Meet Paula Cuneo, Senior Manager of In-Game Licensing

By Published on .

Who: Paula Cuneo, senior manager of in-game licensing at Activision.

Why you need to know her: Activision has been a pioneer in product integration within video games and began developing strategic in-game partnerships as early as 1999. Ms. Cuneo’s the dealmaker behind placements such as Puma in "True Crime: Streets of L.A."; Jeep and "Tony Hawk’s Underground 2"; and Samsung in this summer’s "Fantastic Four", based on the movie.

Ms. Cuneo was the dealmaker behind Puma's integration into 'True Crime.'

Credentials: Ms. Cuneo has been working in the video-game industry for the past 10 years, first at a company that focused on PC CD-ROM premiums and OEM bundling and then at Microprose in licensing and business development. She has worked as a producer and in licensing at Santa Monica, Calif.-based Activision and now heads up the company’s corporate alliances through its business development department, balancing production and developer relations with client outreach and account management.

Activision has been getting more aggressive in integrating brands into games. What kind of placements has Activision recently put together? “We look to partner with companies that fit the context of the video game. The overall objective of our partnerships is to develop opportunities for both companies to expand the reach and exposure of their products. For 'True Crime: Streets of L.A.,' we partnered with Puma on a broad-reaching partnership that included in-game presence for Puma where lead and secondary characters were outfitted in Puma clothing and footwear. The Puma store was featured in the game and a mission was built around it where players had to foil a heist of Puma gear. Puma created a dedicated area on their Web site where players could order the clothes featured in the game and find out more about the game’s characters and storyline. Additionally, the game and soundtrack were sold in Puma’s flagship stores nationwide, and 'True Crime' hang tags were place on clothing seen in the game.”

You did something similar for "Tony Hawk’s Underground 2" with Jeep: Our promotion included 3D models [in the game] of the new Jeep Liberty Unlimited, which debuted when the game was launching. Jeep also ran an ad in the game manual, co-branded print advertising in Stuff magazine and gaming publications. Game kiosks were included as part of their nationwide auto show booth; at the New York Auto Show, Tony Hawk demoed the game at the Jeep booth and Stuff magazine held a celeb party. In addition to a national sweepstakes, Jeep and Activision launched a contest where players could win prizes by building a customized level using Jeep billboards and vehicles found in the game. Neversoft, the developer, judged the contest.”

Ms. Cuneo was the dealmaker behind Puma's integration into 'True Crime.'

Does Activision have deals with specific marketers? If so, which ones? “Activision has partnered with a number of high profile brands including Kraft, Sprite, Jeep, McDonald’s, Burger King, Coca-Cola Co., AT&T, Puma, Nokia, Motorola, Pepsi, Sobe, HP, Dr. Pepper, Butterfinger, Quiksilver, Vans, Mountain Dew, And 1, Footlocker and Swatch.”

Are those companies also helping promote the games when they're released? “Each partnership is different, but the overall objective of our partnerships is to develop opportunities for both companies to expand the reach and exposure of their products.”

What are marketers looking for when brokering a deal with a video game? “The core video-game consumers are males 13-34, specifically 18-24 males. This is a highly elusive, yet coveted demographic. We know from Nielsen’s research that TV viewership among male gamers aged 18-34 is declining and video games are a very targeted and effective way to reach this audience. Furthermore, the Nielsen research has shown that brands with which gamers must actively interact substantially impact consumer awareness and recall and that highly integrated ads tend to enhance a gamer’s interest in purchasing the advertised products.”

The deal to integrate Samsung into the "Fantastic Four" game was an unusual one. How was Samsung placed in the game? “Samsung signed on as a partner to support the movie and we offered them the opportunity to strengthen their partnership with the F4 property by expanding their exposure to include in-game branding and product placement. We emulated the in-movie placement of computer monitors and TV screens and supplemented their exposure with in-game signage and branding that really reinforced their participation in the property in all its mediums.”

How did that deal come together? “We worked closely with the team at 20th Century Fox and, on their recommendation, reached out to Samsung, who were very enthusiastic about the opportunity to take part in the game as an in-game partner. Production and development were pleased to add the Samsung integrations, which both reflected the movie placements and helped reinforce the authenticity of the movie-based environments. We also created an on-line promotional program and executed a sweepstakes that delivered winners 'Fantastic Four' games and Samsung electronics featured in the game.”

It can take 90 days for a brand to appear in a TV show; 18 months for a movie. What's the time frame for a brand to appear in a video game? “For each game the production cycle is different. However, on average it takes approximately 18-24 months to develop a game. Within that time frame, we work with each brand differently depending on the level of integration. For example, if the brand representation is a 3D object that is an integral part of a game goal, then we need to work with a brand partner and the development team approximately 12 months prior to the game’s release to integrate the brand into the game. But if the brand is to appear as a static 2D image on a billboard, the integration time can be as short as four months prior to launch.”

Sports and racing titles are obviously easier to place brands into. What other types of games are we going to see brands appear in and how so? “The genres can vary, but the games that are the most conducive to brand integration are those with contemporary, real-world settings.”

How do you know if an integration is a good idea? “Activision conducts extensive focus group testing to ensure that the brands we are integrating into our games enhance the game’s authenticity. Our research has shown us that when brands bring realism to a video game, consumers are receptive to it. These results were further substantiated through a recent research study that we conducted with Nielsen Entertainment which found that 55% of gamers believe that games feel more genuine with real products integrated into the gaming experience.”

What are some challenges that still need to be overcome when brokering placement deals for games? “Brand partner expectations are often a challenge. We work very hard to deliver exceptional value through in-game exposure without commercializing our product in any way. Delivering an authentic experience for the gamer is our top priority. Brand integration can enhance that experience and the more intrinsic and seamless the integrations are, the more the gamer values them. That creates brand loyalty. Creative integrations that deliver value to the gamer is the goal. Sometimes we need to educate our partners on how less can be more.”

How do you measure success? “The majority of our partners work with us year over year. For me, game partners who become franchise partners means success.”

Has the company been tracking the reactions from gamers to placements? What kind of results have you been finding? “Nielsen Entertainment and Activision are working to develop a standardized methodology to measure advertising metrics in video games, the same way that they have created standardized measurement metrics for other forms of media including television and in-theater advertising. Our research with Nielsen has shown that the more effectively an ad is integrated within a video game, the greater a gamer’s ability to recall that ad. Eighty-seven percent of research participants remembered seeing a high-integrated brand much more frequently than other less-integrated brands. [And] even in the lowest levels of integration, consumer’s recall of the ads were equal to recall levels seen in TV advertising.”

Are you a gamer? What games do you play? “I’m not a gamer, but a game groupie. I admit, I am always a huge fan of whatever the game I am currently working on. Right now that means, 'Tony Hawk’s Underground 2' and 'True Crime 2'. Needless to say, they rock.”

What's on your TiVo? “We are TV free at home. NPR, Netflix and The New York Times.”

What do you do on your free time? “Attend rock shows, hang out with pals. You know, grown-up stuff.”
Most Popular