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Xenakis on Technology:Squandered Opportunities

While an explosion in computer games provides many marketing tie-in opportunities, most are not exploited.

As I put together the holiday edition of this column, on the topic of computer games, I was astounded by how many obviously excellent marketing opportunities there are for tie-in’s with games—and how these opportunities are being ignored and squandered.

In two specific cases, although the games themselves were marketed successfully, the opportunity to market tie-ins with the games was not used.

Consider, for example, the very peculiar story of the game Deer Hunter, from games developer Infogrames (www.infogrames.com). Analyst James Lin, of the investment bank Sutro & Company tells what happened: “WalMart wanted a game that would appeal to deer hunters, and found that there was nothing on the market.”

Infogrames responded by putting together a super-cheap Deer Hunter game that did little more than let you shoot at a deer as it passed a fixed target. “Deer Hunter 1 and 2 sold over two million copies combined,” says Lin, “just because the game appealed to deer hunters.”

The company is now on Deer Hunter 4, and it’s a mainstream game, according to Infogrames VP of development Steve Ackrich. “We try to make the experience as close to real hunting as possible, and now we also have bird hunting and other types of hunting. There are a lot of people who like to do these sports,” he says.

Let’s look at another story. When I was writing an article about computer games back in the 1980s, I received a review copy of Links, a golf-playing game from Access Software (now owned by Microsoft). I installed the game and played it a few minutes and thought, “Boring! Booooooooring!”

Well I was sooooo wrong. Access put me in touch with some users: fanatics who went out to the real golf course in the morning, and then played on the virtual golf courses on Links in the evening, as well as people who set up and participated in online golf tournaments.

The special appeal was the golf courses themselves. Links had highly realistic versions of the country’s major golf courses. You could watch a golf tournament on TV and follow along in the game, or you can simply try out the course yourself by playing the game.

The latest version, Microsoft’s Links 2001, actually contains a golf course designer module, permitting a local guru to design a virtual version of a golf course in his home town and make it available to other local golf players!

A Visceral Connection

What these examples have in common is that they show games that, while their tie-in potential has been left dormant, they are successful on two levels: they’re fun to play and their content appeals to the players on a visceral level as well.

The market contains lots of so-called “first- person shooter” games (games in which the person playing just shoots at things). But of all of them, Deer Hunter selectively appeals to people who actually go out and hunt deer. Similarly, while there are many sports games, golf games selectively appeal to golf players.

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