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RealNetworks to stream ads in casual games

Word and puzzle games, which mostly draw female players, are a largely untapped market for ads.

It was only a matter of time before advertisers pursued the final frontier in gaming: women.

RealNetworks announced Tuesday that it will begin featuring streaming-video ads within casual games--a game market dominated by female players.

"Initially, the casual 30- to 55-year-old females--that is the demo that we sell. We have a family-friendly ad policy, and there will be no alcohol (ads) at all," said Chris Houtzer, a senior product manager of RealNetworks' Games Division. Houtzer spoke to CNET News.com from the floor of Casuality Seattle, a conference for the casual gaming community. Casual games refer to word and puzzle games like Scrabble, solitaire and mah-jongg, as well as classic arcade games.

RealNetworks has rolled out its in-game advertising initiative first at Gamehouse.com, and lists Hasbro and Honda among the advertisers featured in the first ads. RealArcade, another casual- game site owned by RealNetworks, already has streaming ads that are shown before game play.

"Our current policy for showing ads is one ad every 10 minutes in natural breaks within the game," said Houtzer. The ads will not disrupt play. If a player passes three levels within 10 minutes, she will not be shown three ads, but one ad at the end of the third level before moving on to the fourth, Houtzer explained. The streaming ads shown are between 15 and 30 seconds long.

Previously, RealNetworks offered one-hour trials of a free game, after which players would have the option to buy the game or quit.

"We are expanding the demo time to 90 minutes with the ad-enabled games. Once purchased, the ads are automatically disabled," said Houtzer. Players also still have the option of paid commercial-free games.

RealNetworks claims it's the first to feature live streaming in-game advertising for casual gamers.

A Parks Associates prediction that the in-game advertising market would grow to $400 million by 2009 was based largely on the growth of ads targeting women and families, a more or less untapped market. DFC Intelligence, another market research firm, predicted that casual games would grow into a billion-dollar industry by 2011.