As the summer wraps up, I’m happy to say my time spent working on my backhand and forehand has finally started to yield results. Unfortunately, I haven’t improved my serve to the same degree, but I am able to volley my way past most of my competition. I actually have a chance at making the US Open. No, seriously. And I’ll be doing it from my couch. I’ve been able to move my way up the professional tennis rankings thanks to 2K Sports’ “Top Spin 3.” The game’s complex create-a-player feature makes me feel like I’m going up against Roger Federer and other tennis superstars.
In addition to customizing a character’s physical aspects, gamers have multiple options for attire and equipment. They can choose which real-world brands their players will wear and use, similar to the decisions they make in brick-and-mortar store aisles. Brand integration adds realism to the gaming experience as opposed to feeling like heavy-handed branding. For example, I’d rather my player be in the same Nike outfit worn by Federer than a generic virtual brand. Those brands included in the game ensure that potential brand enthusiasts are able to proactively select their brand marks and logos to represent them. Brands not featured aren’t included in the virtual consideration set, which could have real-world implications.
Video games have offered similar player customization features for the past few years, but two upcoming titles take the idea of putting you in the game to the next level. Electronic Arts will release the latest iteration of its popular “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” franchise this week, and early next month it will introduce a new franchise in the boxing genre, “FaceBreaker.” Both titles utilize technology that allows gamers to upload a picture of themselves or scan their faces via a console camera, which is then translated into the game. This delivers the ultimate personalized character. EA highlighted the new feature in the demo version of the game by including celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian.
Character customization in video games like this signifies a key trend. Obviously, gamers want their virtual experiences to mirror the real world as closely as possible. Marketers who recognize this trend will make sure that virtual representations of their logos and products are at least available where appropriate. The integration of Nike, Adidas, and other brands into “Top Spin 3” is a great example.
However, product integration is only scratching the surface. Let’s say our brand makes golf clubs and we want to partner with “Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’09” to create a program that meets the consumer need for realism. We could work with EA to make sure our entire catalog of clubs was included within the options available to players. We would then cross our fingers that gamers think highly enough of our brand that they would select our brand to represent them in the game; that they can actually find our clubs in the large collection; and that our in-game clubs are on par or maybe even better than the competition’s, such that they are not at a disadvantage in the game play.
Or we could take the entire program a step further:
- Create a robust (and cost-effective) system that allows users to customize their clubs for optimal usage. If gamers are willing to spend time customizing the smallest details of their characters solely for aesthetic purposes, they may also want to spend some time adjusting their equipment to improve the chances of beating a virtual Tiger Woods.
- Create an export feature that allows users to apply their in-game selections to a real-world club for purchase. After spending hours doing a virtual trial, our gamers may want to attempt this in the real world. What better way to show ROI (define) for the program than to actually drives sales?
- Offer special incentives to gamers who purchase physical products created in-game.
- Launch limited-edition products via the game (gamers love limited stuff).
- Create online collaboration tools that encourage users to share their specifications and performance (virtual and physical world).
While this example seems very sports-centric, the idea could easily be applied to other types of games and include many brand types. The idea is to leverage the trend of increased realism in video games to make sure your brand is accessible and engaging.
I’m headed back to the couch to make sure I get my invite to the US Open. If I make it, I’ll need to “buy” a new outfit. I need to look my best — even if I’m only competing for the virtual title against my console.