While digital video-game opportunities continue to expand and many advertisers venture deeper into the space, most examples could be labeled simply as product placement, or worse — logo slaps. However, the best programs will surpass simple product placement and effectively integrate their message into the actual game experience.
Last year’s most successful game releases were the newest iterations from popular franchises, such as “Call of Duty,” “Grand Theft Auto,” and “Halo.” Based on these success stories, game publishers are feverishly working to identify new intellectual property from development shops. Finding the next highly coveted franchise to compete with these heavy hitters could put a developer on the map or move a publisher to the list of elite video-game makers. For example, prior to 2005, not too many people had heard of game development company Harmonix or game publisher RedOctane. Following its successful release of “Guitar Hero” and “Guitar Hero 2,” Harmonix was acquired by MTV Networks and later developed competing title “Rock Band”; RedOctane was acquired by Activision and later released “Guitar Hero 3.”
Since blockbuster hits such as “Guitar Hero” don’t happen every day, publishers have expanded their scope of concept ideation beyond just game developers to entertainment content creators. Electronic Arts (EA) partnered with movie director Steven Spielberg to create a puzzle video game, “Boom Blox,” for the Wii console. “Boom Blox” is a strategy game that challenges players to solve nearly 400 levels of puzzles and allows them to create their own levels. Spielberg is reportedly signed on to do at least two more games. And EA recently announced a similar partnership with Zack Snyder, director of “300” and the upcoming “Watchmen,” for three games. “I think video games are cool,” told Snyder Game Guru, “because they offer an opportunity to tell a story in an entirely unique way.”
As the emphasis on creating new concepts for games increases, the opportunity is right for marketers to integrate their brands into the experience. Instead of waiting for gaming partners to contact the advertiser with relevant product placements or licensing deals, marketers should take a proactive role in locating the next massive franchise. This partnership will work for a number of reasons:
- The early bird gets the worm. Obviously being the early adopter has its advantages in creating innovative programs, but reaching out early to learn about opportunities has benefits, too. The earlier in the process that ideas can be discussed for product integrations, communication messages, or other relevant materials, the more likely that game developers will be able complete them in addition to general game play. The tighter integrations feel more organic to gamers and increase receptivity to the brands, instead of feeling like after-thought advertising. For example, inserting a vehicle into a racing game does provide an auto manufacturer with virtual test drives, but going as far as bringing the brand character to life in the narrative allows the gamer to test-drive the car and have an actual connection with the brand.
- Every dollar counts. When a game company decides to green-light a new property, it’s taking a calculated risk. Regardless of how positive consumer research looks, no one can be sure of success until the units start moving off the shelves. Potential advertising partners can alleviate costs associated with either game development or marketing. If the advertiser is completely satisfied with its integration into the game environment, helping to bring the game to market or spreading the word about the title can only benefit both parties.
- Early partnerships yield higher returns. It makes sense for marketers to take advantage of already-established franchises given the already established audience. However, brands that are on board from the initial release of a franchise will benefit from the authentic inclusion into the experience. There are definitely risks associated with unproven titles, but the payoff could be too difficult to pass up if an effective partnership is created.
With these points in mind, I challenge all of you great marketers out there to help bring next year’s top-selling franchise to the forefront, with your brand playing an integral role. Your brand will receive an effective return, and gamers will love you for it.
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