Tony Hawk, True Crime: Activision focuses outlay on 2 releases

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Activision will use its $20 million U.S. marketing budget to promote fewer titles this year in order to support a Tony Hawk game and to lay the groundwork to build "True Crime: Streets of L.A." into a major franchise.

Slated for release in October, "Tony Hawk's Underground," is an extreme skateboarding game in which gamers can play as themselves, make up their own tricks and design their own skate parks. The game will be available on Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft's Xbox, and Nintendo's GameCube and GameBoy Advance. Gamers opting to play the online version, offered only via the PS2, can scan their faces into the game.

`underground' partners

Activision is seeking "Underground" partners in the technology, apparel, snacks and auto categories, but no associations have been secured yet, according to Kathy Vrabeck, exec VP-global publishing and brand management, Activision.

Activision hopes "True Crime: Streets of LA,"-due in September and available on all platforms except the GameBoy Advance-will become its next major game franchise. Set in Los Angeles, the game tells the story of Nick Kang, head of an undercover task force charged with squashing gang activity. What's new, apart from high-stakes car chases and hand-to-hand combat sequences, is that Activision has hired Vybe Squad, Los Angeles, to secure an original soundtrack for the game. The soundtrack features hip-hop artists such as Ice Cube and Mac 10.

"One of the things that comes up more and more is working with music videos and record companies," Ms. Vrabeck said, adding that in-theater advertising for the title will feature the original soundtrack.

Activision spent $24.8 million in measured media in the U.S. in 2002, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, and is likely to spend only a few percentage points more than that for 2003-04, Ms. Vrabeck said. The company typically spends between $1.5 million and $3 million per title on TV advertising. "We're toward the higher end of that" on titles like "Underground," she said.

The Santa Monica, Calif., video-game publisher recently hired ad agency Secret Weapon Marketing, Los Angeles, after a review. Activision previously worked with D'Arcy, Los Angeles, until the agency's office closed last year: "We were happy with them, but we were forced to look around," Ms. Vrabeck said. Ignited Mind, Los Angeles, handles Activision's print and online, while Publicis Groupe's MediaVest, Los Angeles, is responsible for media buying.

at the movies

Secret Weapon is in production with TV, print, in-theater and retail ads. "In-cinema advertising is a bigger part of the mix now, and we're looking to have different spots running in theater than on television," Ms. Vrabek said. Other titles set to receive ad support include "Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure" and "X-Men." Some 2004 titles, including "Tenchu," "Shrek 2," and "Spiderman 2" and the console version of "World War II: Call of Duty," will get TV support.

Total dollar sales of U.S. video-game hardware, software and accessories declined 2.4% during the first quarter of 2003 over the same period in 2002, according to the NPD Group-but unit sales grew 7.4%. The research group attributed the trend to price cuts on video-game hardware last year. However, portable and console software jumped 6.5% in dollar volume, with a 1.5% rise in unit volume in the first quarter of this year.

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