In-game ads make a pitch in MLB

Ad purveyor Massive argues that advertisements can add to stadium-like feel of "Major League Baseball 2K6."

For some baseball video game fans, a trip to the virtual ballpark is getting a bit more realistic--for better or for worse--with the arrival of in-game advertising.

Massive said on Wednesday that Take-Two Interactive Software is using its ad-delivery system to put billboards, logos and other corporate promotions in the game "Major League Baseball 2K6." With the announcement, MLB joins an increasing number of titles that feature in-game ads.

The deal, which also involved Major League Baseball and the Players' Association that controls athletes' images, is a big boost for Massive, which hopes to tap the growing popularity of a medium whose annual revenue of $25 billion is now bigger than Hollywood's box office haul.

"Video games are front and center as a major new advertising medium," Massive chief executive Mitch Davis told Reuters in an interview.

Advertisers are expected to spend up to $100 million this year on such ads, and Davis said that could swell to $3 billion in 2010 as ad money chases the coveted demographic of 18- to 34-year-old men, who are increasingly turning to games as their primary form of entertainment.

Davis did not disclose the size of the Take-Two deal except to say that it was several million dollars that will be split between Massive, the publisher, MLB, and the players.

Video game makers are attracted to in-game ads because they can help offset soaring development costs. Some gamers, however, chafe at the idea of being exposed to ads in a product that costs as much as $60.

Massive argues that its system, which places different ads in a game depending on the context, can enhance a game by making it more realistic. Davis vows to never disrupt the feel of a game by, say, placing a pizza ad in a fantasy title.

"Advertising in the (baseball) game is additive. It makes the game better, it makes it more realistic because when you go to a stadium to watch a game, you see advertising around the stadium," Davis said.

Anthony Chau, a spokesman for 2K Sports, the sports brand of Take-Two, agreed.

"Not only are we enabling ourselves to find a new means of profit, but we are adding more realism to the game. At the same time, we don't think it's intrusive," Chau said.

Massive's ad-tailoring system relies on the game machine having an Internet connection. Thus, the ads in the baseball game will only be seen on the version for Microsoft Corp original Xbox console, which can be hooked up to the Xbox Live network.

Privately held Massive is backed by $20 million in venture capital. It rolled out its system more than a year ago, and says it has signed up 37 publishers and developers that have already placed ads in nearly 70 games.

Story Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.