08/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Brother, Can you Spare an Xbox?

Before I get going with my first blog I'd like to thank the team at Huffington Post for inviting me to be a regular blogger on, and you for taking the time to read my thoughts on casual games, advergames and digital marketing.

A few days ago, ComScore announced that online gaming has grown a whopping 22% to 87 million monthly US visitors over the last year. So why, in an age when everything from our cars to our paychecks are shrinking, are games picking up? According to ComScore it's because consumers are increasingly "opting for free entertainment." I'm glad for the research and all ComScore, but you don't have to be a master statistician to conclude that when people don't have money they find free things to do.

In fact, nothing's really changed in the last 80 years. During the great depression one of the most popular pastimes was playing Monopoly. I like to think of Monopoly as the original hit "virtual world." I mean what could be more fantastical than buying and selling hotels and railroads lines when you were standing in a bread line a few hours earlier? Sure the avatar choices were a bit limited (shoe anyone?) but all of the fancy buzzwords that drive today's online games were present, from Quests (passing go and collecting $200) to Microtransactions (landing on your opponents property).

Given the current economy it's not surprising that free games are getting devoured by more and more Americans. But consumer popularity hasn't necessarily translated to profits for the companies making games. "Free" online games are driven primarily by advertising after all, and the ad market has suffered in the last few quarters. In fact many online game developers have had to close up shop in recent months despite the uptick.

So how can consumers keep getting their games while game developers stay afloat? How about charging a nominal fee per game play, or matching a player's game preferences to the ads and offers that they see? Just as in the first depression, I'm guessing consumers would be willing to part with a small amount if they felt they were more than making up for it in entertainment value. And just to prove that nothing has really changed -- I'll give you one guess what the most popular board game was on last night...

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