The computer-generated city in which the action of racing video game Burnout Paradise takes place features an 'Obama for President' billboard. Its appearance was part of a campaign across several video games, which gave the Democratic candidate useful access to a younger demographic during his race for the White House.
As advertisers seek more targeted and global ad solutions, computer games provide an opportunity that
has not been exploited nearly enough. Only a few years ago, many brands and agencies were snubbing games as a marketing platform, rightly concerned that they appealed only to a football and car race-loving male demographic. Only certain brands, for example Nike or McDonald's, would have suited the popular Grand Theft Auto and Championship Manager series.
However, the appeal of video games has widened dramatically. It emerged last week that worldwide sales of the Nintendo Wii have topped 50m, making it the fastest-selling games console in history.
In addition, figures from the Entertainment Retailers Association, which represents 90% of games, music and video sellers, show UK video-game sales have helped retailers add 3.8% to sales volumes and 5.1% to value.
Nintendo's Wii and handheld DS have widened the age demographic and made games more female-friendly. And, as financial constraints mean families spend more time at home, the appetite for video games is growing.
In-game ads are already in regular use by some advertisers, particularly sports brands, but there is a plethora of possibilities yet to be exploited. Video games offer a sure-fire way to attract attention in a noisy world. From The Sims to bowling titles, video games like to imitate life. In-game advertising can contribute to a game's authenticity. As long as the ads do not interfere with gameplay, many believe they can even add to the experience - one player told me that product placement in games is sometimes a welcome source of amusement. However, advertisers could use games to do a lot more than simply this.
A few years ago, Sony tied up with Pizza Hut to offer the ability to order
a pizza as part of fantasy PC game
EverQuest II. While an innovative idea, at the time, the demographic of serious gamers was narrow, the graphics were not as advanced and broadband was in the early stages of development.
In the new world of gaming, the opportunities are so much wider. Topshop could open a virtual outlet on SingStar, allowing aspiring pop stars to buy outfits such as those worn by Girls Aloud, or Holland & Barrett could have a shop accessible via Wii Fit. Even a weekly online shop could be more interesting if incorporated into a Second Life-style environment.
The shift toward a 'media hub' in the home also means video games could
be downloaded onto the TV as quickly as an episode of EastEnders. Project Canvas, the proposed joint venture between BT, the BBC and ITV to incorporate the iPlayer and internet into a Freeview-style device, could seal deals with online games websites and games designers. Advertisers could in turn look to sponsor these games.
On the flipside, the success of a new game is never guaranteed. Risk-averse brands should therefore look at sequels to top-selling games or those linked to popular film franchises.
Nonetheless, video games offer exposure to an ever-widening community and guarantee consumers' optimum attention - a rarity with traditional ad platforms.
30 seconds on the Nintendo Wii
- The Wii is the fastest-selling games console in history, with more than 50m units sold worldwide, according to Nintendo's chief executive, Satoru Iwata.
- Launched in December 2006 in the UK as the successor to Nintendo's GameCube, the Wii's closest rival consoles are Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360.
- A clip of 25-year-old Lauren Bernat working out to Wii Fit has clocked up more than 8m hits on YouTube.
- Nintendo has launched about 150 Wii games to date.
- Via wi-fi connectivity, the Wii offers online gaming and networking, and is effectively a social-media platform.
- Demand for subscription massively multiplayer online games, such as Second Life, is expected to exceed $2bn (£1.3bn) by 2013, according to Screen Digest.
- Nintendo chose the name 'Wii' as it sounds like 'we', to emphasise the console's broad appeal. It said: 'Wii has a distinctive "ii" spelling that symbolises both the unique controllers and the image of people gathering to play.'