Jon Paul Geletka is the perfect target audience for MTV. The 18-year-old listens to lots of music, goes to the movies, watches his share of television and spends hours playing video games.
He is so serious about video games that he recently enrolled in a small media arts college in Florida to earn a degree in game design. But MTV may have a tough time reaching him this week with special programming that coincides with the launch today of Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 video game system.
"I just can't see MTV taking gamers seriously," Geletka said.
MTV, which teamed up with Microsoft in April to tap into the soaring popularity of video games, is trying to take gaming very seriously. This week, it is running segments titled "True Life: I'm a Professional Gamer," "This Sims Life," and "Racism & Online Gaming." The programs feature several game systems, including Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo.
A sampling of video game Web sites reveals that serious gamers are resisting the entrance of a mainstream cultural icon into what they regard as their underground passion. The sites are littered with wary chat board comments: "MTV has such a tendency to take trends and destroy them," one person wrote on the Web site 1up.com.
MTV executives believe their programming speaks to casual gamers as well as the more dedicated ones. "We reach both audiences in different ways," said John Shea, executive vice president of integrated marketing for MTV Networks Music Group.
Some serious players, however, believe MTV is seeking to enhance its image with young consumers by producing infomercials for gaming companies.
"The MTV promo is more an attempt to make MTV cooler than making games cooler," said Kyle Orland, the 23-year-old Laurel-based editor of Video Game Media Watch, a blog that assesses how video games are portrayed in the media.
Orland also wonders if the MTV segment "Xbox 360: A Gamer's Paradise" is not little more than a promotional pitch packaged as a news program. The segment traces several groups' wild attempts to win a chance to use the new console before today's official launch.
MTV's Shea said the segment sought to depict how far some people were willing to go to participate in the launch. "Ultimately," he said, "this is all about Xbox hardware and the experience" of the product.
The strong marketing tactics reflect the lucrative market for interactive entertainment, which is expected to grow to $42 billion in 2010 from $28.5 billion this year, according to the market research firm DFC Intelligence.
MTV attracts the lion's share of video game advertising on television, said DFC Intelligence President David Cole. With its MTV partnership, Microsoft is hoping to widen the appeal of its Xbox system. Sales of its first-generation Xbox lagged far behind Sony's PlayStation 2.
"We see this partnership as a great marriage of video games and television -- and as the next great frontier for interactive entertainment," said Carlos de Leon, Microsoft's global Xbox group manager.
For avid gamers, the next generation of Xbox will live or die by its performance and the games it supports -- and no amount of marketing can change that.
"If the Xbox 360 is going to be as good as it sounds, then gamers around the world will have one heck of a next-gen in store for them," Geletka said.