TV's Missing Men Are Playing Games

'Prince of Persia' Trumps 'King of Queens'

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CHICAGO ( -- Ever since Nielsen reported young men were missing from prime-time TV viewing, marketers are scrambling to find them.

Click to see a TV commercial for 'Prince of Persia' stressing new levels of adventure game interactivity and control.

audio bug Number of 18-34 Males
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Their quest has been understandably frantic. Some 32 million 18- to 34-year-old males constitute the mother lode for a vast array of marketers. That's about one-quarter of the total U.S. male population -- as well as a demographic the U.S. Census Bureau expects to hit 34.4 million by 2010.

One of the most potent pastimes pulling young men away from TV is video-gaming, according to researchers. This has caused a growing number of marketers to realize that when it comes to winning young men's allegiance, the "Prince of Persia" is likely to reign over the King of Queens.

Empowering the audience
The high level of graphic realism, sophisticated story lines and sense of empowerment reached by creative works such as Ubisoft's "Prince of Persia" has made gamescapes more alluring than the more passive environment of TV programming. The latest generation of video games has all the visual elements of traditional movie fare with the added excitement of enabling the user to control the action in the exotic adventures or professional sports world he is engaged with.

The Entertainment Software Association in a recent poll found that 38% of gamers are men 18 and over. NPD Group said males aged 6 to 35 spend an average of eight hours per week playing video games. Of the $7 billion spent on video games, peripherals and hardware from January to November 2003, $5.2 billion (or more than 74%) worth of products was purchased by or intended for use by males.

"Games have bigger viewership numbers than The Sopranos," said John Aldrich, partner and account director at See, an independent San Francisco ad agency that handles the best-selling video-game title, the John Madden NFL games from Electronic Arts.

Not just teenagers
London-headquartered Codemasters, which creates video games for Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft consoles, as well as for online play, recently conducted a survey that found that 32% of gamers were over 30 and 47% were in their 20s. It was the latest data to confirm that video gaming, once almost exclusively associated with teenagers, has become a mainstream interest that is dramatically altering the pattern of media consumption by men. For this reason, Codemasters, as well as most of the other top game-makers, are rapidly widening their offerings geared for adult play.

"The active and interactive experience [of video games] as opposed to the passive experience [of TV programming] -- that's what bringing down TV," said Marc Prensky, CEO of Games2train, which develops games for educational purposes. Young men today belong to a generation that wants to "have control."

These young men grew up in arcades playing games over which they have control -- when a player hits a button there's a response. "They've gone from the one-size-fits-all [in other words, TV programming] to what-I-do-makes-a-difference," Mr. Prensky said. He added: "Nobody cares what NBC or Fox wants to share with you," but they do care about what their friends -- and fellow players -- want to share.

'Modding' games
The notion of active participation goes right to the heart of video games themselves, he noted. Some games, such as id Software's "Quake," give players the structural tools to change how the game is played, resulting in a phenomenon called "modding" (for "modifying").

See's Mr. Aldrich described video games as a "different beast" that advertisers need to judge by means other than traditional costs per thousand.

He said the power of video games hasn't been lost on advertisers. Not long ago, video game developers had to beg marketers to grant them permission to use logos in their games. Now, McDonald's Corp. has a sponsorship in EA's "The Sims Online." Apparel makers and other brands have been part of the Activision skateboarding games of Tony Hawk, who benefits from young men's interest in both video games and boarding. And even some musical artists, including rock band Def Jam, are starting to look at video games as a distribution point, releasing songs in games before releasing albums.

Still, NPD analyst Richard Ow said the presence of a McDonald's logo "makes the game more fun [but] doesn't induce purchasing McDonald's."

Bracing for 2006
He noted that when the next round of game console innovation hits in 2006, hard-core players who prefer first-person player games which take 100 hours to complete -- could be spending even more time in front of their game screens. And TV could take even more of a hit.

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