Software developers intent on maintaining leadership in the exploding entertainment market are retooling their images.
The need to create cohesive marketing plans and defined brand images was glaringly apparent at the summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago last month. Hundreds of software companies bombarded show attendees with demonstrations of wildly colorful games with ear-popping sounds.
"The level of competition is so intense that it's very clear we need to develop an image that stands for a certain kind of entertainment-a brand image we can stand behind and consumers can bank on," said Peter Dille, director of marketing for Sony Corp.'s fast-growing Sony Imagesoft interactive software label.
Rather than simply pumping out titles to be all things to all users, savvy entertainment software developers, from Disney Software to Viacom New Media to Spectrum HoloByte, said it's more important than ever to build a specific image and a loyal following among users.
Partnerships to develop software and market games are taking on more importance, and ad agencies are eagerly eyeing these marketers for new opportunities.
Most developers remain uncertain about whether videogames or CD-ROMs are the way to go and are hedging their bets.
"It's a real dilemma to choose whether to develop titles for videogames or CD-ROMS or both, and there really is no formula," said Debra Streicker, marketing services manager for Burbank, Calif.-based Disney Software. "It's a decision we make based on each individual case, depending on the game and who its biggest audience is likely to be."
The value of marketing partnerships was best illustrated by the joint venture between Sony Imagesoft and Disney Software for the fall release of the videogame "Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse."
The venture is an ideal example of the kind of partnerships software developers will likely seek in the future, marrying Sony's high-tech game development expertise with Disney's unparalleled marketing skills and its unique characters and content.
The $59 game features original Disney footage of seven Mickey Mouse films dating as far back as 1928's "Steamboat Willie." Targeting younger children and their parents, the game will be backed by a $4 million TV campaignvia Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York, with a major promotional tie-in partner.
"Sony approached us, and we saw the opportunity to work with them as the ideal way to get the most out of our Mickey Mouse franchise. Together, we're making the most out of our content with their game development expertise," Walt Disney Co. Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg said as he announced the partnership.
The goal of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Sony Imagesoft is to develop a brand identity for its software around family entertainment, relying heavily on authentic Hollywood icons and realistic sports imagery through a licensing partnership with cable TV network ESPN.
"Our overriding focus is realism in our games. Whether it's using the actual Disney footage or the real-life ESPN approach to covering Sunday night National Football League action, we want to stand for authenticity," Mr. Dille said.
Disney Software is also targeting families-big surprise-as it seeks to translate famous film characters and plots to interactive platforms.
"Just like Disney films, Disney software for all entertainment platforms is being developed to reflect the high-quality entertainment and programming the company is known for. Our software brand must seamlessly convey family entertainment and flawless graphics, just like our films do," Ms. Streicker said.
Disney will make its first plunge into CD-ROM, offering seven new titles for families.
The hotly anticipated videogame based on "The Lion King," due in stores Nov. 1, will not be offered in a CD-ROM version this year, but one may be added later.
Viacom New Media, New York, is targeting consumers with a different perspective as it seeks to re-create the hip, edgy elements of the cable TV programs on MTV: Music Television and Nickelodeon that inspired its interactive software.
Out later this year will be "Beavis & Butt-head" and another raucous title called "Rocko's Modern Life: Spunky's Dangerous Day," both in videogame format.
On CD-ROM, Viacom is offering "MTV's Club Dead," "Are You Afraid of the Dark?: The Tale of Orpheo's Curse" and "Dracula Unleashed." "Nickelodeon Director's Lab" for CD-ROM allows kids to create their own video-like programs and TV commercial mock-ups on computer using Nickelodeon images.
"We have gone to great lengths to re-create the actual text and content of the TV programs our viewers enjoy in an interac- tive platform," said Al Nilsen, VP-marketing for Viacom New Media.
The "Beavis & Butt-head" game, for example, was engineered to use the exact mannerisms and graphic expressions of the popular MTV animated series, with an original storyline and intriguing game play complexity that manages to be as goofy and irreverent as the TV program.
Viacom New Media plans "an extensive advertising and promotional" program for its lineup of games this fall, Mr. Nilsen said. But he did not disclose specifics, nor the agencies Viacom plans to use.
Spectrum HoloByte, Alameda, Calif., maker of the hit game "Tetris," is also dramatically reshaping its image to focus on a few key software categories.
Among the targets will be games incorporating strategy, history and science fiction, said Project Marketing Director Tom Dickson.
Capitalizing on the wild success of its puzzle game "Tetris," Spectrum HoloByte has signed the 39-year-old Russian creator of the original "Tetris" game, Alexey Pajitnov, to endorse an expanding line of puzzle games for computers and videogames.
Beginning later this year, existing "Tetris" games and spinoffs will be consolidated under one brand label prominently featuring Mr. Pajitnov's photo on product packaging.
The company also hopes to build on the exceptional popularity of "Tetris" among women, who represent approximately 40% of all users. The game made its U.S. debut in 1988.
"We more or less stumbled into our success with `Tetris,' but we hope to cultivate our positioning and continue drawing more women to our titles. It's difficult to tell exactly what women like about the game, however, which is one of the reasons it's hard to target them," Mr. Dickson said.
In September, Spectrum HoloByte will offer the CD-ROM title "Star Trek: The Next Generation, A Final Unity," based on the hit TV series and backed by Spectrum's first-ever TV advertising from a yet-undisclosed new agency.
The software company is also beefing up its line of flight simulator computer games, adding several new CD-ROM titles to cement its solid leadership in that niche.
Later this year, the company will offer a new historical CD-ROM strategy game, "Colonization," to follow its popular "Civilization" title.