CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/COMPUTER GAMES - Jeremy White asks why, if the games sell so well, ads for them are so uncreative

The computer games advertising sector is not, by any stretch of the

imagination, a hotbed of creativity. In contrast to hardware campaigns

such as David Lynch's strange spot for the PlayStation 2 launch, it's

tricky to recall any ads for specific games titles.



What makes this lack of sophisticated advertising surprising is that

global revenues for computer games sales has now overtaken global cinema

revenues - and you can't flick on a TV these days without seeing spots

for a Hollywood blockbuster. The money's there, so where are the

ads?



Dean Weller, the managing director of The First Age! Media Company who

has worked on Sony, Electronic Arts, Infogrames and others, argues that

great ads are just around the corner. "Next year will probably be the

biggest year ever in terms of computer games advertising," he says. He's

talking about the coming of Microsoft's Xbox and Nintendo's

Gamecube.



But will new games platforms guarantee an improvement in advertising,

when many publishers appear wedded to poor creativity and low media

spend?



Matt Woodley, the marketing director of Infogrames UK, one of Europe's

largest games publishers, explains the lack of spend in terms of market

volume: "Revenues may be high but the number of people we are trying to

hit is less than other sectors. It costs £6 for the cinema but

£50 for a game. Right now there are 1.1 million people with a PS2

in the UK. By May, we expect this to be 1.4 million. Only now are we

seeing more publishers spending £1 million-plus on TV

campaigns."



With more money comes better creativity. The last £1 million-plus

campaign Woodley shelled out for was for Driver 2. And, refreshingly,

instead of relying on the usual screen shots of fancy graphics, the ad

agency Mercier Gray tried to make it look like a film ad. The creative

director, Jackie Davis, brought in Andrej Sekula, the director of

photography on Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, to direct the ad and

opted to shoot on location in Havana. The campaign included web,

ambient, posters, Underground ads and even broke away from specialist

magazines and advertised in FHM and GQ.



"If you rely on what the game looks like then people nowadays feel

cheated," Davis says. "You've got to give them a bit more. Make it

sexier." The recent spots for Gran Turismo 3, by TBWA/London, have been

held up as another rare example of creativity.



"We've tried to get away from screen shots but this turned the screen

shot on its head," Davis says, referring to the racing game's spot where

the driver stops to admire the digital view.



In defence of the sector's marketing development, Weller says: "It has

been very unpredictable with young code writers not being able to

deliver products on time - but this is now changing. Games are coming

out to coincide with films or sports events. The Harry Potter computer

game was brought out bang on time by Electronic Arts to coincide with

the release of the film.



"Only now in the computer games sector are brand names becoming

important. Infogrames and EA stand for something. People know that these

publishers don't produce shit games."



Weller says that people have been stuck on selling a number of units in

a certain time and allocating their budgets accordingly. The big change

has been marketing people coming into the business.



"Gone are the days where you and I can bash out a game in our loft and

sell one million copies. You need teams of people and teams of people

need running," he says. "So it's better management, understanding global

markets, understanding platforms like PS and being more professional.

After all, they are competing against very high-profile products such as

DVDs."



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