社交游戏的基本定义是，它是用户通过社交网站体验的游戏类型，最为典型的就是Facebook平台上的游戏。据TNS Global和Newzoo去年的调查显示，约63%玩家通过Facebook平台玩社交游戏，其次是Friends Reunited社交平台，通过该网站体验游戏的用户占16%，MySpace的同一比例是13%。Pfende从这种趋势中判断，Facebook是市场营销者唯一感兴趣的社交游戏市场营销平台。Facebook的巨大影响力也让该平台在游戏内容上，遥遥领先于其他休闲游戏门户网站。
社交游戏开发商Playfish公司联合创始人Sebastien de Halleux也深有同感，他认为社交游戏的最独特优势在于，它鼓励非游戏玩家参与这种互动体验，其功能已经超越了游戏本身的属性。
Xbox是一个与传媒代理机构Universal McCann进行合作的游戏品牌，它也通过社交游戏争取更广泛的目标用户。Xbox EMEA（欧洲、中东和非洲地区）的传媒项目负责人保罗·埃文斯（Paul Evans）表示，社交游戏有助于吸引更多休闲游戏玩家参与Xbox的游戏体验，一般来说，这类新游戏的主要用户是家庭主妇，她们没听说过Xbox，或者对这个品牌没有多大好感，所以Xbox植入社交游戏可以增加更多趣味性，满足用户与他人互动的需要，同时也改变她们对Xbox游戏“难度太大”的看法。
对市场营销者来说，品牌与游戏内容绑定的方式最有吸引力，因为它很受玩家欢迎，不会受到排斥。Playfish联合创始人de Halleux进一处解释，“品牌广告目前在社交游戏中还不是什么重要的角色，但玩家希望在游戏中寻找真实感，所以它们的作用还会越来越明显。比如说我们的《Restaurant City》这款游戏里面就植入了许多大家耳熟能详的品牌，这种做法类似于十年前的电子游戏，随着游戏的不断发展，品牌广告也会在其中大量浮现。”
de Halleux还指出，可口可乐去年也通过《Restaurant City》进行了广告宣传，让玩家在圣诞前一周去可乐自动贩卖机领取可乐赠送他人，对可口可乐来说，这种促销方式也正好增添了节日氛围，对玩家来说，他们也乐喜欢通过游戏获得这种奖励。
de Halleux认为这种虚拟商品赞助方式，相当于电影中的嵌入式广告，而且它体现了更多真实性，并不仅仅局限于虚拟世界，“在去年情人节那天，我们的《Pet Society》游戏与在线鲜花零售商FTD展开了合作，如果玩家购买了真实的鲜花，就可以获得额外的赠品，即游戏中的虚拟玫瑰。当时我们一共送出了上百万朵虚拟玫瑰，卖出了成千上万朵真花。但这种营销手段需要找准时机，而且合作产品最好要与游戏内容相得益彰。”
游戏传媒公司Wild Tangent的销售总监亚当·耶茨（Adam Yates）也深为赞同这种看法，他还另外指出，虽然许多品牌都很容易植入游戏，但却不具有地域针对性。假设通过社交游戏宣传一部电影，但这部电影并非同时在全球上映，那就很容易给玩家造成困惑。de Halleux的观点与此相同，他认为社交游戏的用户可能遍及全球，但可以植入其中的国际品牌却并不多见，不过这种局限性倒是为电子零售商和产品批发商创造了一个巨大的商机。
Think of online games and you probably think of connected consoles, or role-playing games such as World Of Warcraft. You might not think of Facebook, yet 1 billion hours a month are spent playing games on the social network.
This is the world of social gaming, a sector of the games industry that has largely been ignored by marketers and the media in favour of console games, but which attracts huge numbers of devoted players. Playing games is the third most popular activity on Facebook, after chatting with friends and looking at their photos. And it’s growing fast. According to research by PopCap, the company behind Bejewelled, one of the most popular games on Facebook, six months ago one-third of social media sessions involved playing a game. That’s now up to half. It’s also highly engaging; two-thirds of social gamers play for half an hour a session, and 40% play several times a day.
It’s not just the scale of social gaming that is making marketers pay attention to the channel. It also opens up a very different audience to traditional gamers, one that is particularly interesting to FMCG brands.
“The core group is 34-year-old women, although some games, such as Farmville, attract an older female audience,” explains Rumbi Pfende, UK country manager for casual games portal Zylom by RealGames.
So what is social gaming? Aren’t all online games in some way social?
The basic definition is that social games are played in social media, which currently means on Facebook. The site dominates the social network space in the UK, with research carried out for RealGames by TNS Global and Newzoo last year showing 63% of people who play games or use social networks use Facebook. The next biggest sites are Friends Reunited, used by 16% and MySpace by 13%. This dominance leads Pfende to say that Facebook is the only place marketers interested in social gaming need to think about. The huge reach of Facebook also gives it a significant advantage over dedicated games portals offering similar casual games.
“Zylom does 10 to 12 million impressions a month,” she says, “but Scrabble alone does 20 million impressions on Facebook.”
But Pfende, with her experience of both casual games on dedicated portals and social games, believes what makes a social game is more subtle. For her, the key distinguishing feature is that social gaming is about how you are perceived by your friends, which in turn influences the types of games people play and how engaged they become. This is backed up by Sebastien de Halleux, co-founder of social games company Playfish.
“The real promise of social games is bringing games to people who may never have played before, by providing a utility beyond just the game itself,” he says. “That may be playing with friends, or it may be a game that touches on a particular passion, such as sport.”
Xbox is one brand that has worked with its media agency, Universal McCann, to use social games to reach out to this different audience.
“Social games are a great way of enabling more casual gamers to associate with Xbox and make our brand seem more relevant to them,” says Paul Evans, head of media, Xbox EMEA. “Typically, these new gaming audiences – broad family and female groups – are either not aware of Xbox, or are ambivalent towards the brand, so this kind of engagement is both beneficial and essential to making a compelling connection. Social games have allowed for interaction and play with Xbox properties without appearing to ’try too hard’, due to the integral fun component of the games.”
Xbox has also stepped outside Facebook to reach a new target audience for Xbox Kinect, young women between 16 and 34, via specialist social network Stardoll.
For advertisers, the high degree of engagement offered by social games, and the relationship between the games and social network within which they sit, is crucial, as Pfende explains.
“People are looking for a haven when they go online, away from the busy-ness of interaction. As a result, games are becoming their own mini world within Facebook, and gamers are 100% focused; they won’t shut down the game. This means advertisers get volume, but they also get reliability.”
There are a number of opportunities for brands looking to use social gaming as a marketing channel, of varying degrees of complexity. The simplest is pre-roll advertising that plays before the game starts, just as it would before a video clip. Then there’s game sponsorship; last year Mazda in the US sponsored Bejewelled Blitz on Facebook and offered prizes for high scores. But perhaps of greatest interest is in-game advertising, which can take the form of integrating the brand into the game, or of the brand enhancing the game experience for the players.
Refreshing incentive: Playfish’s Restaurant City game ran a Coca-Cola campaign before Christmas
For advertisers, one of the great attractions of the integration route is that the players often actually want them to be there, rather than seeing them as an annoying intrusion.
“Brands have not had much role in social gaming so far,” explains de Halleux. “But they are becoming much more important as players seek more realism in games. For example, we have a game called Restaurant City, and there is a strong pull from the player community to get more brands involved. It’s similar to the development of video games ten years ago; as games evolve, brands tend to surface.”
De Halleux gives the example of a Coca-Cola campaign in Restaurant City just before Christmas last year.
“The week before Christmas, players had access to a Coke vending machine, so they could give Coke to their guests. For Coke, it was part of the holiday spirit. For players, it gave them a benefit in the game.”
De Halleux likens this approach, known as sponsored virtual goods, to product placement in films. And it isn’t restricted to the virtual world.
“For Valentine’s Day last year, we did a campaign in our game Pet Society in which players could buy a virtual rose for their Valentine. It was done with online flower vendor FTD, and it offered players the choice of giving someone a real flower and having the virtual flower as a by-product. We sold millions of virtual roses and tens of thousands of real roses, but you have to be careful to find the right, contextually relevant product.”
This note of caution is echoed by Adam Yates, sales director EMEA for games media company Wild Tangent. He points out that, although a number of brands have looked to integrate themselves intogames, you can’t target your audience by location. This can be a problem with using social games to promote movies if they’re not released globally at the same time.“The same is true if the offers you’ve got don’t match across the world. That’s the sort of thing that gets you burned in the blogs.”
De Halleux agrees.
“There are very few brands that can fulfil globally, although as a company we have global reach,” he says. “This means there’s a big opportunity for e-retailers to get involved, and also for anyone who’s got a product that can be distributed digitally.”
Yates is another who backs the sponsored virtual goods route for brands. According to him, it works because brands offer players items they’d normally have to earn virtual currency or complete tasks to acquire.
“The offer is made in the game,” Yates explains. “Players opt in, and to get the item they have to watch an advertising message, typically an interstitial ad, then they get the virtual item dropped into their game.”
But Yates warns advertisers against creating custom items for games.
“It’s better not to shoe-horn your brand into the game. Brands should only do custom items if they fit with the game, the way Green Giant did with Farmville.”
There’s another advantage for brands using social gaming, at least in its early stages – the fact that they exist in the social space.
“Social games get a lot of earned media attention,” says de Halleux. “Conversations happen outside the game in social media. They are very visible to non-players of the game.”
Evans at Xbox, too, sees this as a big advantage: “The viral nature of these games in terms of earned media from secondary exposure from status updates and ’shares’ means that doing it right reaps incredible return on investment for media spend,” he says.
“Our learnings for social games are: keep it simple, keep it fun, make it easy to share and make it very rewarding. More rewards means more updates on social site, means more earned media exposure.”（source:marketingweek）