Hollywood Agency Gets Into Video Game Marketing

United Talent Agency (UTA), which represents entertainment clients like Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, and Jim Carrey, is delving into the video game marketing world. The company hired former GameSpot and GameSpy executive Jonathan Epstein to strike deals between brands, video game publishers and entertainment industry clients.

To do so, Epstein will establish a San Francisco office for UTA, which is based in Beverly Hills.

“Our strategy in adding Jon to the agency and establishing UTA in the geographic heart of the video gaming industry is to build a deeper, more effective relationship between the games industry, Hollywood, and brands that are seeking innovative marketing solutions,” said Jeremy Zimmer, a board member of UTA.

Epstein is a veteran of the interactive advertising industry. He founded and served as president of online publication GameSpot.com, and also was president of GameSpy. During Epstein’s tenure, GameSpy merged with IGN Entertainment, and he took on the role of executive vice president and general manager of media at IGN. He’s also worked at CNET Networks and at ZDNet.

Forging deals for product placement and ads in video games will be one of Epstein’s areas of focus, but he’s skeptical of impression-based video game ad networks, such as the one that Massive is putting together.

“The banner-like or graphic-like metaphors do not fundamentally take advantage of the interactivity of the player of the game. It’s not incredibly much better than any of your other media choices,” said Epstein. “What is better is being involved in the game, being a product in the game.”

Epstein acknowledges that he faces some challenges with the product placement approach, too, in that integrating products into games takes time, and can interfere with the publisher’s development cycle. Still, he says this issue can be overcome.

“I think they all are [interested in incorporating product placement], provided that it doesn’t jeopardize, in any way, the player experience of the game,” he said. “There’s not a publisher out there that’s not seriously looking at it. They all want it.”

So far, UTA won’t divulge any clients for which it’s exploring such possibilities, but says announcements are forthcoming in several weeks.

“The fun part of this as a job and a platform isn’t doing deals that have been done, it’s doing things that haven’t been done,” he said, “and by definition it isn’t easy to say what they might be like.”

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