Aside from hiring editorial's top dog from PC Gamer Magazine eight months ago to lead the marketing charge, this week HP reported signing a one-year sponsorship agreement with video-game site Major League Gaming that puts dozens of HP Blackbird 002 PCs in front of video-game players at live events and tournaments through 2008.
Greg Vederman, business development manager for the Voodoo business unit at HP, says PC gaming has become a competitive sport and more companies are sponsoring video game competitions. Panasonic, for example, sponsors Tom "T-squared" Taylor from Syracuse, N.Y., who endorses projectors.
While HP isn't announcing plans to sponsor a player, Vederman, the 34-year-old former PC Gamer Magazine editor in chief, says the landscape continues to change, and HP wants a big part of it. "MLG and the Voodoo business unit speak the same language," he says. "It's a match made in heaven."
MLG boasts 4.7 million unique registered gamers as of April, up from 24,000 two years ago. About 97% are male, and only 4% are over age 30.
Aside from HP, MLG advertisers and sponsors include Dr Pepper, Stride, Old Spice, Panasonic, Game Stop, and Microsoft's Bungie and Xbox 360 divisions. "If you don't ride in with a brand gamers care deeply about, they will ignore you," says Matthew Bromberg, MLG CEO.
The HP Blackbird 002 PC that launched September 2007 supports HP's deal. MLG will use the computer exclusively at all-live video game tournaments throughout the year. The first event in June features Blizzard Entertainment's "World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade," a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Video gamers have a chance to win more than $20,000 in prizes.
The strategy means HP will create advertorials to run in PC Gamer Magazine and PC Maximum Magazine to teach kids about the professional video game circuit. "I came on board because HP wanted to build an authentic voice," Vederman says. "This industry is filled with gamers that smell suits and marketing copy a mile away, and the last thing we want to do is reach out to an agency to write these."
HP won't try to fool anyone into thinking the "cool" and "authentic" pieces contain editorial copy--but rather, to ensure the marketing pieces have accurate and useful information that people can learn from. "We want to say upfront that this is an ad, but we're going to have fun with it, and you're going to come out at the other end entertained and educated," Vederman says.
The tech-heavy sport can make an uneducated head spin, especially for those just starting out. Consumers need an education on the type of hardware required to stay in the game. And when considering the PC console to play on, the software dictates the machine, according to Colin Sebastian, senior research analyst with Lazard Capital Markets.
"The market for the PC game you buy off the shelf is declining, but you still need to use the high-end PC and processing power to play 'World of Warcraft'," he says. "People don't buy a game and think what should I do with it? To get the most from a game, they need the latest and greatest processor and graphics chip."