- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

LOS ANGELES - As a member of the Elite Operations Division in the video game “True Crime: Streets of L.A.,” the character Nick Kang must find his way to a truck heist at the flagship Puma sportswear store.

Lucky for him, he has a Motorola handset with built-in global positioning system technology.

In the online game “Everquest II,” players don’t need to leave their fantasy world to satisfy real-world hunger pangs. They can click an icon and have food delivered from the nearest Pizza Hut — within 30 minutes.

The product placement — benign, interactive and sometimes aggressive — belongs to a growing push by advertisers to reach big-spending males from 18 to 34 who log long hours playing video games.

Analysts say in-game advertising could generate as much as $1 billion in new revenue for the fast-growing industry by the end of the decade because it almost assures advertisers quality time with an audience they crave: young men.

Research by Nielsen Entertainment has found that prime-time television is losing younger male viewers, while Sony Computer Entertainment America notes that several million people are glued to their PlayStation 2 consoles playing online games during prime-time TV viewing hours.

The strategy of insinuating ads into video games was a hot topic at this month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), a video-games trade show, where Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft introduced their next-generation game consoles.

“Game publishers have to recognize that there are millions, if not billions, of dollars in advertising money coming their way in the next few years,” said Justin Townsend, chief executive of IGA Partners Europe, an agency that places in-game ads for clients.

The increased spending is another sign of the booming popularity of video games. In 2004, $7.3 billion worth of video and PC games were sold in the United States.

Much of the advertising in the works for games mirrors reality. A virtual re-creation of Times Square, for instance, would include billboards for products. A NASCAR game might include actual car models decorated with real ads.

And games can do what no other medium can — force players to interact with an ad.

In “Underground 2,” players have to perform tricky skateboard stunts involving a Jeep. In the Ubisoft game “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell,” players must use a Sony Ericsson cell phone to deal with some challenges.

The interaction is likely to produce stronger product recognition and sales than traditional ads, said Jeff Bell, vice president of marketing communications at Daimler Chrysler, the maker of Jeeps.

“We have plenty of chances to put 30-second advertisements on television and not know whether people really watch them or not,” Mr. Bell said during an E3 workshop.

Some companies have found another way to reach young male gamers — market their own games.

Chrysler said the simple sports and puzzle games it has distributed in magazines, compact discs and Web sites have led to sales. The games require players to register and provide data that can then be matched to subsequent purchases.

Of 3.5 million people who registered and downloaded games in the past 18 months, 10,000 bought Chrysler vehicles, Mr. Bell said.

“That was a wake-up call for us,” he said.

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