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New game trades wizards, elves for barflies, bouncers

And ads. "Nightscape" puts players into nightclubs and features "seamless" in-game product placement.

In many multiplayer online role-playing games, you're an elf trying to dodge trolls and bag a gem with mystical powers. In "Nightscape," swap "beautiful person" for elf and "margarita" for the gem.

The game, announced Wednesday by online marketing firm In Touch Media Group, drops players into virtual versions of real-life nightclubs, where they party and schmooze with an eye toward climbing the cyber social ladder and "owning" the clubs themselves.

"We found that individuals over 25 are very interested in this," In Touch CEO Laura Betterley said, referring to surveys of more than 4,500 potential game users, who voted on everything from the game's objective to its name. "It shows that people want to meet people but may not want to go through the pressure of going to a (brick-and-mortar) club to do so."

And as you might guess--with a game being developed by a marketing firm--there's another objective, at least for the game's makers. In Touch has filed a patent application for a form of "seamless," in-game product placement that lets players click on items and receive an e-mail from the advertiser, with no interruption in the game.

"In-game advertising is huge," Betterley said, citing phenomena like the ad-skipping TiVo that may be driving advertisers to market online rather than through more traditional media.

Much of "Nightscape's" development--at the hands of a privately funded In Touch subsidiary called Nightlife Interactive Gaming--is still in the works: Partnerships with advertisers and nightclubs have yet to be announced; a script is being written; and promotional teasers are also in production. But Betterley revealed some details about the game. The minimum age for the game, for example, will be 18, though Betterley said the most enthusiastic demographic appears to be women in their 30s. The Nightlife Interactive Web site also mentions that the game could feature music tie-ins by way of "live" acts in the clubs.

Beta test registration for "Nightscape" began last month on Nightlife Interactive's Web site. In Touch is planning a summer 2007 release date.

And what of competition? Betterley said she's not concerned about the recent proliferation of similar marketing ventures, like the Microsoft-purchased Massive, which also folds ads into games without interrupting the flow. "I think that there's just enough business for everybody," she said, "and if you have something good, it doesn't matter who the players are."