Brand owners are justifiably obsessed with the attention that games garner and are constantly trying to grab a bit of the action, either by sticking advertising or products into games, or by creating their own.
This is inevitably a hit-and-miss affair, and, for every successful partnership, there's a dozen awful web games asking you to chase a logo with your mouse.
I suspect that brand owners might do better to think about playfulness rather than games, to see the success of the videogames business not in terms of sales of media objects and eyeballs, but as a symptom of our desire to play. All the time. Everywhere. Whenever we can.
And, perhaps, rather than looking at the blockbuster console games, we can learn something from the more interesting fringes of gaming culture. One example is a thing called PMOG, short for passively multiplayer online gaming. The joy of PMOG is that you don't really have to do anything, it feeds our playfulness while acknowledging our miserably busy lives and lack of spare time. So you collect points and get badges in PMOG by doing all the online stuff you were doing anyway.
Install a little toolbar in your browser and PMOG tracks your activity, automatically updating your game status and awarding you badges for things like visiting more than 100 URLs in 24 hours, or going a whole day without using Google. Or you can choose to be slightly less passive and plant crates or mines on any website you visit, giving other players treasures they can use or blowing them up and depriving them of points.
In total, on any given day, you might only spend five active minutes in PMOG, yet you are playing all the time that you're online. And it lends a little edge of playfulness and fun to the mundane world of searching and browsing, clicking and typing. This has to be a future worth exploring for products and services.
Brands know so much about us and seem to use it exclusively to bash us over the head with more messages and bother us with more ill-judged offers.
What if that content was used to make something more playful, more competitive, more fun? Imagine games based on loyalty card points. Or Air Miles. Or Oyster card use. Or frequency of Ocado deliveries. Creating little playful moments out of the activities we already get customers to do, that's got to be a better idea than trying to buy our way on to a billboard in a computer game.