If one needed any indication that video games were becoming big entertainment business, look no further than EA Games.
In the past few weeks, the company has booked television advertising time during the NFC Championship Game, the season premiere of "Lost" and the Super Bowl, all with the hopes of gaining a mass audience for franchise (or potential franchise) titles.
"We are trying to do more with less," Phil Marineau, senior product manager at EA, tells Marketing Daily. "We're going with a smaller SKU count and doubling down on those we expect to do well."
The strategy of booking appointment television (such as live sporting events and highly anticipated programming) is intended to broaden EA's ability to reach the "hit buyers" of games, who tend to only buy three or four titles a year, Marineau says. "By no means will this define the campaign, but it definitely changes things in terms of this game being able to break through into the mass market."
The Super Bowl spot advertising "Dante's Inferno" (an adaptation of the epic poem), which launches on Feb. 9, is the culmination of a nine-month promotional effort that has included a Facebook App, online advertising, and blogger outreach as well as tie-ins such as a book deal, animated DVD and action figures. "[The Super Bowl ad] serves as the capstone for our campaign," Marineau says. "We've done stunts, demos, online. Now here it is. It's the most accessible piece of the 'Nine Circles of Hell' we have to show."
For EA, the decision to run on the Super Bowl (and the NFC Championship and "Lost" premiere) comes down to timing. Much like the "Mass Effect 2" trailer running two days before the game launched, it's no coincidence that the "Dante's Inferno" comes out two days after the Super Bowl, Marineau says.
"It's a big chunk of your budget gone in 30 seconds, so the timing has to be just right. But it can be a better return on our investment than a $2.5 million cable buy."
All of this high-profile advertising, however, underscores the big business that video games have become. With so much riding on the game's initial release, game companies are beginning to market a bit more like Hollywood film studios, trying to have a strong launch and extend the sales curve beyond the first weekend, Marineau admits. It may not be long, in fact, before game companies are using the Super Bowl to tease releases that aren't expected for months, as the Hollywood studios have done for years, he says.
Says Marineau, "If we're becoming that hit-driven and mainstream, I could see that happening."