Have you played any Burnout Paradise lately? Notice anything unusual? Anything, say, like the democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama plastered on a virtual billboard beside the blown up words “Early Voting Has Begun”? If you have, it’s not a glitch, not an easter egg, not something you ate, and most definitely not some developer’s stealth political agenda to finagle video game votes.
Nope, tuns out it’s just the latest high stakes gambit by a shrewd political campaign in the wild and wooly calculus that’s making the 2008 election season a bellwether for technology gotchas and stuff that’s digitally hip.
Hip enough to stamp Obama’s face on TV screens across the country, courtesy ads being circulated in nine video games from mega-publisher Electronic Arts, and according to NPR, another nine to boot. The ads are plastered on billboards and other highly visible objects in mostly sports games like Madden NFL 09 and NBA Live 08, and according to Electronic Arts, targeted at males aged 18 to 34. No word yet on how much the Obama campaign paid for the spots, but it seems they’re limited to the Xbox 360 (the ad vendor, Massive Incorporated, is Microsoft-owned) and running in just 10 mostly battleground states through November 3.
How do the publishers drop ads into games that in some cases have been out since last year? Simple: They slipstream the highly compressed image files vis-a-vis your internet connection, so when you connect to Xbox LIVE, the ads download in the background (without, of course, user notification). At some point as you’re cruising around a race track or slamming padded hockey players into plexiglass, pow, there’s Obama, with the message that early voting’s underway. It’s worth noting that while none of the ads we’ve seen contain a campaign slogan, they do plug Obama’s campaign website.
In-game ads are hardly new, and if you count publishers who’ve advertised their own products, have been around for decades. That’s all accelerated in the last few years as broadband sales dovetail with a booming games industry to create advertising potential that’s remained largely untapped until now. In-game ad vendor Massive Inc. predicted in 2006 that the in-game advertising industry could grow to as much as $2 billion by the end of the decade.
But this appears to be the first time a political candidate running for elected office — certainly a presidential one — has gone all out to capture the youth vote by taking the campaign to the gaming masses.
John McCain’s response? According to EA, Massive approached the Arizona senator’s campaign, but they “passed” on the idea.