Monday, October 22, 2007

Casual gaming to become... not so casual

Recently, Jane Pinckard of GigaOm brought up some interesting questions about the future of casual gaming revenue. IGA has just signed an in-game advertising deal with casual game publisher Merscom. Merscom makes both DS games and downloadable games for the PC, which, the author claims, are the kinds of games that are likely to face pressure to become more sophisticated in graphics and sound design, making in-game advertising necessary to reduce costs.

At the moment, casual online games are essentially broken down into two groups: the pay-to-download games through PC and Xbox Live, and free web games on gaming sites. Consumers are highly sensitive to advertisements in games that they pay to download, and in these games it is crucial to make ads fit the context. Consumers are a bit more forgiving about advertisements in free web games, as that is how the host sites keep running. However, there is still a certain amount of sensitivity surrounding ads, and each ad needs to try to keep with the theme of the game. Additional complications arise when one considers that advertisers do not want to risk making the mistakes of others. Microsoft (MSFT) Casual Games’ studio manager Chris Early cautioned against using to many in-game ads, saying, "If we get to the point of getting like commercial television on cable channels where ads are so intrusive of the experience, then people won’t play anymore.”

So, if people don't want to see an abundance of ads in their on-line games, how do publishers make the kind of money that it takes to create the more sophisticated games that their audience is beginning to demand? The author's idea was simply to charge people for everything they might want to do in a game. Want to challenge a friend? Pay a dollar. Want to customize your leaderboard? Pay a dollar. Enough of this, and in-game ads become completely unnecessary. People will then have to decide if they would rather pay more for their gaming experience, or put up with an ad every once in a while; and in today's society where people are getting more and more used to getting a lot for free, I doubt they'll want to be nickeled and dimed by the gaming industry. But hey - maybe that's just me fighting for my beloved in-game ads.

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