Nintendo 'Maxim'-izes to lure older generation of gamers

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Handheld video games aren't just for kids anymore.

That's the crux of the marketing battle as Nintendo's already launched dual-screen device goes up against Sony's spring launch of PlayStation Portable.

"The aim of both Nintendo DS and Sony PSP is to reach the demographic that tends to play console-only games-the high school and college-age groups. And that's going to take significant marketing efforts from both," said Billy Pidgeon, an independent gaming analyst based in New York. While the average age of console and PC video game players has increased to 29, according to the Entertainment Software Association, analysts and the handheld makers themselves say the handheld device average skews younger.

Nintendo plans to go after an older audience by taking marketing efforts to college campuses, spring break events and even bars.

Described by Nintendo director-public relations Anka Dolecki as a "huge" first quarter for marketing, Nintendo hosted Super Bowl parties with men's magazine titles Dennis Publishing's Maxim and FHM. It will also visit 15 college campuses with a "TKO" campus technology tour; hit the beaches in Florida for spring break parties and events; appear on the "Tour of Chaos" music tour; and sponsor the Burton snowboarding championships in March.

`Touching is good'

Add to that a $35 million advertising campaign, created by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, Chicago, tagged "Touching is good"; it launched in November along with the device. TV ads will feature specific DS software titles including Need for Speed, plus additional print, Web and direct advertising. Nintendo DS sold more than 1.3 million units in its first two months.

While cynics may see Nintendo's push as insulation against an expected Sony marketing blitz for PSP, Ms. Dolecki said Nintendo DS strategy was to follow the umbrella ad campaign with street teams and touch points to further draw in new users. "Whether PSP was coming this quarter or not, we usually follow a launch with a chance to sample," she said.

Sony's PSP marketing plan is still under wraps, but analysts expect Sony to push the device heavily in the U.S. as it has already done in Japan since its launch there in December. Just last week, Sony announced the device will go on sale March 24 at a retail price of $249.99 and will include a memory stick, AC adapter and a copy of the Sony feature film "Spider-Man 2."

Early adopters in the U.S. are generating buzz by playing and reporting on imported Japanese versions of the PSP. Sony said in a recent earnings call that it has shipped 800,000 PSPs in Japan; Nintendo has shipped almost 3 million DS systems worldwide.

With figures like that, no one questions the success of the $2 billion handheld hardware and software market. "We may be at a point in the handheld game market where more than one device can succeed," said Michael Gartenberg, analyst with Jupiter Research. "The one thing these devices should do is expand the market."

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