Generating much longer impressions than banner and pop-up ads – and for a bargain-basement CPM cost that can run as low as US$1 – sponsored games are fast becoming the favorite on-line tool of youth marketers. And if you’re on the hunt for a company that can help you make bigger waves on the web, look no further than Skyworks.
This Hackensack, New Jersey-based company was launched eight years ago by two co-founders of video game monolith Activision. Having plumbed the depths of the console gaming industry to great success, Garry Kitchen and David Crane were eager to apply their game design expertise to what was then a fledgling medium.
While companies like MPath and TEN were investing a fortune developing high-speed, fiber-optic games for the traditional, hard-core gamer demo, Skyworks came in the back door with a strategy that focused on reaching the masses with fun, yet challenging games that people could play right in their browsers.
Drawn to that commitment to going after as wide an audience as possible, Lifesavers stepped up as one of the company’s first clients in 1996. The candy company commissioned Skyworks to create a premium CD-ROM game for a Lifesavers promotion, and the two companies started talking about what could be done with the Lifesavers brand on the web.
The sponsored gaming sell-in was very tough in the beginning, says Skyworks CEO Garry Kitchen, and it sometimes involved as many as 15 meetings over six to nine months. The key was to explain the concept using a model folks were familiar with. ‘Way back in the ’40s and ’50s, Procter & Gamble was trying to reach head-of-household women and there was no TV venue to do so,’ says Kitchen. ‘So it went to content providers and gave them advertising money to create soap operas that it could advertise around. We told the folks at Lifesavers that the Internet was the same thing. We said we’d create a games channel with games targeted to demographics from kids to middle age, and they could sponsor it.’
Lifesavers’ marketing team bought into the idea and greenlit the development of Candystand.com. The site launched in 1997, and it now offers more than 100 games and downloadables, including the Gummi Grab and Creme Savers Pinball.
Skyworks followed up the effort in 1999 with the launch of NabiscoWorld.com (Nabisco owned Lifesavers at the time), which features games like Oreo Dunking and racing adventure Triscuit 4×4. Nielsen//NetRatings reports that these two sites combined attract more than two million unique American visitors who spend 70 million minutes each month playing the branded games.
Skyworks has gone on to create games for Kraft brands including Oscar Meyer Lunchables, Jell-O and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. The company has also built out its portfolio with work for other clients including Mattel (for which Skyworks created a racing game for the launch of Tyco’s RC Speed Wrench remote-control car) and Pepsi (players raced to recover a shipment of Mountain Dew Code Red in Mission Code Red).
The company has built up a catalogue of around 60 proprietary games, and clients are often invited to check out this library first to see if there’s an existing title that meets their needs. For example, when Pepsi wanted to support a Major League Baseball promotion it ran in 2000 for the World Series, it chose one of the three baseball games Skyworks had on hand. Pepsi’s branding was integrated into the game, which was then licensed to the beverage company with a category exclusivity clause (meaning no other soft drink brand would have access to the game for the length of the promo). Kitchen says a one-year term for the use of a catalogue game runs between US$20,000 and US$70,000, depending on the complexity and newness of the game.
Custom game development can cost anywhere from US$30,000 on the low side to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Skyworks will handle the back-end maintenance of its games on its own or in tandem with a client’s IT team, and it will also suggest the best methods for supporting the games and driving traffic. ‘It’s not always obvious that you have to promote the promotional vehicle that you’ve licensed or commissioned, so we’ve had to educate the client about support over the years,’ says Kitchen.
All Skyworks games have built-in software that allow it to track impressions while a user is playing a game, so the company also provides its clients with reports that break down how many times a game is played per session and the length of the average session.