While most companies are ramping up their development budgets to make games with better graphics and more realistic physics, Australian developer 3rd Sense bucks the trend. Instead they turned to easy to play Flash games and making “Advergames”, customized games designed specifically for companies to promote their brand or a project. In their line up they designed for Virgin to boost their traffic, a soccer game for a World Cup sponsor and a “lifestyle” game for upcoming McDonalds employees. Colin Cardwell, the CEO of 3rd Sense explains how he made bank.
When the company started out in 2001 Colin and Tom Gueterbock strictly made advergames. “Brands are increasingly recognizing that a large number of people are playing games online and that games can be used to meet a number of marketing objectives. An advergame is simply a game that is used by a brand in some way to promote that brand, just like any advertisement. Games can be good for branding, sales promotions, product launches and gathering data or direct response advertising. We work with a lot of big brands such as McDonalds, Emirates, Nestle, Nissan, Virgin and we work with small brands too, because games can be really good value for money as an advertising tool.”
Their recent McDonalds project sticks to this theme. In “Living the Life” players get to work as a virtual burger jockey. The cash register game is a memory game where customers tell their order in pictograms and players need to click on the correct icons to place an order. In “keep it clean” you spend time sweeping up messes made by the customers and “build a burger” has players pick up buns, meat and condiments falling from the sky to make a trademark McDonalds sandwich. While the games sound mudane they are actually fairly addictive, similar to how doing virtual chores in Animal Crossing is rewarding. Colin managed to get the gig straight from the golden arches, “We were approached by McDonalds agency and we worked with them, and McDonalds to define and refine the game idea. I really like the outcome, it integrates well with McDonalds and gets some key messages across to those who play; McDonalds can be fun to work at when you’re young and you can earn some money to help you get the things you want to buy.” It seems like the project has been successful since “McDonalds are pleased with the game, which is the first and most important thing and lots of young adults are playing it. In terms of whether more people are applying for a job at McDonalds, sadly I don’t have specific information, but the feedback is all good.”
While advergames have been making money 3rd sense has been expanding into the casual gaming market. “We specialize in casual games, and because they are small games that are easy to learn and annoyingly addictive, both genders play them as well as all age groups.” They operate websites like Playaholics and MillionsofGames. MillionsofGames (or MOG) is a web 2.0 directory of Flash games where players can rank games from around the web. Their other site Playaholics features games that 3rd Sense made like Sea Jewels, a matching game similar to Bejeweled, and Baby Boom, an arcade style game where players place babies into cots so they can take a nap. “Development on these games “varies, but typically about 6-8 weeks from start to finish.” That is considerably faster than making most console and PC games. 3rd sense also has the benefit of smaller and more flexible teams. “The team will include a game designer, illustrator, developer, project manager and tester. Sometimes one person plays more than one role.” So the real question is how much is this making? “This depends on the time, but over 12 months we typically get around a100-300% ROI.”