Playing well with others

Marketers plug new titles by bringing gamers together

Game geeks who once wouldn’t dare test their hand-to-eye coordination beyond the basement are now enjoying the red-carpet treatment. With the competitive stakes higher than ever in the $11 billion videogames industry, marketing has been a driving force in the search for a wider aud.

One of the surprising ways to plug games has turned out to be turning them into social experiences, a trend helped by the growth of online gaming and more titles that allow players to take on each other instead of just the machine. So rather than everyone playing alone at home, people go out and play games.

“There’s a great opportunity for getting people out of the house and into large gaming events played in a very social environment,” says Matthew Ringel, president and founder of Games Media Properties, a Gotham-based William Morris Agency venture that has put its own spin on the traditional arcade concept.

Ringel is exec producer of GameRiot 2004, which finished a spring tour of 20 national nightclubs, with 75 more shows at state fairs and fests planned for summer and fall. Attendees will have a chance to test drive 31 new and unreleased videogames on state-of-the-art plasma TV screens and PCs in 70 gaming stations — an increase from 24 titles presented in a tent on the grounds of last year’s Lollapalooza rock festival.

Other cool events have unfolded above the radar. For skateboarding game “Tony Hawk’s Underground,” Activision sponsored a 29-city North American arena tour featuring choreographed demonstrations of extreme sports set to music, as well as two 34-foot trailers stuffed with videogame consoles. Two gamers faced off during the halftime show in front of 10,000 people in multiple venues, with finalists having won their coveted spots through local Best Buy store competitions.

“The tour was covered by radio promotions in each market together with the G4 cable TV network,” says Will Kassoy, Activision’s VP of global brand management.

Jodi Lederman, an entertainment-marketing consultant who often serves as a conduit between the videogame industry and Hollywood, has found success organizing private, men-only gaming nights for celebs, agents, managers and producers who are dedicated gamers. She says gaming nights are no different than poker nights or golf outings, with their competitive play and the chance to socialize.

One possible direction for the industry is to establish a narrow box office window for highly anticipated titles such as “Half-Life 2” or “Doom 3,” wherein gamers would pay to play at the multiplex for about a month before the titles are sold to the public, Ringel suggests.

Turbo-charged trailers

Marketers also are creating movielike trailers to pump up messages. Scott Hayman, a producer with Hollywood trailer house Hammer Creative Advertising, says the aim is to elevate videogame releases to big-event status. He says 300 people crammed multiplexes in Hollywood and Gotham for a chance to play “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow.”

Ubisoft Entertainment in the fall turned to Hammer for a cinematic approach to marketing action-adventure thriller “The Prince of Persia,” which producer Jerry Bruckheimer will bring to the bigscreen for Disney. “We had to come up with a unique way of conveying the game’s ability to control time and have it fit into the structure of the overall trailer,” says Hayman, whose toolkit includes a mix of narration, graphics and game images.

A greater presence on television also is helping build a bigger gaming market. Gotham-based g-Net media has helped create game programming for Spike TV, MTV and AOL, and has entered the DVD market with an interactive strategy guide for games such as Eidos’ “Hitman: Contracts” and Atari’s upcoming “Driv3r.”

Lederman says the game biz and Hollywood need to understand each other better to effectively market these products so that the efforts are unique to each product and not a generic formula. “The message that needs to be sent is why the public should pay attention and be excited about videogames,” she says.