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The phrase "stop and shop" takes on a whole new meaning this September with the release of Atari's Test Drive Unlimited, an online racing game for PC developed by Eden Games. Photorealistic recreations of over 100 fully customizable cars and bikes (from top names like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Mercedes Benz) as well as over 1,000 miles of actual landscape from the Hawaiian island of Oahu all contribute to an ultra-realistic racing experience—but the realism "coup de grace" comes in the form of the game's in-game advertising, courtesy of IGA Worldwide's in-game ad network. Beyond the standard dynamic billboards, Test Drive Unlimited will offer an unprecedented level of brand interaction by allowing players to actually enter virtual recreations of Ben Sherman and Marc Ecko stores and experience the products for themselves. "This type of product placement goes well beyond simply having a game character drink a can of Coke," says IGA CEO Justin Townsend. "The gamer would essentially be driving his sports car or motorbike around Oahu with a virtual bank account filled with in-game currency earned by winning races. They could then pull over at a Ben Sherman shop and step inside. The entire shop itself is based on a Ben Sherman shop in the real world and is branded as such, from the logos on the wall to the carpets on the floor. Best of all, the entire Ben Sherman clothing range is available for purchase, from shoes to jeans to shirts and jackets. You can even select a product, try it on and see how you look in the mirror before making a purchase."
The multi-faceted nature of Test Drive Unlimited's in-game advertising illustrates the different approaches companies like IGA can take to integrate ads into games—even within the same game. "Due to the fact that a product integration, what is known as static in-game advertising or SIGA, is hard-coded into the game in the development stage, we were involved with Atari very early in the development life cycle," says Townsend. "But when it comes to dynamic in-game advertising or DIGA, such as billboards, posters, video or radio, we can start pitching to ad clients about 12 weeks before the game hits shelves, as there is no need for early involvement from the brand side."
As for why racing fans should care what kind of jeans their online avatars are sporting? In the virtual world, just as in the real world, it's all about status. "This is a whole lot more than simply a driving game," says Townsend. "It combines the thrill of racing cars with a multiplayer online community, and just as prestige is important in the real world, it's important in the gaming environment as well. Having the best car, the biggest luxury house and (of course) the hottest clothing sets you apart from the rest, and that becomes a key motivation for the player."