Publishers Turn to Games to Drive Engagement

Jun 24, 2011


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You know the drill. You log onto Facebook and then, after posting that hilarious status update or checking out the photos of your former classmate's newborn baby, you play your next move in Scrabble, or tend your virtual farm. You, like millions of other people, have fallen under the spell of simple, but compelling (and not to mention free) online game.

For an increasing amount of people, it seems playing a game while visiting a website is almost an expectation. In fact, according to a Saatchi & Saatchi report titled "Engagement Unleashed: Gamification for Business, Brands, and Loyalty", 54% of male US internet users play a social game daily--with 46% of women following suit. Games keep users coming back for more. This isn't lost on web publishers.

Large companies have long been using games to get consumer attention. "Advergaming," as Wired calls it, is an old trick of the trade for brands looking to promote a specific product. Now, web publishers are using similar strategies to engage readers while also promoting their brands.

Nik Pai, CEO of SnakBlox, knows this. SnakBlox is a company that describes itself as a "self-service publishing platform that allows websites to launch gaming experiences." The company currently deals with larger websites, but it will soon launch TriviaSnaks, a social trivia and quiz creation platform that will allow smaller sites-such as a person's blog-to feature trivia games, and, ideally, rack up the page hits.

Pai described gaming as among the "fastest-growing content [areas] online." In fact, his company estimates there are more than 500 million people playing online games, and that publishers are starting to realize the power of having games on their sites, to attract more viewers and drive up revenue.

"Gaming inherently is very, very addictive," Pai says.  He noted that, with a YouTube video or something of that nature, "there's only so many times you can look at that." But with a game," he says, "you can play it over and over."

TriviaSnaks' focus will be, as the name implies, on trivia-type games, which is something, Pai feels, is appealing to publishers. "Trivia is something you can plug into a variety of types of content," Pai says, adding that it "provides the publisher control over the content." Other game providers, like Mochi Media, offer more general games.

Pai says he feels contextualization is "part of the future of gaming." He says SnakBlox has a "large focus on the contextual side of gaming," with the idea being, "let's give all of the power to the website publisher." This allows websites to cater the games to the particular interests, and knowledge base, of the people likely to be viewing the site.

Pai pointed to a current SnakBlox customer, SoapCentral.com, as an example. The games section of that site includes offerings that draw on players' knowledge of various soap opera stars or characters. "Soap Opera Crossword," for example, requires players to know such things as who attempted to blackmail Mimi on Days of Our Lives, or who went into labor after falling on The Young and the Restless. What makes trivia games appealing to publishers and to players, Pai believes, is that they're a way for people to "show off their knowledge." On sites like SoapCentral.com, they're also a way for people to prove they know more than other fans.

So, when players get eager to put their knowledge on display, they'll head to the sites that allow them to do so - and the publishers will reap the rewards. "Nowadays, all websites are trying to figure out different ways, easy ways and cheap ways, to build traffic to their website," Pai says. When publishers do drive eyeballs to their sites, there are several ways to make money.

Pai referenced such examples as affiliate models, wherein every time someone downloads a game the publisher gets a piece of the action. In-game advertising seems to be the real moneymaker, however. Pai says that, when you look at some of the market statistics, in-game advertising is going to be a nearly $1 billion industry in 2011. Trivia games, which are primarily word-based and don't fill up the entire screen, would appear to lend themselves to this. Indeed, the games on SoapCentral.com are surrounded by ads.

While games have long been the mortal enemy of publishers who could hardly compete with slick graphics and exciting storylines, it seems that these two ends of the entertainment spectrum are finally coming together. Savvy publishers know that their readers are looking for more than just a text-based experience when they come to a site, and have started offering a multimedia experience. Adding games are just the next logical-and lucrative-step on the way to maintaining relevance