A first for an ad icon
The deal marks the first time any major consumer marketer has had a video game built from the ground up around its advertising icon. The U.S. Army has financed several mainstream video games, including "America's Army" that began as a free download and has been formatted for various consoles as training and recruiting tools, and the marketing community has embraced online advergames. But console games such as the ones Burger King and Microsoft plan to create are novelties.
"That's the sexiest category," said Mike Vorhaus, managing partner, Frank N. Magid & Associates. "This is a pretty unique situation."
Burger King declined to comment. Microsoft executives also declined comment on the program.
The games will be created by Microsoft for its popular Xbox systems and will be distributed through its restaurants during a five-week December promotion. They are designed to sell for $3.99 with the purchase of a value meal, a steal for gamers used to paying upward of $60 for a single title.
In addition to the action game, the King and other unspecified Burger King characters will find themselves in a fighting game that's a little "Street Fighter" and a bit of "Mortal Kombat," and a racing game that borrows elements from "Need for Speed" and "Forza Motorsport."
Risking being cool or cheesy
Burger King expects to sell nearly 7 million games, according to its consumer research. "If they make a triple-A first-class game, it could put them in a whole new class of coolness," Mr. Vorhaus said. "If it's cheesy, it could be disastrous."
For example, earlier this year, the chain dabbled with an in-game advertising gambit by casting its King character as a trainer in an Electronic Arts game called "Fight Night Round 3" for Xbox 360 that one gamer publication panned as a "15-hour advertisement."
The move is the latest to fulfill the No. 2 fast-food chain's yen for nontraditional media aimed at fueling buzz and loyalty among its core market of hungry 16- to 34-year-old men. It has already popularized viral videos, created wacky characters for its menu platforms -- such as its Busby Berkley-style showgirl squad called the Whopperettes -- and broke ground with media buys like the "Have it your way" confessional box in the Fox reality show "Unanimous." Now, Burger King is going for the jugular of its Gen X and Y consumers. The Home of the Whopper also will run a concurrent children's promotion with the musical-game series Dance Dance Revolution that would include dancing music and gaming premiums.
Game details leaked
Kotaku.com said that it has refused to take down the information on the games following a letter from the general counsel for Burger King's research firm, Greenfield Online. The site posted the contents of the attorney's letter, which said details of the branded video games had been available only to research subjects, who improperly leaked them to the site.
The information was also leaked before Burger King was able to present the concept to franchisees for their buy-in. The chain has been planning an elaborate Xbox lounge for its upcoming franchisee convention later this month as part of the sell job, according to a knowledgeable executive.
The chain was going to tell franchisees that it needs to purchase 900 units of the game per restaurant for the five-week promotion in order to make its profit of 20% to 25%. They would break even when about 73% of the games were sold.