SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Video games are becoming a mass-market pastime -- and they're increasingly tapping mass marketers for tie-ins and distribution.
KFC scored a much-needed traffic driver with a "Guitar Hero" partnership; Burger King built its own tie-in with an Xbox game starring its King; and McDonald's has launched a Nintendo partnership in Japan, for the company's DS device. Next month, to lay groundwork for what it hopes will be an additive business, 7-Eleven will begin distributing a free video-game guide, with reviews, release dates and reminders to reserve copies of games for midnight pickup.
For video-game studios, these deals mean more places to peddle their wares. For fast-food and convenience chains, tie-ins with major games are opportunities to burnish their images.
"We get to talk to customers, give them something free, encourage game sales, and tie relevancy between 7-Eleven and gaming," said Daniel May, marketing manager for non-foods at 7-Eleven. The convenience chain has promoted major game releases in-store monthly for the past year, and has seen a sales increase every time, he said. Now, the chain has a 3-foot video-game section in about 15% of its stores, a percentage it expects to grow in the coming months.
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Connecting with specific groups
Absent an in-store retail component, most fast-food chains experimenting with video games are using the tie-ins to build traffic and connections with specific consumer groups. McDonald's, which has begun growing its Asian presence in the past decade, realized it had a good relationship with both adults and kids in Japan but lacked a connection with the tween audience. The chain tested a partnership with Nintendo's DS device -- which enjoys about 90% penetration with Japanese tweens -- for about a year, and rolled out the promotion nationwide last month. Youngsters who walk into a restaurant with a DS will get offers for free character downloads, trials and even new-product news.
It's a promotion McDonald's Chief Marketing Officer Mary Dillon said may have legs in other markets. "It's an exciting way to leverage what's hot in Japan with a trip to McDonald's," she said during an interview last month.
Ralph Heim, director-media at KFC described last year's "Guitar Hero" promotion, which involved a meal deal and game-score competition "a big success." He wrote in an e-mail: "KFC is a brand that brings friends and family together, and 'Guitar Hero' is a game that does the same. So it was a perfect partnership."
Assembling its video-game partnership, 7-Eleven realized it had a leg up on its competition in traditional retail: regular late-night hours and convenient locations. Avid gamers look to buy big games at their midnight release times. While retailers such as Best Buy and Game Stop sometimes open in the wee hours for major releases, 7-Eleven may be closer to home, and with a ready supply of Red Bull and Cheetos.
The free quarterly game guide, exclusive to 7-Eleven, is published by GamePro magazine, a well-established publication, and penned by its staff. It's expected to give 7-Eleven clout with gamers while the chain gives GamePro access to about 6 million eyeballs a day. Such partnerships are also good for the video-game industry, said GamePro General Manager Marci Yamaguchi, because they simultaneously appeal to current gamers and educate incremental users.