Brands Go Off On A WildTangent

Online gaming gains traction

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% WildTangent, founded in Redmond, Wash. in 1998 by former Microsoft whiz Alex St. John, is a small company developing online video games for big brand marketers. While Silicon Valley-based Electronic Arts' Sims game has hogged the media limelight, WildTangent, without fanfare, posted an impressive 300% growth in revenue from brand marketers last year and already counts Nike, Pepsi, Disney, Sony Entertainment and Fox Sports among its clients.

St. John's ambition is to bring a mainstream audience to online gaming. He likens video games played on consoles such as Xbox or PlayStation to the movies while online gaming is more akin to "Seinfeld," he feels. St. John, though still a long way from achieving his ambition, has played an integral role in getting online gaming on the right path. While at Microsoft, he was the principal creator of DirectX, the multimedia platform that online games run on. The technology has enabled games to be developed and delivered quickly with high animation quality.

For this to really take-off, WildTangent now just has to convince enough marketers that online gaming is a simple, compelling way of both entertaining and staying connected to consumers, not to mention an innovative way to integrate brands into content as a TiVo world lurks around the corner. WildTangent boasts that it can bring an online game to fruition in three months. A typical video game can take up to a year to develop.

St. John admits that getting marketers to take a chance on a new medium is a tough job. He says: "People are interested in it, they want to know how you buy it...and we get every meeting we ask for, but with the big clients, it is getting them to take the next step."

However mainstream marketers are beginning to buy in. Dave Madden, executive VP-sales and marketing, says the company developed a three-on-three online soccer tournament for Nike— it attracted upward of a million players in the first month. "Nike went through several [online gaming] efforts that failed. When they came to us they had their first real success." WildTangent is working on its second soccer game for Nike and Madden says much of its current slate of activity is repeat business from current clients who come back for more.

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% News Corp. cable channel, FX Networks, is currently working with WildTangent to extend its new TV show "Lucky" into an online game. Since the show, starring John Corbett, is about gambling, WildTangent developed a game that lets the user play any number of characters in a casino, (www.fxnetworks.com). The network is using the game as part of its upfront presentation.

Says Madden, "FX is really getting into original content and Lucky is about a gambler who wins $1 million and then blows it. The show gets a cool concept in the casino online game." FX has also cut a deal with a number of cable high-speed Internet access providers to help promote the series, in the hope that the online component may drive broadband subscriptions.

Another News Corp. subsidiary, Foxsports.com launched a new WildTangent baseball game, "Hit the Pros 2003 " on April 1. The game features actual pitches thrown during Major League Baseball games the night before— the pitches are caught on camera at Major League stadiums. Madden explains that Fox could also sell billboard sponsorships in the online game which is the third in the "Hit the Pros" series. The first two were played 1.5 million times, according to a company statement. Users can play a demo at www.hitthepros.com and www.foxsports.com. Subscribers can sign up for $19.95 for the full season.

Whether marketers are bullish or bearish on the future of online gaming, the cost of giving it a try does not seem prohibitive. Madden says: "We call them custom published games, not advergames, and they can cost between $125,000 and $400,000 for something more complex with multiple players and animation."

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