It turns out that about a quarter of white-collar workers play games at work.
This number doesn't include all of the conscious and unwitting machinations, emotionally-stunted manipulation, and just-cause-I-can game-playing that fills the days of the other three-quarters of employees.
We're talking casual video games, primarily those available not only during work but 24/7, thanks for such game developer sites as Pop Cap (from which this survey comes).
Forget plot, character development, or anything even approximating a narrative. This is the domain of electronified pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Such "casual gaming" is a high-growth area on the Internet, and seems to attract as many women as men (and time wasters...er, gamers...of all ages, including folks old enough to know better).
Pop Cap estimates that over 200 million people are so self-identified. There's a good chance you're one of them (us), whether via solitaire on your PC, tetris on your mobile phone, or an online game.
The survey suggests an answer that probably jibes with your own life experience: it's relaxing, in a mind-numbing sort of way. Like staring at something eventually lets you relax your eyes. Sometimes doing something is a better way of chilling out than trying to do nothing at all. Focusing let's us unfocus.
And there's something about the feedback in any sort of game that helps capture and keep our attention. There are rules, a finite number of possible actions, and immediate outcomes for each decision.
Now, contrast that with our supposed "engagement" with brands during the day.
A banner ad flashes on the screen. A company is mentioned in a news release. A stupid viral video somehow mentions or explodes a product or service.
Would anybody seek or choose these experiences? Is the dynamic of the interaction with the content truly engaging? Is the context of that experience at all relevant to anything we want to do, the least of which might be relaxing?
In other words, people pay more attention to games than they do to most brand marketing. And what does that attention they pay to casual games produce? Something approximating sleep, or at least conscious disregard.
Makes it hard to believe that ads can accomplish much of anything these days. It's a frightening proposition, and one that has inspired lots of marketers to try and make games into ads, like Toyota's latest Xbox game to support its Yaris model. Burger King says it sold 3.5 million advergames that let customers interact with its mascot, tallying gameplay that added up to the equivalent of having broadcast 1.4 billion 30-second commercials.
But does it matter to the casual gamer stealing a few minutes of solitaire at work whether the backs of the cards are branded or generic? So a consumer products company helps put my mind to sleep, instead of a web site like Pop Cap. So what?
The Pop Cap survey on the pervasiveness of casual gaming has a different relevance to brand marketers, but the opportunity isn't to turn games into ads: rather, it may be to turn ads into games.
If the gaming paradigm is compelling enough to capture attention, the challenge could be to provide content and context that makes that involvement pay off for brands in ways more substantive than simple, generic exposure to a name, logo, or mascot.
Being satisfied with wasting folks' time bonking the Burger King on his virtual head doesn't even begin to realize the potential (think of those 1.4 billion 30-second commercials that delivered no information, meaning, relevance, or actionable next steps).
- What if a marketer took a brand's attributes (or USP, or marketing messages, or whatever nomenclature its gurus have designated) and turned them into a series of inter-related casual games?
- How about inventing activities that not only provided that focused relaxation moment, but delivered something interesting while doing so?
There seems to be a ready audience for this stuff. The only challenge is to figure out how to do it. I wonder what such games would look like.
I'd be willing to play one at work.