Lets the Ad Games Begin

NEW YORK Online gaming hub today will launch a new advertising product—the Immersive Network—which will place live or “dynamic” ads on billboards and signage in the game Switch Wakeboarding, with several more games to be added to the network in the coming months.

Shockwave, which already carries a variety of different ads from major brands such as McDonald’s and Honda, has signed up Sprint, SBC Communications and Sony Pictures for its new product.

The move by Shockwave is just the latest indication of how big casual gaming has become for advertisers and users.

Casual gaming is just as it seems: the games are easy to learn and don’t require a major time commitment-think a quick, 10 to 20 minute racing game, rather than time-sucking ones such as Doom or Grand Theft Auto. Typically, these games are played either online or are downloaded to a user’s desktop.

While receiving less attention than console game platforms like PlayStation 2, the audience for casual games is considerable: Shockwave estimates that a third of the total online population is playing casual games-the site itself reaches 22 million users per month, while competitor attracts 11 million. Also, WildTangent, which produces games for Yahoo!, among others, will see its games bundled with 20 million PCs in 2006.

Given those compelling figures, the dollars in this market are getting serious in a hurry. Ad revenue for casual games is projected to land between $450 million and $550 million in the next few years, according to The Yankee Group, driven largely by brand advertisers.

Hoping to tap into this surging ad market, both and each launched ad-supported gaming channels in the last few months. Sportsline has already created a game specifically for Miller Beer.

Since the games are highly immersive, and offer the opportunity to present impactful creative images, brand advertisers are finding that games replicate the strengths of their previous favorite medium.

“It’s really the TV for the Web,” said Shawn McMichael, director of advertising sales for Microsoft Casual Games. Plus, the demographics of casual games appeal to a wide range of advertisers, since they are played by both men and women.