Fall video-game launches court shifting demographic

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This fall's new lineup of video-game software is in your face. Literally.

Offerings such as Activision's Tony Hawk Underground allow players using the Sony Playstation PS2 video console to place their own digital photo on an individual character. In ESPN's NFL Football, video-game players are given an NFL pro's eye view of the action as though they were looking from inside the helmet.

But that's not the only way video games will be in your face. Advertising spending on a plethora of titles competing for share of shelf and mind continues to grow despite the economic slowdown. According to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, ad spending behind the video-game category hit $429.9 million in 2002, up from $374.2 million in 2001. In the first quarter of this year, spending increased to $131.3 million, up from $111.4 million in the same period in 2002. With 622 new games in the first half alone supported with an average $3 million in spending, growth is on a fast track this year.

`make or break'

Additionally, money spent by retailers backing those brands jumped by 50.4% in the first half of the year, according to Roger Lanctot, director of advertising analysis, Beyen Corp, Niagra Falls, Ontario, Canada, who expects the flow to continue through the end of the year. "This holiday season is a make or break period" for a number of key video-game marketers, including Nintendo and Microsoft, Mr. Lanctot said, noting that manufacturers are pushing ads at the back-to-school season to beat the holiday logjam.

Video-game software is a $5.5 billion-a-year industry, according to Richard Ow, industry analyst, NPD Group, with sports games accounting for 19.5% of sales. Electronic Arts' John Madden-branded games accounted for more than half of sales in the sports segment. ESPN Videogames, formerly Sega's 2K games, and all other players share the remaining 50% of the segment.

The leading video-game category last year was action games, with a 25% share, followed by sports, and racing with 17%. The remainder of the market is split between adventure, arcade, children's games, fighting, role playing, simulation and strategy, said Mr. Ow.

But those figures are subject to dramatic change as the video audience, once primarily young boys, continues to evolve. The Entertainment Software Association, in a recent poll, found that 38% of gamers are men 18 and over, and 26% are women 18 and older, outnumbering boys 6 to 17, who now represent only 21% of gamers.

"There's no question more games are being made to appeal to a mature audience," said association president Doug Lowenstein.

The ESA poll also found the average video-game player was at it 6.5 hours a week. In terms of demographics, game players were evenly divided between those in households with incomes over and below $50,000 per year.

To break through the clutter, the old paradigm in video-game advertising-that spots consist primarily of game footage-is changing. "We still show game footage, but [are] also trying to draw people with the nature of the franchise," said Grey Stern, CEO, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Sausalito, Calif., whose agency handles Ubi Soft's Tom Clancy games. In those ads, the agency "taps into realism and patriotism," he said.

ESPN Videogames, meanwhile, has launched a campaign featuring Tracy Morgan of "Saturday Night Live" as a fanatical fan who, after playing football in the first person, stalks the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Warren Sapp and challenges him to a game of real life football. Mr. Morgan will tail other players as the games roll into basketball, hockey and baseball. Independent Wieden & Kennedy, New York, agency for ESPN, created the ads, backed by and paid for by ESPN media.

The hope is to give Electronic Arts' John Madden franchise a run for the money. Schelley Olhava, IDC games industry analyst and program manager, noted, however, Sega's old 2K series "was a good brand, but Madden dominates the whole space."

contributing: tobi elkin

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