Virtual battle: Video-game makers clamor to stand out in holiday rush

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Video-game software makers are preparing for an all-out market share battle this holiday season befitting their virtual protagonists.

The top 10 marketers of video-game software spent $326 million last year, according to Nielsen Media Research, and $158 million in the first half of 2002. But with software marketers like Activision, Infogrames and Electronic Arts in a grueling fight for players' wallets, the spending stakes have been raised. "It has the potential to be a $500 million [ad spending] category," Scott Anderholt, senior VP-account director of Activision shop Publicis Groupe's D'Arcy, Los Angeles.

"Every one of these [video-game marketers] is going to spend an exorbitant amount of money," said Richard Ow, senior account manager at market researcher NPDFunworld Video Games.

The competition is particularly stiff because prices for many games are jumping by $10 this year to the $50 range. "There's a finite amount of money kids have, and they are not getting 10 new games," said Mr. Anderholt. As a result, he said, marketing has taken on an urgency similar to that of Hollywood movie releases, with each game needing a big launch, lest retailers toss them into the value bin.

Already, ad campaigns are breaking well in advance of the holiday season. In September, Sony Computer Entertainment America kicked off an estimated $250 million North American effort backing its beginner PlayStation1 console, the more advanced PlayStation2, flagship game titles and online game system. The campaign, from Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., is tagged "Live in Your World. Play in Ours."

This week, Infogrames Entertainment launches a campaign with more than a dozen spots and print ads for its Godzilla, Superman and Terminator games via new agency McCarthy Mambro Bertino, Marina del Ray, Calif. Infogrames spent $12 million on advertising last year and $8 million so far this year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres CMR. The company indicated it would up spending for the full year to reach $25 million to $35 million.

Similarly, Activision late this month has launched a series of spots backing a new title for extreme skateboarder Tony Hawk.

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