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McDonald's, Intel Pay to Be in Game

Internet: The 'Sims' product placement deal with Electronic Arts is a milestone for the video game industry.

September 16, 2002|ALEX PHAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taking a page out of Hollywood's product-placement script, Electronic Arts Inc. has inked a deal with Intel Corp. and McDonald's Corp. to incorporate their products into its upcoming computer game, "The Sims Online."

The multimillion-dollar deal is a milestone for the game industry, which traditionally has paid to use other companies' logos in their games.

Sony Corp., for example, has paid tens of thousands of dollars to car manufacturers such as Honda Motor Co. to use real-world race cars in its driving games. EA has handed over millions of dollars to the National Football League for its series of "Madden Football" games.

This time, Intel and McDonald's will be the ones spending money for the privilege of seeing their logos in a game.

The turnaround demonstrates the burgeoning role of video games in shaping mainstream entertainment.

Boosted by more powerful hardware that can render richer and more immersing virtual environments, games have gained traction with a wider audience. Sales grew to more than $6 billion in the United States last year, compared with Hollywood box office receipts of $8.4 billion.

Consumer-product companies are starting to take notice. And EA is poised to take advantage of the industry's newfound popularity. It has signed an agreement with Reebok International Ltd. to place the shoe company's logo into its popular "Madden Football" game this year.

But the deal announced today dwarfs the Reebok deal "by an order of magnitude," said EA spokesman Jeff Brown. "We absolutely expect that there will be more sponsors."

Due out this fall, "The Sims Online," as the name implies, will be an online version of EA's popular series "The Sims." Since its debut in 2000, the title has sold 9 million copies and 8 million expansion packs, separately sold add-on software.

The game, a doll-house simulation of real life, lets players choose occupations, buy houses, furnish them, date, marry and have kids. Half its players are women, which is unusual because computer games typically skew toward young males.

This demographic mix, combined with the game's large following, makes it an appealing vehicle for advertisers.

"We felt we could strengthen our brand identity and increase awareness of our products with the women and young adults who play this game," said Alison Richards, director of co-marketing at Intel. "This is our first product placement in an online environment. Before this, we did very, very little in the way of product placement."

In "The Sims Online," players can buy Intel PCs, which will help boost their characters' logic skills and fun factor. They also can run a McDonald's kiosk to make money.

Product placement is nothing new for Hollywood. Steven Spielberg's latest movie, "Minority Report," got several million dollars from featuring the brands of 15 companies, including Toyota Motor Corp., American Express Co. and Gap Inc. Perhaps the most well-known product placement is the Aston Martin car in "James Bond" movies.

But it's new territory for games.

"The video game industry has been experimenting with sponsorships in recent years," Brown said. But the product placement deal "is a breakthrough for us," he said.

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