With Gamification already driving page views and sales for USA Networks, HSN is now banking on gamification to draw, retain, and engage its shoppers.
This week, the TV-shopping network is adding videogames to its website in hopes of piggybacking on—and better competing with—the attraction of online games. The new feature, called HSN Arcade, will pair 25 games like Sudoku and Mahjongg with a live stream of HSN's main television channel.
The move highlights how retailers' aggressive push online is putting them in competition not only with established e-commerce outfits, but also with other demands on Internet users' time. Retailers have experimented with selling goods via Facebook Inc., for example, an acknowledgment of the draw of social media.
Earlier this year, USA Network launched the seven-mission online game based on its hit TV show, Burn Notice. The plot of the game ties in with the unfolding drama on the show and integrates the show’s major advertiser, Hyundai. Players try to unravel a mystery related to the show’s plot and travel through the same environments as the show. The games have plenty of live-action videos that use the actors from the show as well.
"These efforts show that games have become an integral part of the network’s strategy for making money," said Jesse Redness, vice president of digital at USA Network in New York. “We’re taking the Blockbuster shows with ratings and marrying them with what we call immersive games,” he said. USA Network's Character Arcade portal has 50 games and 500,000 unique visitors a month, or about 20 percent of the traffic that comes to USA Network’s web site. The games have drawn 17 million page views. USA Network, a division of NBC Universal, is the top free cable network and is available in 98.5 million U.S. homes.
While gamification goes back almost 15 years to advergaming in the pre-Internet era, it is how videogames are tying up an increasing share of Internet users' online minutes that hasn't gone unnoticed by advertisers and has sparked acquisitions like Disney's purchase of Playdom Inc. last summer.
Both HSN and online games are popular with middle-aged women. HSN is hoping the games will keep customers on the site longer and expose them to more products. Users of the HSN Arcade will play a game on about two-thirds of the screen, with the remaining space dedicated to a high-definition live stream of the company's primary television channel, featuring items for sale. The site also prominently features links to the most recent products to appear on air.
The television channel has a sizable online audience already, with 2.4 million unique visitors last month, according to comScore. Last year, HSN sales increased 5% to top $2.1 billion, with one-third of that coming from online customers.
Hanging on to that audience in part means competing with the surge in casual online gaming. More than 93 million people in the U.S. played games online in April, about 43% of the total Internet audience, according to comScore. Roughly half of online gamers are women. Last month, women spent 128 minutes playing games, about 40 minutes longer than men did.
Only two of the games have direct tie-ins to HSN, but the company says it is looking to do more. It is exploring using some of its on-air celebrities, including tennis player Serena Williams, in future games.
The most direct product correlation is the Today's Special Puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle that pictures an item HSN will feature repeatedly for 24 hours. A new puzzle will go up online every night at midnight, when that day's item first appears on air. Users who complete the puzzle fastest will be eligible to receive prizes, including the item itself.
Most of the games award users with virtual tickets or badges that currently offer little more than bragging rights. HSN says it could eventually turn those prizes into promotional tools, for example making them redeemable for discounts or free shipping.
USA Network says the engagement by gamers is high, with average session times at 15 minutes. Compare that to the usual engagement time of a 30-second TV commercial.