An Inside Play To Sway Video Gamers

Fallout 3, which won't be available until late 2008, will allow players to explore the Washington region as a post-apocalyptic wasteland and hear the voice of actor Liam Neeson.
Fallout 3, which won't be available until late 2008, will allow players to explore the Washington region as a post-apocalyptic wasteland and hear the voice of actor Liam Neeson. (Bethesda Softworks)

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By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 3, 2007

In his career as a game reviewer, Ghislain Masson has been to Russia twice, and once to Chernobyl for a promotion of a computer game set in that area's nuclear meltdown zone.

His other junkets include trips to India paid for by Microsoft and a five-day extravaganza in Las Vegas funded by Midway. There was also the shindig near his home base in Paris to promote a game in the Rayman series that included juggling lessons from circus performers.

A little validation from Masson, a writer for the French game magazine PC Jeux, and others like him can help tip the scales in the competitive game industry, where a cutting-edge title takes many years and millions of dollars to develop. That's why game designers, like movie studios, have learned to lavishly court such tastemakers, the guys who write for the major blogs and magazines and play a key role in today's big-bucks video game industry.

Last year, U.S. video game sales totaled $7.4 billion, nearly rivaling the $9.5 billion Americans spent on movies, according to industry figures.

Masson added Washington to his list of world travels last month, to check out an upcoming title from the Rockville-based game studio Bethesda Softworks.

The company flew Masson and about 60 other writers in from as far away as Australia and Japan to give them an early look at the company's Fallout 3, scheduled for release late next year.

In addition to an hour-long demo and chats with the game's designers, the trip included a two-night stay in downtown's swank Helix Hotel, dinner at Logan Tavern and a private party at a nightclub in Adams Morgan. Airfare, hotel, food, drinks and shuttle bus were provided, courtesy of Bethesda Softworks. Although a few attendees paid their own way, most did not.

"What we're trying to accomplish with an event like this is to have the undivided attention of the important people in our industry, that cover the industry," said Pete Hines, vice president of marketing at Bethesda Softworks, whose Fallout 3 will be set in a version of Washington that's been scorched by war. "There are a lot of titles out there competing for attention."

It looks like Bethesda Softworks is getting that attention: Fallout 3 is scheduled to soon grace the covers of 20 gamer magazines, largely as a result of the event.

Bethesda Softworks' parent company, ZeniMax, is privately held and won't disclose the game's budget, but it's not uncommon for the budgets of cutting-edge titles like Fallout 3 to exceed $20 million, including marketing costs.

With this type of investment to recoup, Hines said, his job is to whet the appetites of gamers, and that process starts with getting the press salivating. To build interest in the upcoming Navy SEAL game Rogue Warrior, for example, the company flew writers to Las Vegas, where they visited a firing range and tried sniper rifles and AK-47s.

Washington isn't typically thought of as a hotbed of gaming development, nor was the Bethesda Softworks event the most extravagant, as such promotional events go.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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