The Games Women Play: Advertisers Searching for Female Consumers Need Look No Further Than Gaming Sites

By Shields, Mike | ADWEEK, May 8, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Games Women Play: Advertisers Searching for Female Consumers Need Look No Further Than Gaming Sites


Shields, Mike, ADWEEK


The bakery is crowded, and orders are starting to back up. A grandmotherly type impatiently awaits a cake she ordered, while a businessman demands a pie. Jill, the plucky proprietor, is running back and forth trying to fill everyone's orders--hoping to keep her new business afloat and earn enough cash to reopen her grandparents' bakery as well--all while fighting off the evil corporation Mega-Mart. Sound like fun? It's all a game, and Jill is the main character in Cake Mania, one of the more popular games on the Internet--one primarily played by women.

While the popular perception of gainers persists---they are either pimply-faced teenage boys or 30-something males living in their parents' basements--women increasingly represent a huge portion of the gaming world. And while still underrepresented when compared to other emerging segments, the female garner is an increasingly attractive target for advertisers, who are finding more women online playing games than ever before.

Gaming channels on Yahoo! and MSN, along with gaming destination sites like Pogo.com, regularly pull in monthly audiences exceeding 10 million unique users. These sites offer hundreds of games, which can be played directly through a user's Web browser for free, or are downloaded onto a user's desktop at a cost of about $20. The games range from basic chance games like poker and dominos, to racing and sports games which, while becoming more sophisticated, are still easier to navigate than the average game for Playstation 2.

These sites are dominated by women, who make up 60 percent to 70 percent of their total audiences. And the average time spent on these sites is significant--think hours, not minutes (see chart, next page).

According to a study released last month by the Consumer Electronics Association, 65 percent of women ages 25 to 34 report playing video games, compared to just 35 percent of men. The report cites casual gaming as the reason why the numbers for women are so large.

Given these compelling numbers, advertisers are shifting more dollars into this space. Most of these games have long offered a wealth of ad options: banners and buttons alongside game play; full-screen ads running in between natural game breaks; and more frequently, advertisers' logos or virtual products integrated into the games themselves.

Most insiders attest to strong recent growth for advertising in casual games, particularly by advertisers targeting women, but spending estimates for this market are scarce. By all accounts, there is plenty of room for growth, given that many on Madison Avenue still have not been able to accept that women play video games.

Video games have always been considered a guy thing, from those first sessions of Pong, to the thousands of games of Halo 2 and John Madden Football that men have bought over the past several years. And while women do play console games, including first-person shooter games like Halo or even MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role-playing games) like EverQuest, it's casual games where women dominate.

"Casual games evolved out of casino games," says Dave Madden, executive vp sales, marketing & business at WildTangent, which produces computer games. When online casinos were targeted by the federal government, gaming sites, including MSN and Yahoo!, decided that any association with gambling was not good for business. So they dumped casino games and their advertising, shifted gears and moved into more casual games. Gradually, women gravitated to card and puzzle games like solitaire, Suduko, and mah jong. Soon, women dominated the casual game sites.

Lisa Sikora, group marketing manager, Microsoft Casual Games group, says that over the past two years, MSN Games, which reaches 9 million unique users a month, has seen its female audience increase by 10 percent--now females account for 70 percent of its total audience. That's different from when the channel launched a decade ago and featured mostly classic arcade tides like Asteroids. …

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