Beyond FarmVille: The Evolution and Influence of Social and Digital Games


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Why do games matter?

Point of View By Annicka Campbell & Seijen Takamura, Marketing & Strategy Analysis

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Beyond FarmVille: The Evolution and Influence of Social and Digital Games

  1. 1. POINT OF viewBeyond FarmVille: The Evolution andBy Annicka Campbell , Associate, Marketing Strategy & Analysis, and Seijen Takamura,Senior Associate, Marketing Strategy & AnalysisWhy do games matter?Video games play an important role in the lives of millions of people around the world. Moreover,during the past two years, the way our society thinks about video games has experienced a seriousshift. The people who play video games have changed. Gaming channels have changed. The gamesthemselves have even changed.As marketers, it’s important to acknowledge these changes and recognize the opportunities thatgaming represents for brands. Brands are infusing gaming into product campaigns, customerexperiences, mobile applications, and more — ultimately, gaming has the ability to improve loyalty andengagement among customers.We’ve written this white paper to illustrate the impact of the social gaming industry in the UnitedStates. In the following pages, we’ll identify some key changes in the demographics, development, andsocial relevancy of games, in addition to touching upon some key strengths and weaknesses of gamingmechanics within the context of marketing and advertising.Numbers TalkThe size and monetary scope of the video game industry is mind-boggling. In 2009, the worldwide videogame industry generated $60 billion in revenue, a number that’s forecast to grow to $70 billion by 2015.To put things in perspective, Hollywood generated $10.6 billion dollars in revenue in 2009 — and theUS gaming industry generated $25.29 billion dollars during the same timeframe. Moreover, the saleof virtual goods within social games alone generated $726 million dollars in revenue in 2009,and areexpected to increase to $2 billion dollars in 2012.It’s important to note that when we talk about the video game industry, we’re referring to everything:video games, PC games, mobile games, social games, all of it. Gaming has become massive in boththe number of people who play and the amount of revenue it generates — and will continue to growexponentially in coming years.Who cares about games?Today, nearly everyone cares. And if they don’t, they should. Over the past two years, the way we’vethought about video games has made a complete shift. The people who play video games havechanged. The places they are played have changed, and the types of games have changed. © Sapient Corporation, 2011
  2. 2. POINT OF viewAs marketers, all of these changes have relevance. Brands are infusing games and game mechanicsinto product campaigns, customer experiences, mobile applications, and more. All of these efforts areintended to improve loyalty and engagement among consumers.We’ve written this paper to help you understand the impact of the video gaming industry in the U.S.,identify some key changes in the demographics and development of games, understand why gamesare relevant, and identify some key strengths and weaknesses. We’ll also showcase some brandedefforts that leverage social gaming.Cultural stigmaAs we’ve already mentioned, gaming has become a much more culturally accepted form ofentertainment — and it’s more accessible to a wider audience than ever before.The cliché of the typical video gamer — a younger male who lives at home — is now outdated. Today,most American families are playing some form of a video game in the course of their daily lives. Thisyear, 67 percent of American households will play video games, and 64 percent of parents think gamesare a positive force in their children’s lives — highlighting the increasing cultural acceptance of videogames.It’s likely that gamer culture is changing because the way we perceive games has also changed. Inthe 1980s and 90s, video games were considered to be a waste of time and a negative force in youngpeoples’ lives. Today, it’s an educational toy, a social experience, and a form of exercise.The story of socialWe can’t fully understand the evolution of the gaming universe without first evaluating the role thatsocial gaming within that universe.When we talk about social gaming, what exactly do we mean?The term ‘social gaming’ can be misleading — after all, by definition, a game is an inherently socialact. However, in this context, we are talking about games that must be three things: casual, digital, andplayed within a social network or mobile application.Social games have some key characteristics:1. They integrate into a social graph. They allow players to play with friends they know in real life,people with whom players have established, offline relationships.2. They are “stickier” than traditional games. Just as people are affected in a real way by the actionsof their real friends, the game has the potential viral ability and popularity because of that personalconnection.3. They have a unique niche within the gaming ecosystem. Social games are driven by social interactionand obligation rather than by strategy. They are graphically light, quick to play, and cheap and fast todevelop.The new revolutionSocial gaming has triggered a transformative shift into a demographic revolution. These are games foreveryone, thanks to their emphasis on community and their (relatively) low learning curves. © Sapient Corporation, 2011
  3. 3. POINT OF viewSocial games are very accessible to non-gamers: 35 percent of the people playing social games in theUnited States had never played a video game before. Moreover, as of January 2010, 54 percent of theU.S. social gaming population are women. The age distribution also tends to skew older; 46 percent ofsocial gamers are between the ages of 40 and 59. And when it comes to volume of people playing, thenumbers are impressive: 20 percent of the U.S. population ages six and older have played a game on asocial network within the past three months. That equates to almost 60 million people.Cross platform integrationAnother hugely important development in the realm of gaming is the emergence of the cross —platform gaming experience. Today, we play games on our smartphones, Web browsers, Facebookaccounts, Nintendo Wiis, and Xbox Kinects, in addition to traditional gaming consoles like the Xbox andPlayStation. In 2010, 42 percent of Americans will play a game on their mobile phone. The number offamilies that own one or more designated game console has greatly increased as well — 67 percent ofAmerican homes own a console or PC used to play games, and 27 percent of the time spent online byan adult American is spent on games.Don’t expect the designated console to disappear. Instead, expect to see more games that support playacross independent and playable mobile devices such as the Xbox Kinect, the Apple iPad, and smartphones.Branded Gaming EffortsBrands are beginning to experiment with incorporating social gaming into their cross-channelcampaigns. Many of these efforts are still experimental in nature, and a framework for developingand implementing social game campaigns isn’t yet available, we can learn by looking at the followingsuccessful and engaging examples of branded games.1. PepsiThe Refresh Everything Project is an interactive competition that uses elements of play to bringreal value to consumers’ lives. In 2010, Pepsi announced that it would pull its multi-decade, multi-million dollar Super Bowl ad and devote $20 million to a social media cause campaign. While Pepsi isconsidered a traditional brand, this idea was anything but.Pepsi used that $20 million dollars to create a grant fund ( where peoplefrom all over the US can nominate projects in local communities that need funding, whether that bea sports team in need of uniforms or a project devoted to building houses. To date, more people havevoted for causes on the Pepsi Refresh site than voted in the 2008 presidential election.Pepsi took a cause marketing campaign and voting process and turned it into an interactive game thatencourages users to return multiple times per day to vote, check the leaderboards, and read aboutwinning campaigns — all while engaging and interacting with the Pepsi brand in a meaningful way.2. allows users to track and better organize their personal finances in an interactive has begun to experiment with turning personal finance into a game — with points, meritbadges, and more.In 2009, the site launched a new feature called Financial Fitness that adds an element of gaming tothe service. The game outlines five main principles users should focus on with regard to finance (e.g.,managing debt, spending less). Each principle has tasks associated with it, and rewards users whenthey successfully complete the task. © Sapient Corporation, 2011
  4. 4. POINT OF viewMint helps its users make progress within their daily lives and helps them achieve monetary goalsthrough saving and responsibility. By turning their users’ mundane (and quite possibly confusing)personal finances into something fun and competitive, engagement among users increased.3. Nike+Nike+ has been around since 2006. This piece of hardware — turned-application uses GPS and aniPhone accelerometer app to track and share running behavior across multiple platforms, includinga mobile app, social network, and the Nike website (which includes Facebook integration). The apptracks the user’s progress online and shares favorite runs.Nike+ is a great example of taking the online gaming offline. In August 2008, 800,000 runners loggedon and signed up to run a 10K race simultaneously in 25 cities, from Chicago to São Paulo, upping theante as far as what it means for a game to go global.Using Nike+, the once — solitary experience of running and outdoor training is now a very socialexperience that integrates your progress with others’. It also encourages users to explore new areas,meet other local runners, and compete with friends during training. In this sense, we see how closelyrelated social gaming and location-based services truly are, as services that help us interact with ouroffline environments, explore new territory, and connect with friends both new and old.4. American StandardThis bathroom fixture brand has been around for over 130 years. Thanks to a more functional productoffering, it’s not a brand that we expected to see dabbling in the social gaming space – but they’regetting involved in an interesting and useful way.American Standard recently released a mobile application and website called Responsible Bathroom.The concept: turning energy and water conservation into a social game. This game encouragescompetition, education, and tracking to help users make their homes more energy and water friendly.Once users take the introduction quiz to evaluate how efficient their bathroom usage is, they trackenergy use over time (hopefully decreasing) and learn about ways to conserve. Over time, theapp calculator lets players track how much water and money they’re saving, with AmericanStandard products in particular. Users are also enrolled in a weekly sweepstakes and arerewarded with local rebates.This app offers real return and real savings, in addition to awareness of an important environmentalcause that customers can impact with simple changes during their daily lives. We’re guessing that theapp will also improve loyalty and brand perception for American Standard — something to think aboutfor brands that hope to offer social gaming to their users in the future.5. BingBing’s FarmVille promotion was featured in March of 2010. FarmVille users were invited to becomefans of the Bing Facebook page and received Farm Cash, FarmVille’s virtual currency, in return. Bingacquired 400,000 Facebook fans in one day through a FarmVille promotion. While this stand-alonepromotion seems like a clever integration, it also begs the question: How valuable are the fans really?While this could have been an unsuccessful attempt at user loyalty, Microsoft’s social media teamcrafted Facebook updates to cater to FarmVille users. One update read: “Any FarmVille fans out there?Try using Bing to get the most out of your crops and animals.” By linking to a Bing search result for“FarmVille Animals,” the update drew 585 comments and 20,000 click-throughs in four hours. © Sapient Corporation, 2011
  5. 5. POINT OF viewThe idea of giving users incentives to participate in actions to gain virtual currency has been arevolutionary one for Facebook. But the challenge lies in getting the right kind of fans — the ones whocan be the most valuable for your brand — and engaging them beyond just a click.What does it all mean?Infusing game mechanics into consumer experiences can make moments even more engaging andmemorable, but there are some things to remember: 1. Incentive is important. Games can make marketing stick and engage consumers, whether they are branded or not. However, game mechanics are not a Band-Aid. To be effective, the game must have a tangible reward or value associated with it — from a cause (in the case of Pepsi and American Standard) to personal gain (in the case of 2. Mind the demographic shift. Today, video games are played in most U.S. households, and are played by both genders and people of every age. Brands that wouldn’t typically to turn to gaming as a viable marketing channel should now begin to consider it a new way of connecting with the same segments they’ve reached via more traditional channels in the past. 3.Embrace the integration. Game advertising is not longer defined as in-game billboards. Games happen on any device with a screen — phone, computer, or console — all options for brands looking to get involved.Today, games can happen anywhere, and our interactions with video games have changed.The perception of games in American culture as a negative force has evolved into an understandingof games as a positive developmental tool for both children and older people. We play with anyone,and we can play anywhere, if we want to. And gaming is no longer just a sliver of our lives; it’s a dailyexperience. Video games are an important part of our lives today, and consumers have shown thatthey’re more than willing to engage with brands that embrace the same mentality. It will be interestingto see how brands take stock of this evolution, and how they will leverage these changes to impact theircross-channel campaigns and their relationships with Seijen and Annicka are members of SapientNitro’s Consumer & Industry Research Team , the company’s pulse on all thing trends. Supporting all Sapient offices globally, but based in Chicago, the team is comprised of 6 full-time researchers dedicated not only to monitoring developments and news within specific digital channels like Mobile or Social Media, but also to analyzing how these technology trends can be leveraged strategically within industry-verticals or specific client projects. © Sapient Corporation, 2011