Marketers game for action

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When it comes to winning young men's allegiance, the "Prince of Persia" is likely to reign over the "King of Queens."

And savvy marketers are looking to videogame sponsorship to recapture some of those men who have abandoned their TV sets.

The Entertainment Software Association, in a recent poll, found that 38% of gamers are men 18 and over. NPD Group says males aged 6-35 spend an average of 8 hours per week playing videogames. Of the $7 billion spent on videogames, peripherals and hardware in January-November 2003, $5.2 billion, or more than 74%, was purchased by or intended for use by males.

"Games have bigger viewership numbers than `The Sopranos,' " says John Aldrich, partner and account director at See, a San Francisco independent ad agency that handles the No. 1-selling videogame title, the John Madden NFL games from Electronic Arts.

"The active and interactive experience [of videogames] as opposed to the passive experience [of TV programming]-that's what bringing down TV," says Marc Prensky, CEO of Games2train, which develops games for educational purposes. Young men today belong to a generation that wants to "have control."

These young men have grown up in the arcades playing games where they have control over what happens; when a player hits a button there's a response. "They've gone from the one size fits all [in other words, TV programming] to what I do makes a difference," Mr. Prensky says. He adds: "Nobody cares what NBC or Fox wants to share with you," but they do care about what their friends (and fellow players) want to share.


The active participation goes right to the heart of videogames themselves, he notes. Some games such as id Software's "Quake" give players the structural tools to change how the game is played, resulting in a phenomenon called "modding" (for "modifying").

See's Mr. Aldrich describes videogames as "a different beast" that advertisers need to judge by means other than traditional costs per thousand.

He says the power of videogames hasn't been lost on advertisers. Not long ago, videogame developers had to beg permission to use logos in their games. Now, McDonald's Corp. has a sponsorship in EA's "The Sims Online." Apparel and other brands have been part of the Activision skateboarding games of Tony Hawk, who benefits from young men's interest in both videogames and boarding. And even some music artists, including Def Jam, are starting to look at videogames as a distribution point, releasing songs in videogames before albums are launched.

Still, NPD analyst Richard Ow says the presence of a McDonald's logo "makes the game more fun [but] doesn't induce purchasing McDonald's."

He notes that when the next round of console innovation hits in 2006, hard-core players who prefer first-person-player games like Nintendo's "Final Fantasy" series-which takes 100 hours to complete-could be spending even more time at their game screens. And TV could take another hit.