The deal: In April, Burger King said it would partner with Microsoft's Xbox gaming arm to produce a series of original titles featuring the brand's characters that would hit the burger chain's stores in December and play into the hearts of a key fast-food target that averages 20 hours a week playing video games.
The result: After four weeks, the chain has sold more than 2 million copies, with some stores running out of the games and some titles popping up on eBay and purchased by consumers outside the U.S.
|Burger King's 'Sneak King' video game for Xbox may not have won rave reviews, but gamers still bought more than 2 million copies.
CHICAGO -- His Royal Whopperness has conquered another realm: advergames.
Burger King said it has sold more than 2 million copies of three games it co-produced with Microsoft's Xbox division that feature its ubiquitous King and other characters seen in its advertising in the game's first four weeks in its restaurants.
Burger King hyped the milestone in a carefully-worded press release, calling the series the "best-selling collection of games published for the Xbox/Xbox 360 platforms this holiday season."
One knowledgeable executive speculated that sales could top 4 million copies before the self-liquidating offer is completed, and he said the promo -- along with its children's counterpart Dance Dance Revolution and an earlier tie-in with the animated movie "Happy Feet" -- have driven traffic up by double digits compared to a year ago when the last installment of the "Star Wars" franchise was the promotion. "Beating that would be really good," the executive said.
A Burger King spokeswoman wouldn't confirm any sales predictions, but on Dec. 20 said: "We're confident our best-selling days are ahead of us." In April, Burger King said it expected to sell nearly 7 million games, according to its consumer research.
"We're thrilled with the response thus far," Russ Klein, president-global marketing, strategy, and innovation for Burger King Corp., said in the statement. "Most video games are considered a blockbuster when they reach the 1 million mark in sales, and this collection has achieved twice that, thanks in part to the great value for the money and convenient holiday stocking-stuffer appeal."
The three games being offered -- "Pocketbike Racer," "Big Bumpin'" and "Sneak King" -- are compatible with the Xbox and Xbox 360 platforms. They feature the King, his pal Brooke Burke, the Whopper Jr., and the Subservient Chicken and are sold for $3.99 per game with the purchase of a BK Value Meal. Some stores sold the titles individually; others sold them as packs.
Two executives close to the situation said the sales varied widely across the country based on the penetration of Xbox consoles, with some stores selling out while others had done little to spur traffic.
Not only have supplies in some markets sold out, the three titles have also boosted traffic for eBay. Of nearly 40 auctions for the games listed on the internet site, a handful of games already have sold for as much as $25 for the pack. Several sales were to self-professed first-time buyers in markets as far away as the U.K. where the games haven't yet been made available.
With the successful sales, "they've supersized advergaming," said Mike Vorhaus, managing director of Frank N. Magid Associates. The success is due to a "very good price," he said. "They're getting a highly engaged advertising vehicle in the hands of hard-to-reach gamers. Is there going to be a rising bar in advergaming? My gut tells me no. I don't think this is necessarily revolutionary but the sell-through is impressive."
Burger King promoted the games heavily with a strong media calendar, including an oft-run TV spot, a dedicated website at www.bkgamer.com and a Hollywood-studio-style PR machine to fuel buzz and reviews.
Gamers eagerly awaited the games' arrival, despite their admitted wariness of in-game advertising. The games have won over their intended audience at least for their novelty, if not for their relatively cheap sticker price and hard-to-resist creepy King character.
GameSpot gave "Sneak King" a mediocre rating of 5.8 (out of 10) on its site, but noted that the game is "so crazy and so cheap that it still manages to be weirdly compelling." Game site IGN said "'Sneak King' is far from a great game and closer to just a great marketing idea."
Meanwhile, blogger Michael McWhertor on gamer site Kotaku.com, which first broke news of the games, wrote: "While games like 'Gears of War' may sell based on quality (and hype), branded shovelware like 'Sneak King,' 'Big Bumpin',' and 'Pocketbike Racer' sells on price. And close proximity to Whopper Jr. value meals."
Most franchisees are happy with the promotion.
Alex Salguiero, a franchisee with 12 stores near Savannah, Ga., on Dec. 20 said he had already sold out his supply of 300 to 400 units.
However, although the $3.99 price tag was considered by many a steal for a video game, he called it a "higher-priced" offer.
"The price point is high, which impacts people," Mr. Salguiero said, noting the most popular premium was the November 2004 SpongeBob SquarePants watches. "Those flew out the door in light speed. There's resistance to buy over the $1.99 price point. It definitely is a limited group of people compared to a watch."