming by brands are a small fraction of total digital spend. The numbers just don’t add up,” she explained.

So why are advertisers not seeing the bigger picture here?

Undoubtedly, there are still misconceptions about the size and spread of the online gaming audience – for many the sector remains tarred with the brush that it is predominantly teenage boys in their basements. However, that has changed dramatically thanks to the rise in popularity of games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds, which have introduced a whole new audience to online gaming. So much so, it is now a major part of everyone’s online activities with broad cross-demographic appeal.

Today, online gaming offers a wide spread of target audience. One of the things that brand owners often find surprising is that the male to female ratio of gamers is split quite evenly; 54% to 46%, respectively. And this is fairly consistent across the younger demographics. Although it is staggering to think that in the UK, more women than men between the ages of 35-44 are now playing online games.

Beyond this, it also offers an engaged audience. At Spil Games we see around 180 million monthly active users across our family of platforms, with average playing times of more than 30 minutes per visit. Compare this with 15 minutes per visit for YouTube and even less (around five minutes) for traditional news sites, and gaming clearly has the edge.

Another misconception is around risk. But here, I think it’s important to let the numbers do the talking. We’ve already pointed to the impressive average session times and the vast loyal audience, however, where online gaming really wins is its ability to target audiences. The data analysis that can be run on people playing online games, means audience profiling can be refined to a degree that TV could only dream of. This leads to more relevant ads being presented to players and ultimately a more rewarding experience for all parties.

So, where’s the risk? Online gaming has a broad target audience that are engaged, in a positive state of mind and can be accurately targeted? It also has scale… outside of TV few media channels can really claim this?

If you’ve read this far, my advice is simple: Go and take another look at the online gaming sector. The opportunities are good and the rewards can be great.

About the author

Erik Goossens is CEO at Spil Games.

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