Social Games Keep Brands at Arm’s Length


Unless you’ve been traveling in a different galaxy lately, you can’t help but be aware of the explosion of social media. It’s so important that big ad agencies are scrambling to get a bigger piece of their brand clients’ social media budgets and digital campaigns. But there’s one area of social media in which brands are notably absent — social gaming.[more]

Zynga, the leading social game publisher of such online hits as FarmVille and Mafia Wars, says that 240 million people play its games. It expects to generate $500 million by the end of the year from selling “virtual goods.”

Until recently, brands have been blocked from participating for economic reasons. The way social game producers make their money is to sell virtual goods within the games.

Kevin Slaving, co-founder of game developer Area/Code, tells Ad Age, “From a raw revenue perspective, the successful social games don’t need brands, in the sense that their monetization model is directly from the player.”

Zynga’s popular FarmVille, a game in which players plant crops with their friends, had no brands until recently. It has featured in-game advertising from Bing, and introduced Cascadian Farm organic blueberries.

It took less than four days for more than 310 million Cascadian-branded blueberry crops to be planted by game participants, reports Ad Age. That’s the kind of exposure any brand would be happy to get.

How do other brands get in on the action? Maybe they don’t — at least not yet. Ravi Mehta, a product VP for Viximo, a social game distributor, tells Ad Age, “There are certain games where it’s hard to make brand work and certain brands that will work and others that won’t.”

Disney, Google, and MTV Networks think social games are the wave of the future. All three companies have invested in social gaming recently.

As for brands using social games for promotional purposes, it may be slow going. One option is for brands to build their own games from the ground up, but that’s an expensive proposition.

It may also pay to shop around. Social Times notes that Habbo doesn’t get as much buzz as Zynga, but as we also noted earlier this year, it’s been working with teen-skewing brands for a number of years.

Still, things might be evolving in the social gaming space, and that could be good news for brands. As social game publishers continue to seek new revenue, they may consider offering brands the opportunity to play along. That’s why, according to Ravi Mehta, some of the newer social games being produced are “more brand friendly.”