Video Games Deliver Sports Experiences to All Fans

Most people will never be able to march their team down the field for a come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, but video games like “Madden 09” can put you in the virtual shoes of Eli Manning and allow you to experience that type of rare opportunity usually reserved for only the most elite athletes.

Sports games, dating back to what is thought to be the first licensed sports video game, Electronic Arts’ “Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One on One,” have allowed fans to live out their sport fantasies. As sports games have evolved, enthusiastic gamers have called for an increased focus on the realism in game play. Gamers want to feel the pressure of a 3-2 count in the ninth inning with two outs when they play “MLB 2K8.” Video games, such as “Gran Turismo,” have delivered on this realism by raising the complexity to the point where actual drivers look to games for off-the-track training. Unfortunately, these enhancements have made it difficult for a more casual fan to get into the game. That is, until recent additions to the sports game genre.

Nintendo’s Wii has won over a wide demographic by providing games that allow anyone to simply pick up the controller and play right away. The top-selling game on the console has been “Wii Sports,” which unlike its sports brethren leveraged intuitive game controllers instead of complex button mashing sequences. Also, “Wii Sports” features family-friendly sports such as bowling and tennis plus more competitive favorites like boxing and baseball. The move away from complex realistic features proved to be the right decision as “Wii Sports” has sold over 21 million copies worldwide — more than any other sports title last year. (Note: It doesn’t hurt to bundle it with the console as well.)

The success of “Wii Sports,” coupled with less than positive feedback on sport simulation ports over to the Wii console, prompted publishers such as EA to dedicate developers solely to create more casual sport titles. EA Sports has just recently launched the first title of five, “NCAA Football 09 All-Play,” from its new All-Play lineup developed specifically for the Wii. These titles are designed to provide the same licensed game play that EA Sports titles have been known for, but also allow anyone to enjoy the games regardless of the gaming skill level. The games will provide similar game control schemes as the traditional titles designed for experienced gamers as well as unique pick-up-and-play schemes for rookie gamers. EA is hoping to bring rookie gamers into the family of EA Sports titles through unique easy-to-play gaming experiences.

Many advertisers with sports affiliations have looked to video games to extend their partnerships and surround sports fans with their brand messages. The Wii Sports and EA Sports All-Play developments present advertisers with two new opportunities for entering the sports video game market:

  • Partnering with a sports title that extends to the casual gamer. In the past, the majority of sport games copies have been sold on the Xbox and PlayStation consoles, which are usually played by the male 18-34 demographic. While both Microsoft and Sony have plans for extending the audience of their consoles, Nintendo has already captured a larger audience with the Wii. By partnering with sports games designed for the Wii, brands can very easily reach target consumers that fall outside the male 18-34 demo playing these games.
  • Leverage popular sports title not tied to licensed products. Without the appropriate league sponsorships, advertisers are limited in the titles they can partner with. However games without league associations, such as “Deca Sports” (released as “Deca Sporta” in Japan and “Sports Island” in Europe), which was recently reported to have sold 700,000 units worldwide, allow gamers to try their hand in sports such as badminton, beach volleyball, and skating. As these non-licensed titles grow in popularity and develop established fan bases, brands will be have numerous opportunities to leverage partnerships to reach their target consumers.

With all that said, even the hardcore sports gamers will be influenced by these games. In addition to spending countless hours playing through a season in “Madden 09,” many of us will be hoping to get our significant others on the couch next to us playing the new All-Play version. While it may not have the same pressure of that final fourth quarter drive on the regular version, it will be a lot of fun watching the �unique� passing routes they create on the fly.

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