"There's so much market momentum that it's [been more] buzz than reality," says Ms. Shumaker, 36. "The reality is that that a tiny percentage will actually have ads in them. We did 38 titles last year and probably had advertising in 10 of them."
For certain trailblazing brands, she's already fulfilled the promise of developing in-game advertising way beyond the hype, her clients say. Dino Bernacchi, advertising manager for Pontiac at General Motors Corp., credits Ms. Shumaker with bringing ads from signage and banners in games to making the brand part of the game play.
"What adds value is integrating the content I'm trying to do in the real world and integrating it into the video game," Mr. Bernacchi says. Take the EA "March Madness" console game. Before people played, "they had an average understanding of our brand as corporate sponsor," Mr. Bernacchi says. "After playing the game, that went up three times. Julie is a couple of steps ahead of the industry."
Much is riding on her expertise. Big brands are hot to enter the space. For the 2003-04 season, video games were responsible for a 7% decline in TV ratings among the coveted group of males aged 18-34, says Michael Goodman, senior analyst at the Yankee Group. There are about 130 million gamers ages 8 and up, he says.
In spite of all the growth potential, EA posted its first loss in four years for its first fiscal quarter. The reason is that consumers have slowed spending as they await the next generation of product launches from Microsoft Corp. and Sony Corp., coming out this spring.
In-game advertising is more important than ever to produce revenue, Mr. Goodman says.
Sound like enough pressure? Ms. Shumaker, a former professional golfer whose idea of a good time is training for a marathon (she's run six of them), relishes the challenge.
"Marketers are following a wave, not really diving in and understanding," she says. They want to interrupt game play, and we need to help them to be patient and trusting of the recommendations of our creative group."