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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.

It’s this visceral connection that seems to me to be largely not exploited so far. This looks like a marketer’s dream to me, as the games target specific niche markets that might be hard to reach in other ways.

In fact, I believe that games could even be used to advance political causes. Take, for example, both sides of the gun control issue. A game like Deer Hunter could be used as political support for gun-control opponents. So could Hitman Codename 47 from Eidos (www.eidos.com), in which you have to plot out a long, complex strategy before you can accomplish your mission of shooting the bad guy.

What about games for those who favor gun control? I haven’t seen any, but it would be an interesting challenge, and I can imagine one: The town of Happyville is having a crime spree because there are too many guns around.

Your job is find all guns hidden around town; each time you find one, the crime rate drops and the standard of living goes up. Maybe you could even get this incorporated into a special version of Simsville (described below).

The point of all this is that marketers, whether for consumer products or politics, have a potent method to find and single out the people in their target markets. Marketers can take advantage of games that have a visceral connection for their users. People tend to play such games because they remind them of themselves in some way.

There are many ways for marketers to exploit such connections, and they’re not all that expensive. Banner ads on online game services such as www.zone.com or www.uproar.com cost only a few hundred dollars, and there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who use these services every day.

Although top-selling games cost millions of dollars to develop, simple niche games can be developed for just a few hundred thousand dollars. These games could be tailored to suit a marketing message and can be sold in stores, made available in online gaming services, or even be installed on an organization’s own Web site to draw traffic there and keep people from leaving.

The fact is, today’s video games, whether they’re PC games, console games, or online games, are loaded with possibilities for tie-in marketing. You can see this easily by looking at some of the major games available today:

  • Blizzard’s Diablo II (www.blizzard.com) and Interplay’s Baldur’s Gate II (www.interplay.com) are examples of fantasy role-playing games(RPGs). You play as one of the characters in the game and move along the terrain, picking up various objects as you go. Most of the objects are weapons, such as swords, and defenses, such as shields. Both enable you to fight various monsters. However, objects can be anything—money to buy other things, food that restores your health and strength, or potions to give you additional powers.
  • If you haven’t yet seen how realistic sports games are getting,take a look at NHL 2001 or Madden NFL 2001 from Electronic Arts (www.ea.com). Sports games in the past were played with frozen-faced, stiff players making only two or three types of plays, but no longer. Watching someone play these games, you almost think you’re viewing a live game on TV. And they have a variety of strategies, so that the plays seem as intelligent as those of real, live players.
  • If you’re one of the millions who got hooked on Myst a few years ago, a new version of this adventure game, RealMyst is now available from Cyan (www.cyan.com), with breathtaking improvements. In Myst, you could only look at a building from a single angle, while the RealMyst buildings are fully rendered in 3-D. That means you can walk around and explore them from any angle, as if you were on that strange, lovely island for real. (However, if you hated Myst, you probably won’t like RealMyst, since the way the game is played and the puzzles are similar.)
  • Possibly the biggest single category is that of real-time strategy (RTS) games. In these games, you create whole armies, navies and air forces, consisting of large numbers of units and ready to wage war against opposing armies. What’s fascinating about these games is that you have to provide control from all levels. That means that while you have to set large armies in motion, you sometimes have to direct individuals in hand-to-hand combat. This year’s best are Starcraft from Blizzard Entertainment Inc. (www.blizzard.com) and Age of Empires II from Ensemble Studios (www.ensemblestudios.com). We’re all waiting for the delayed but highly anticipated Warcraft III, also from Blizzard.
  • For many, the best game of the year 2000 was The Sims from Electronic Arts, a game in which you simulate an entire family. You create a “Sim” to be a person that you control— male, female, fat, thin, whatever characteristics you want. You build and set up the Sim’s house; you make sure that your Sim’s basic needs are met. by providing for a job, food, furniture, a bathroom, a bedroom, a kitchen; and you have your Sim flirt with the neighbor Sims, in the hope of their getting married and having kids. Simsville is the name of the hugely anticipated sequel, scheduled for 2001. That game will be a mixture of The Sims and the old SimCity; in Simville, you’ll be the mayor of a town, and you’ll be controlling not only individual Sim families, but also the entire town’s health.
  • A different kind of simulation is the action game Crimson Skies from Microsoft. Controlling vehicles has always been fun, whether it’s been on Nascar Online (www.nascar.com), or on Microsoft Flight Simulator, which has been letting you fly increasingly realistic virtual airplanes since the 1980s. In Crimson Skies, Microsoft has added a complex story line: The U.S. didn’t do well in the 1930s Depression, and the national highway system never got built, so goods have to be transported by huge zeppelins. Your job is to fly around in planes and knock out the inevitable pirates. Some unusual features: Planes take off from and land on the zeppelins; and you can get close to another plane and board it while flying.
  • Hasbro Inc., recently acquired by Infogrames, is marketing popular traditional games and quiz games, such as Monopoly, Frogger and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

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