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by Nitin M

Computer and video games are probably one of the hardest commodities to market in the Middle East.

No matter what medium you choose to employ there’s bound to be more cons than pros in the strategy.

The bulk of gaming marketing in the Middle East has been done through the use of print media. In the absence of accurate research and data into the reading habits of the populace of the region, it is more of a hit-or-miss situation.

Over the last few years, though, publishers have invested into other traditional media like TV, radio and even cinema.

Where TV scores above its non-visual but older cousin, radio, is the ability to reach out to a larger audience than any other, especially since TV is now a staple part of the entertainment diet of most people.

Radio is challenging when it comes to promoting video games, because games by their very nature rely heavily on visual communication of messages.

Cinema scores a point above both the above in that it is a captive environment. After spending AED 30 on a ticket, most people are likely to be in their seats at the appointed time. If your ad is placed close to the start of the movie, you are pretty much guaranteed exposure.

The problem with all of the three of the above media in the region is that advertisers have very little specific information about who exactly is watching or listening. They have a rough idea, but no specifics. Its difficult to split the audiences by nationality, age, gender, income brackets or any psychographic information.

Over the last couple of years, i have slowly become a strong advocate for internet marketing. However, my grouse with most advertisers who spend heavily on the internet has been that they never seem to spend enough time on the creative side of the online campaign. It almost always looks like an afterthought to the traditional marketing media mix.
“OK. Now give me a 468 x 60 pixel banner version of the print ad” is what i hear a lot.

What people seems to forget is that while a creative concept may work in print or radio or TV or cinema, it may not necessarily work online. Attention spans on line are much lower because of most web pages, there is lots of different bits of information as opposed to a TV show where you have one plot element on screen at a time – unless you’re watching 2 shows at a time or some sort of split screen show. In broadcast media, the obvious danger is of the audience switching to another channel or switching off.

In cinema, they cannot switch off – either leave, go to sleep or close your eyes and ears during the commercials.

With the internet, advertisers have the opportunity to go very targeted because online technology allows you to do so.

In the US, Europe and other more developed markets, internet advertising is getting a bigger slice of the marketing budget than ever before, specifically in the games industry.

This is because most gamers are online savvy to some extent. due to the high perceived value of games i.e. US$ 40+ for new games, the consumer chooses to make as educated a decision as possible when it comes to purchasing.

Gamers are very interested to know what the gaming media thinks of the games they are considering purchasing. this has lead to the popularity of sites like Gamespot, IGN and Adrenaline Vault, to name a few.

The Middle East has yet to develop a good, professional gaming portal. several attempts have been made – Games4Arab, T-break and the now defunct GamesArabia.

I will not blame the site developers or owners because running a gaming site to the level of depth and professionalism of a Gamespot is tedious, cumbersome and time consuming.

Setting up a site is probably the easiest thing, but it doesn’t stop there. you need good, qualified, experienced editorial personnel to keep the site alive, marketing to maintain and develop visibility, advertising revenue to sustain the commercial feasibility of the project.

My friend, Abbas J, at T-break has done a commendable job in maintaining his site’s popularity by also covering hardware technology. His bulletin board is quite active and gets a lot of traffic especially from outside the Middle East. To top it off, he is a gamer with a passion for good games.

I won’t comment on Games4Arab since i can’t read Arabic well enough to be able to pass a judgment on its editorial.

The region also lacks good internet marketing companies. most of those out there are satisfied putting together websites, some nice flash animations and the odd banner design. There is little or no creativity in running an pure internet marketing campaign.

Hats off to the likes of Emirates Airline for investing in online marketing. I think Emirates has it easy in a sense that their online campaigns are a mirror of their print campaigns and the mechanics of the campaigns are the same – quite simple and straightforward. Coupled with one of the best loyalty programmes out there, they must be experiencing considerable success from their online efforts to continue to put money into it.

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