IGN User Pages: Can Gaming Get Market Intelligent?
Electronic gaming may be on the cutting edge of interactive entertainment technology, but the industry as a whole is only now learning how to leverage the most important digital technology of the last 50 years -- the Internet -- to understand its customer base in greater detail. Millions of gamers seek out and exchange hobby-related information, full of banter and bravado, but the challenge comes in capturing all of that activity in ways marketers can use to anticipate sales patterns and chart the effectiveness of their own PR and advertising efforts.
Gaming network IGN.com is taking a first stab at this next level of market research by leveraging its base of 70,000 "User Page" members into what amounts to a massive focus group for its ad clients.
The User Pages invite gamers to erect their own mini-site and games "locker," which includes lists of upcoming titles they want to "watch" and "wish lists" of titles they are likely to buy. About 1,400 to 1,600 unique users update their information on any given day, and the entire community has contributed over 6 million message posts. Profiles on this sub-set of IGN's 6 million monthly unique users (comScore Media Metrix) enjoys a growing number of data points, from gender and age to where users buy specific titles in their library.
"To understand why someone would do this is to understand the mind of the gamer," says David Tokheim, Director, Sales Development and Consumer Intelligence. "Psychographically, the hardcore gamer is extremely competitive, very proud of what he does. He loves to brag about which games he owns and where he is in a game."
By getting the gamers to profile themselves in detail at registration and also construct their lists out of a database of titles, IGN is trying to melt this ego and bravado into psychographic/demographic statistics and the muchcoveted intent to purchase data points that marketers crave.
"We're making specific customized queries into this data and we're looking at it in multiple ways," says Tokheim. For Nintendo's agency, for instance, Tokheim can use this data to tell them that 21% of 13- to 18-year-olds who own a GameCube also own a PS2. "We can go into the demographics and look into the top five games they want." Rather than buy ad space against content segmentation alone (GameCube areas of the site), Nintendo might want to advertise in appropriate PS2 content both for tactical reasons (selling specific titles) and strategic (encouraging more GameCube play among multi-console owners). "Clearly it shows the platforms compete against each other, and the opportunity cost of playing one platform is not playing other platforms," says Tokheim.
Putting Wolfenstein On Target
While many games information sites have learned to use detailed traffic patterns to show ad clients how advertising a specific game affects user interest in related editorial, Tokheim says those metrics say little about "the polarity or the heat level. You can see the PR effect of a title, but it doesn't show you if it's a great game that people want. It doesn't show purchase intent." He wants to track trending in the User Page wish lists before a campaign to see which audiences have the highest purchase intent on a title and then use these same wish lists to monitor where the campaigns are having the greatest payoff.
For the console version of Activision/id's Return to Castle Wolfenstein on the consoles, up-front research in the user group showed that the Xbox Live component was a key differentiator for the title among hardcore FPS players, and purchase intent was noticeably higher for the title relative to other Xbox first-person shooters. This allowed the client to target that core more efficiently with the most appealing messaging. "In this case, it was using the numbers as a reference to say what we were affecting and what we were not affecting," he says.
As a result, during the ad cycle leading up to the game's release in March and April, Tokheim saw traffic growth to Wolfenstein editorial: 12,000 page views to related editorial in February, 228,000 in March and a crescendo in April of 432,000. More important, he saw purchase intent spike 50% in the User Page wish lists.
Tokheim says that slowly but surely, game publishers are taking the Web more seriously and marshalling the metrics available to run smarter campaigns. "They usually throw assets at the agency at the eleventh hour and say come up with a strategy," he says. "That is starting to change in the industry." Ad sales at IGN beat internal estimates for Q1 and "I would certainly say this year [represents] a significant shift in moving money to online advertising."
For now, IGN is using market intelligence from its User Pages as a value add to help clients plan and optimize campaigns. Tokheim admits that the system needs further testing and refinement before IGN is confident about what these numbers are telling marketers. Within the next few months, however, the company will monetize these data sets into a standalone tool publishers can use to mine the base of game profiles according to various demographic and psychographic profiles, purchase history and intent to purchase.
Contact: David Tokheim, 415/508-2234, firstname.lastname@example.org
IGN User Pages Content (as of June 13, 2003)
Total User Pages 72,869
Total Games Listed by Users 2,462,481
Total Games on Wish Lists 685,572
Total Games on Watch Lists 736,177
Total $ Value of Game Lists $58,944,579
Estimated Value of Wish Lists $25,377,429
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