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Selling Games From the Soccer Stadium

/ Nov 13th, 2013 No Comments

Xbox One Sports

November is the time when the big boy games hit the shelves and ad teams are unleashed in a frenzy to desperately Frisbee those blockbusters into living rooms the world over. Call of Duty: Ghosts made over a billion dollars in unit sales in its first weekend. While those actual figures are still ticking over, it’s interesting to see how Activision’s golden gun shooting goose compares against GTA V. Grand Theft Auto V made around $800 million in sales on its first day of release in September making it the best selling opening weekend a game had seen, until COD: Ghosts re-wrote the script of course.

For all the apps, viral campaigns and billboard wearing buildings bankrolled by Rockstar, one thing GTA didn’t do was use celebrities from the sports world to boost the game’s exposure. With the competition between high profile games so fierce these days, it’s no surprise that marketers have taken to the old school tactics of using celebrity endorsements. Particularly with personalities more used to a football pitch than the sales pitch. Sports endorsements have suddenly become the sales device of choice in games advertising. Particular the types of games have benefited from a very clear and simple formula; males generally like video games and sport. Easy peasy.

Product Placement

Daniel Sturridge has already won silverware this season – for playing Call of Duty.

Football has more potently felt the effect of games endorsement as of late. Like all sports, football games have come with many endorsing figures slapping their name on a box since football games were first invented by cavemen in the 70s. However, it’s the way games have been sold by football players that is changing, and the platforms for doing this are also changing.

Ad breaks during latter UEFA Champions League games have famously been the big video game, car and movie advertising event across Europe for well over a decade. It isn’t everyday advertisers get to reach the audience of an entire continent in one go and the May final of the competition always attracts the high rollers. Simply put, it’s been this side of the world’s Super Bowl ad time for a while now. Next year the World Cup rolls into Brazil and game sellers can expect to have the entire planet’s attention.

Although we’re used to seeing millionaire ball kickers mugging the camera for the latest FIFA ads, what advertisers and football agents are doing now is packaging their sport stars with games in general. Any game, whether it has anything to do with their sport or sport at all isn’t important. After all, those video games are so hot right now.

Product Placement

Did no-one in the marketing meetings notice how strange it was to do a football focused ad campaign for a game that has literally nothing to do with football? Nope?

It isn’t worth tying a knot in your brain over what footballers have to do with shooting virtual people in the face, but England stars Daniel Sturridge and Andros (no, not the floaty head guy from the Star Fox games) Townsend recently lead teams of Call of Duty: Ghosts players in multiplayer matches to promote the launch of the game at the Indigo 02. The event featured a bunch of celebrities as well as getting gamers involved and is probably one of the better executed example of an endorsement campaign.

Others have just been unabashed sticker campaigns. There’s been a fair share of recent newspaper and magazine interviews with players that tenuously feature promo shots of the dude posing with a game and without fail a nice release date stamped in the footnotes. The actual interviews are understandably not about how much Xbox they get in but rather injury woes, transfer rumors and all the other boring stuff readers expect to find in an interview with a footballer. Clearly these things are never masterminded by the focus player, but it’s an interesting step for publishers to take in launching a game.

Spain/Chelsea star Juan Mata for Assassin’s Creed VI Black Flag, Fulham FC’s Darren Bent for Battlefield 4, Tottenham’s Kyle Walker and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta pimping Mountain Dew and Xbox One are just a few players that have found themselves fronting these pretty cringe worthy advertinterviews.

Product Placement

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag was originally called Assassin Creed IV Red Card and was about a fearsome footy mad Pirate who loved a quick game of heads and volls between pillaging and murder.

[adsense250itp]Although it’s easy (and fun) to be cynical about ad clad sportsmen not affiliated with games to try and sell them to us, what’s important is how far games have come in to the public consciousness and what market strategies are emerging. If games are the new film then effective game launch events (such as with COD: Ghosts) are the games equivalent of a movie première. Games are still figuring out ways to do this. Just as newspapers became forced to cover a movie and its stars once the concept of movie premieres first took shape in the 1920s, so too have games become as newsworthy and relevant to the public interest today.

The fact is that however trivial it seems, the rise in targeted endorsements will have an effect on games. If the attention spokespeople from a celebrity world bring to a game means future games reach wider audiences and generate bigger returns and budgets then that’s surely a positive. If it means rival games competitors then stick to going with what’s proven popular and make more and more of the same sort of stuff (like, I don’t know, a s*** ton of first person shooters) then that maybe isn’t such a good thing. Either way, impacts are felt in an advancing industry.

One thing looks certain, whether in a crass ad or a sophisticated campaign, gamers can expect plenty of extra time spent seeing footballers selling them video games.

Olly Jones
Olly Jones is a contributor to the editorial team at Gaming Illustrated. As an artist, Olly has created artwork to publicize games for Capcom, Ubisoft, Arc System Works and Grasshopper Manufacture.
Olly Jones

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