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The Mobile Gaming Mavens on the pros and cons of 'brand games'

A contender to the F2P model?
The Mobile Gaming Mavens on the pros and cons of 'brand games'

The Mobile Mavens is our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.

With the success of both games and apps increasingly measured by user engagement - in terms of hours of gameplay - it seems likely that mass market brands will become important publishers and funders alike.

Fishlabs has already worked with brand such as Barclaycard and VW and its marketing director Kai Hitzer argues such games will grow in significance, potentially even over-shadowing the IAP grind of free-to-play games in terms of a commercial model.

So, we asked the Mavens:

Do you think brands will seriously enter this market and what brands would you want to develop games for?

Will Luton

Will Luton

Founder/CPO Village Studio Games

What's really happening is that deals are coming from more diverse sources. We made an 'advergame' for Warburtons, which brought in the DOUGH (even though it didn't RISE up the charts, it PROVED a success).

Our Orange deal for My Star was part promoting their APIs. Neither are traditional in a games sense.

Free-to-play is changing really quickly. It's a negotiation between us and our players. What we offer and they accept will change. If we bring brands in to that, it changes again.

[people id="11" name="Brian Baglow"]

Maybe that's just the way you ROLL...[/people]

Chris James

Chris James


For my twopenneth, we'll definitely see more brands entering the market. Companies already know that they need an 'app', so having a game as marketing tool or brand extension is an obvious step to take.

Coke has sponsored several mobile games over the years and, aside from Fishlabs, you have the likes of Digital Legends making cool apps and games with Adidas.

If I was a dev with a choice, I reckon that car manufacturers and sportswear guys must both be pretty cool to work with and open up a lot of opportunities - I can think of some smart location-based games that you could do with Nike+ for instance.

Dream tie-in though would have to be between Rovio and Wonderbra - Angry Boobs anyone?

James Scalpello

James Scalpello

Sales Director at App Studio

I would agree with that. There will only be more and more entering the market as they realise how many people they can reach and the value of creating such an app versus traditional above-the-line spend.

Only recently, I have spoken to two separate companies about an app for a theme park ride and another for the launch of a new car. Aside from apps specifically about the brands itself, I think you will see much more product launch style apps linking into an overall umbrella brand.

Hopefully they will also be creative in their approach and make something useful or informative rather than filling the app store with branded junk. Certainly I think you will see more engagement with motoring, entertainment and foodstuff brands.

Volker Hirsch

Volker Hirsch

Co-Founder / Board Member at Blue Beck

I'm not sure if this is a question of either or in the case of free-to-play versus brand.

What happened in recent years is that brands have realised the stickiness - or, as they would call it, engagement - games provide. People finally noticed that it is not only pale loners playing games but virtually everyone.

This is not only true for card brands or credit cards but also for, say, music artists. For example, the Gorillaz did a game to accompany their 'Escape from Plastic Beach' album, all for the sake of promotion and "brand engagement".

For game developers, this means that the previously expensive field of branded games - we used to have to spend a lot of money for licenses - increasingly becomes one for a new breed of work-for-hire. This is good as it provides more work for developers but it is also bad as this model takes margin off the table - I doubt Fishlabs is being paid by units downloaded.

So to feed the family, go for it. To build cash flow to aid other titles, go for it. To become filthy rich, don't.

Will Luton

Will Luton

Founder/CPO Village Studio Games

Few companies are interested in 'brand extension'. More are after an app that generates revenue.

Maybe because that's easier for them to convince those that hold purse string with. They get this wrong all the time. They also don't get that they need to market their app and put something behind it to get numbers - they think their brand or Facebook users is enough.

Joony Koo

Joony Koo

Head of Business Development at Block Crafters

Here's my 200 korean wons: Looking at Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots and Angry Birds Rio, I am sure the movies got a big exposure thanks to the games. But I am also sure the games were on movie posters everywhere.

I thought the main character of Rio was the red bird from Angry Birds!

Meanwhile, Homerun Battle 3D included Wilson Demarini baseball bats. It helped the revenue growth of IAP and, given having those bats from Wilson meant a higher chance of winning the game, it helped Wilson's brand recognition.

I am sure that there's a lot of this coming, especially given that the mobile advertisement arena hasn't taken off yet. There'll be a lot of IPs and brands experimenting with the best way to bring user engagement from mobile apps and games. Personally, if I was in charge of a brand, I would pay Draw Something to make their users draw and guess my brand right.

Brian Robbins

Brian Robbins

President at Riptide Games

This entire space isn't anything new - the day the App Store launched, one of the other free games available (there were only eleven on that first day) was an advergame for a beer company.

I come from an advergaming background and focused on that from 2000 through 2009. In 2008 I was still working for an interactive ad agency and I built out a mobile studio largely focused on creating advergames and branded entertainment titles for iPhone.

We built several games back then around brands and the most successful was Vans SK8: Pool Service, which had both a paid and a lite version.

The biggest change is that some of these ad campaigns can generate revenue. It creates an interesting proposition for a brand when they can recoup marketing budget directly. From a development perspective, this presents a potential conflict of interest to be aware of.

If the developer's goal is to generate as much revenue as possible but the brand's goal is to generate as much visibility and awareness as possible, you might not come to the same conclusions with regards to pricing.

Going back to the original question - yes, now that the market is well and truly established in terms of user engagement, brands will be interested. From an ad campaign perspective advergames provide a tremendous ROI compared to other advertising mediums.

It is a lot trickier when you get into driving revenue, but for the right brand it can still make sense. Is Smurfs' Village a standalone product, or does it exist to help promote the Smurfs movie, or gauge interest in the Smurfs brand? It ultimately does all three.

Graeme Devine

Graeme Devine

CEO / Co-Founder at GRL Games

I wrote Spider Swiper, which was recently released by Mentos and the subject of a recent Adweek story about how it's changing the face of advertising.

So first off: sorry, I changed the face of advertising. Who knew I had that superpower?

It was challenging to write. I started work on 6 December and it was released 12 January with the NFL playoffs.

Game companies and ad companies have different concepts of time - my Friday end of day is actually Monday morning at 6am - and different ideas of how production works - games are not webpages, and 95 percen of the time in game dev there's nothing new to see.

While that was a wakeup call for me (actually I didn't sleep much), it was also a wakeup call for the advertising agency.

I think they will start getting a lot more savvy when it comes to making games, placing branding, and learning how to maintain and grow eyeballs in the mobile game space rather than 'one off' events. That, when it happens, will be a pivot point.

Christopher Kassulke

Christopher Kassulke

CEO at HandyGames

Mobile games are perfect for ads and very interesting for brands, if not a must already.

HandyGames developed the first 'adgames' in 2002 and since then we are always offering that service. In our mobile games, our advertisers have CTRs of 1.5-4 percent - damn good compared to online. We see three kind of advertisement in the mobile game space:

  • The standard advertisement including banner, videos, CPI/CPA campaigns
  • The advanced ad games like sponsored games or updates but also product placement
  • The full adgame which is a complete game for a brand

Only brands that fit into the game and gameplay will work out for all parties - gamers, game developers and brands. That’s why brands are talking partly directly with game devs to understand where to get the best value.

If it doesn’t fit to the brand, consumers will not react and games will not be up in the charts. So it’s in our hands to find a balance.

John Ozimek

John Ozimek

Co-founder at Big Games Machine

As a gamer, the last thing I want to see is loads of brands shoved unsympathetically into some tired old game mechanic. Unfortunately, I fear that's exactly what lazy brands and ad agencies are going to do if they are allowed to - as did happen a lot in the early days of Flash web games. Skittles Paintballing, anyone?

I play games because I like to be immersed in a world created by some brilliantly talented developers. I don't play games because I might be thinking about a new car or want my FIFA football player to be dressed in an accurate 3D representation of the latest Adidas Predator boot.

We supposedly see more than 300 adverts every day - I don't have a burning desire to see more when I'm trying to relax.

However, I do fully understand that brands can be, firstly, a source of funding for developers - which is a good thing and,secondly, can in many cases be used sympathetically to be embedded in gameplay in such a way as to enhance, or at least not detract, from the experience.

One of the best examples from the original PlayStation days was the way WipEout integrated Red Bull advertising in a way that totally fitted the game.

What I hope we will see is ad agencies and developers standing firm and putting the gameplay experience above the brand. If that happens, then my eyeballs should be safe from further assault.