News Analysis: Brands Join Video-Game Fraternity

Article excerpt

As sales of the top titles begin to outstrip even movies so advertisers are bolstering in-game ties.

Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV) has smashed all records to become the world's biggest video-game launch, shifting more than 6m copies since going on sale on Tuesday last week.

As an 18-rated title with themes of violence and crime, GTA IV is not an advertiser's dream. However, the scale of its sales shows there is potential for brands to join the party. The critically acclaimed Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 game sold 609,000 copies in the UK alone during its first 24 hours on sale, demonstrating the rampant consumer demand for games.

More people are now splashing out on games, rather than going to the cinema, buying DVDs or downloading music. Indeed, GTA IV has now overshadowed Microsoft's Halo 3, which had held the record for the sum earned in a day by an entertainment product, raking in more than pounds 84m in sales within 24 hours of its launch last September. The shoot-'em-up topped figures set by last May's cinema release of the Spider-Man 3 movie.

GTA IV is one of few new games not to offer in-game advertising opportunities, allowing only fictitious brands within its virtual world. However, other top-selling series including Counter Strike, Splinter Cell and Pro Evolution Soccer feature in-game ads that can reach millions of consumers worldwide.

'The success of GTA IV is the clearest sign yet that video games are going mainstream,' says Paul Jackson, principal analyst at Forrester. 'They are now capable of challenging the box-office takings of Hollywood blockbusters.'

In-game advertising is also emerging as big business: eMarketer estimates that the sector will grow by 23% a year to be worth more than pounds 1bn globally by 2011. Several top brands have experimented with the platform. Ford supported the launch of its Fiesta ST model with ads in racing games Need for Speed: Carbon, TOCA 3 and TrackMania Sunrise, while Nike, Samsung and Unilever have run test campaigns in shoot-'em-up titles.

Burger King has taken things a stage further, partnering with developer Blitz Games last year to create three titles for the Xbox 360, which it distributed through its US outlets.

'Blue-chip advertisers are turning to games to engage previously hard-to-reach audiences,' says Tom Hosking, regional sales manager, EMEA, at Massive, the in-game advertising network owned by Microsoft.

Jean-Paul Edwards, head of media futures at Manning Gottlieb OMD, also stresses the potential. …