Holiday Season is Year-Round for Gamers

One of my fondest memories growing up was waking up early on Christmas morning to open the latest video game under the tree. It actually became a science over the years. I’d strategically open gifts based on those that resembled the shape of a Nintendo Entertainment System box. After sitting through the standard obligation of watching others open gifts, I’d then race to the TV and throw in the latest version of Super Mario Bros. Many hours later, I’d return to civilization for food and water. The holiday break was synonymous with breaking in the newest video games.

Unfortunately for today’s gamer, the biggest video game releases aren’t limited to the key holiday window. They must find gaming time in their busy schedules throughout the year. From business executives to paperboys, gamers are required to save their earnings on a regular basis to purchase the hottest game instead of waiting for that special holiday gift.

This past week saw two of the most highly anticipated titles of year released in what was once thought of as the dead season for video games. Nintendo’s “Mario Kart Wii” followed up on its record-breaking overseas launch earlier in the year with a successful United States launch on April 27. Mario himself threw a party at the Rockefeller Center in New York, where the best gamers were able to challenge race car enthusiast Jason Priestly. Not a bad consolation prize for not being able to play during this past holiday season.

Not to be outdone by the famous plumber, Rockstar released the latest installment of its top-selling Grand Theft Auto (GTA) franchise. As has become commonplace for top video games, dedicated fans stood in lines for hours to snag a copy of “GTA IV.” Many analysts have predicted that “GTA IV” will eclipse the records set only eight months prior by “Halo 3.”

Game publishers have even attempted to go as far as turning game launch days into actual holidays. For launch day of “Madden NFL 07,” Electronic Arts (EA) centered all of its marketing on the concept of “Maddenoliday.” It encouraged gamers to celebrate the Madden release just as they would any holiday. That paid off for EA, as the 07 version was the blockbuster franchise’s top seller.

Enhancements to next-generation consoles have also heightened the anticipation of coveted content throughout the calendar year. With digital updates available directly in their living rooms, gamers can frequently unlock new content after the game has been launched. Many game publishers have begun to explore digital delivery as the distribution method for full games. For example, Sony leveraged its PlayStation network to offer one of its latest titles, “Warhawk.”

Launch dates can determine a title’s success. Most game publishers primarily focus on the weeks leading up to the launch date, as well as the few weeks following. Highly anticipated video games can hold a gamer’s attention until launch date, before it’s redirected to the next title to be released.

With blockbuster video game releases staggered throughout the year, marketers have the opportunity to tie their product initiatives to the appropriate title’s launch date in the same window. As I discussed in a previous column, the opportunity to partner with these titles is just as big outside of the game as it is inside it.

A good example is the partnership between Ubisoft and Major League Gaming (MLG). MLG worked with Ubisoft to include an MLG-inspired map into its “Rainbow Six Vegas 2” title. The map is intended to replicate a MLG event that takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center. In addition to the in-game component, MLG is including the game in its 2008 Pro Circuit, which kicked off on April 11 — only weeks after the game’s release. While partnerships can work well for both the marketer and the game publisher, there’s the potential risk that the game’s release date may slip, which could negatively impact any planned co-marketing efforts.

Despite the fact that gamers of all ages are no longer waiting for the holiday season to unwrap the next iteration of Super Mario Bros, marketers should begin early conversations with game publishers to identify partnerships that will launch their next big initiative with the help of coveted video game content.

Join us for ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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