With all of the much-deserved success and press about Kinect for Xbox 360, another very significant addition to Microsoft’s gaming portfolio may have been overlooked: the official preview of the new MSN Games. This is the first social gaming portal which lets users easily connect to a centralized gaming hub that spans across multiple platforms. This is a significant development for people who love social gaming. The new MSN Games allows players to challenge and play with friends across Bing and Windows Live Messenger, and connect to social networks, such as Facebook and Windows Live. This means that, for the first time, friends can chat with friends, compare rankings and invite friends to beat their high scores – no matter where they play.
Microsoft Game Hub first launched in June with the introduction to Bing Games. The Hub ties Microsoft’s casual gaming properties together in a unified experience across MSN Games, connecting players across platforms and their social circles, with a great games experience at the center. One of the key benefits of Games Hub is discoverability, thanks to a comprehensive game dashboard which shows friends, high scores and rewards, and follows you from game to game. High scores can now be posted on Facebook, and gamers can view Facebook social feeds in Game Hub.
This is all very big news for advertisers because, increasingly, social gaming is where the audience is. The numbers are nothing short of staggering. Consider this: today, a whopping 870 million consumers play casual, social or mobile games. That’s about one third the planet’s digital population. In fact, the casual and social gaming audience is expected to surpass the primetime TV audience by 2012. Zynga’s blockbuster game, FarmVille, has a dedicated audience of sixty-two million consumers. And half of those users come back daily. Importantly for advertisers, the fast growing nature of the social and casual gaming audience has resulted in a shortage of ad products which can be used to reach this now-emerged audience. All of this begs the question: how can advertisers get in the game?
On the new preview to MSN Games, socially-enabled game sponsorships reward users for interacting with the brand while playing the game. There are also socially-enabled custom games, site-wide “skins” and sponsored sweepstakes with weekly cash prizes. These ad opportunities are just the beginning. I believe there’s plenty of room for marketers in the social gaming space and an opportunity to engage with consumers in new ways with real results. Why? Because the social gaming ad model works for both audiences and advertisers. It’s a perfect example of my oft-discussed value exchange—consumers get to play highly entertaining games for free because they are ad-sponsored. What’s more, brands can actually enhance the game because the user gets rewarded for brand interaction. For example, a player matches two branded tiles in Mahjongg Dimensions they get more time on the clock, or a special level.
Mark Kroese, GM for Advertising in our Entertainment & Devices Division