Funware, A New Game Theory For Marketers
The generation of the new online game players has motivated consumer brands, websites and charities to use gaming devices to attract attention to their products and services. "Funware" is the application of game-like qualities to non-games. Researchers say that when we play online games, we enter a "flow state" that makes us receptive to the images and information we encounter. While traditional commercials interrupt that state, funware allows for these messages to seep through.
"Funware" is a term first coined by Gabe Zichermann, CEO of rmbrME. It can sell a message sometimes subliminally, sometimes overt. The election of our recent president is a prime example. In the video game “Burnout Paradise,” when players drove through the fictional streets of Paradise, they actually could view virtual roadside billboards prompting gamers to vote for Obama!
In 2005, at the height of the Cola Wars, Pepsi and its arch rival Coca Cola capitalized on prevailing online games to promote their products, rather than relying on the tried and true music and sports figures of Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan they used in the past.
The9, one of the leading online game operators in China and Pepsi partnered on a promotion for an online game called "Guild Wars" which was distributed widely across China's Internet cafés. However, since Coca Cola also had a working relationship with The9, Coke's "World Of Warcraft" game went head on head in dueling advertising campaigns. Throughout the summer of 2005, the Cola giants fought hard to maintain their respective market share... a fight worthy of any of the online games they incorporated into their video marketing.
However while the Cola Wars illustrated how products could successfully establish advertising partnerships with online gaming, funware has become the next step in the game-marketing evolution. Now these new games allow users to become more interactive with the games they play - which in turn, allows for messages to be broadcasted and received in a more fun way. This is a powerful tool in broadening an organization's reach and increasing the size of their audience. Today there are several cool funware examples from donating food to the needy, to studying for your SATs to managing your debt.
Freerice - by correctly answering questions related to vocabulary, math, geography or other subjects, users donate rice to the United Nations World Food Program. Each correct answer merits a donation of 10 grains of rice. Users watch a bowl fill with rice as they correctly answer questions. The "progress bar" is a common gaming motivator, and users get the emotional reward of contributing to a good cause. Total donations are tracked by day, month and year.
Grockit - allows students to prepare for the GMAT and SAT in live games with other users. They can then review the games in detail to understand the questions they missed. Games for the ACT, LSAT, MCAT and GRE are expected to be live soon. Users all start out as beginners and gain status as they answer questions correctly, aspiring to the level of expert. Two leader boards rank users, one based on the number of questions answered correctly and another based on helpfulness to other users.
Mint - A personal-finance website that consolidates user's accounts and helps them budget, pay off debt and manage investments.Graphs and charts allow users to play with their finances, and a status bar tracks users' "financial fitness." One feature allows users to compare spending habits with others' around the country -- do you spend less on dining out than the average consumer in, say, Columbus, Ohio?
Indeed, for marketers to embrace funware, they simply need to look at the world from a different perspective. "I'm starting to see [funware] in so many different places," said Dean Takahashi, lead writer-digital media at VentureBeat, who has a long history covering gaming. "You see the world through a different lens; everything starts to look like funware. It's like a skateboarder looks at the world and sees opportunities for skateboarding, not rails and stairs."
Funware has taken gaming to the next level. It's marketing opportunities are endless for the companies and organizations that are creative enough to think outside the "game." And as we all know...gaming can become addictive!