Like magazines, the game will publish in periodic installments -- with all the timely opportunities for in-game advertising that an open-ended approach allows.
"I very much enjoy speaking to this audience, obviously," said Mr. Blanchard, referring to the young men in his sights. "But nobody seems willing to get that young men's weekly magazine off the ground yet. Video games are becoming almost a more viable way to reach them than magazines."
Fictional channel, real sponsors
So he is now executive producer at Kuma Reality Games, which introduced its first product, "Kuma/War," two years ago. The new game, which will be free to play and funded by advertisers, follows a group of time-traveling hunters who bring modern weapons into the past for prehistoric safaris -- and have their progress filmed by a TV show on the fictional Total Hunting Channel. To pay the bills, the show requires its stars -- that is, the people who play the game -- to film commercials for its real-world sponsors during their expeditions.
Because the game, called "The DinoHunters," relies on the conceit of a commercial TV show, its creators hope that it will evade all the incongruence that in-game advertising can create.
"You can't trick gamers," said Keith Halper, CEO, Kuma Reality. "That transparency is critical to approaching this audience."
The difficulties of really connecting with the modern-guy demo, conversely, are one reason why Messrs. Halper and Blanchard have gotten into ad-supported gaming.
Fast-moving pop culture
"Part of what's driven me toward wanting to produce a young men's weekly magazine is that people don't want to wait that long for their entertainment, not as long as a monthly takes," Mr. Blanchard said. "Your lead time on a monthly can be three to four months, and pop culture moves a lot faster than that."
Mr. Halper declined to say how many players he anticipates will play "DinoHunters"or how many people currently play "Kuma/Wars," but he did say that close to 1 million people have played "Kuma/Wars" at some point in its history.
Whether episodic video games will succeed with a big audience has yet to be shown, said Greg Smith, exec VP-media insights, planning and analysis, Carat Fusion. And advertisers still rely on a reach-and-frequency model that doesn't apply to games. But video games themselves have accumulated so much mass that publishers and advertisers have to pay attention and try new things, he said.
"Consumer are spending a lot of time there," Mr. Smith said of video games. "If in Manhattan everyone stopped every day and spent half an hour watching the sunset, you'd better find a way to brand the horizon."