Car manufacturers may be having a tough time moving vehicles off the showroom floor this year, but Ford is crushing it online. Granted, it's because they're giving away free vehicles to enhance characters in The Sims video game.
Players of The Sims 2 with the Nightlife expansion pack have been downloading free Ford vehicles since 2007. To date, there's been more than 5.7 million downloads of the Ford-branded autos, with 1.5 million of them being the iconic Ford Mustang (red with white racing stripes). That's seven times more Mustangs than Ford has sold in the last two years.
Marketing-wise, it was an obvious move by Ford. Branded vehicles was the most popular request from males and second most popular request from females. The Ford Mustang was the number one requested vehicle, according to Brian Bos, Senior Vice President of Mindshare Team Detroit, which oversaw the development of Ford's vehicles for The Sims.
Ford saw this demand as the perfect social media marketing opportunity. In the Sims videogame, Ford has a store in the Exchange, an online marketplace, where players can download cars for free, such as the Fusion, Edge, and Escape Hybrid. It's also a way players can "test drive" new models. Ford debuted the Focus in The Sims six months before it was released in the real world.
The video game versions of the cars are created using the same CAD drawings that engineers use to build the vehicles. However, the electronic editions are slightly stripped down to fit in the gaming market. Bos says that for the most part, the proportions are accurate and fairly representative of the cars in the real world.
Sims characters can get in and out of car, and the radios play Sims products. Ford eliminated some things like the engine and other power train components, so the cars theoretically won't break down. But they don't actually drive the cars. Characters use the cars to get from one place to another in The Sims world by typing a destination, but players can't actually steer the vehicles.
No new cars are planned for the Sims 2, says Bos. However, Ford may be doing something with Electronic Arts for The Sims 3, which will be released in late June. Maybe they'll debut their first electric vehicle there?