Billboards illegal in Hawaii, but not in video game's reality
DELVING into the bloody obvious, some topics quicken the pulse more than others.
The very idea of maneuvering a sleek, well-muscled, glistening, exotic body around Oahu -- surging over concrete contours, screaming around curves and commanding the power of hundreds of thundering horses with one's bare hands -- is one of those topics.
Owning a supercar by Lamborghini, Ferrari or Maserati is a dream for most. However, for considerably less than the cost of a six-figure car, a videogamer can purchase Eden Games' new version of "Test Drive Unlimited." The fantasy will then play out on Oahu as the game includes many real Oahu highways and byways and photorealistic scenery.
There are motorcycles as well, with no worries of getting bugs in one's teeth.
Drivers will be safely ensconced in front of an Xbox 360 console or PC and needn't click-it for fear of a ticket -- or a fate that would be worse. The game, set for release in September, will also be available for other next-generation consoles, such as the Sony PlayStation 3.
As gamers drive around the virtual Oahu, they will see another thing that is pure fantasy. Billboards.
Did the company know billboards are outlawed in Hawaii?
"So I hear," said Justin Townsend, chief executive officer of in-game advertising company IGA Worldwide Inc.
He surmised that high-speed driving around Oahu's roads is also against the law.
The Outdoor Circle, credited with banishing billboards, pledges ongoing vigilance.
Billboards lining Hawaii's roads might be "the dream of many advertisers, but it would be a nightmare for local residents and a disaster for the visitor industry, if it were real," said Bob Loy, director of environmental programs.
He knows people will roll their eyes.
"Some people will say, 'Lighten up -- it's just a game,' (but) The Outdoor Circle won't play games with anything that threatens or denigrates the beauty of Hawaii."
Snippets of the game found online by TheBuzz showed only one billboard, for the game itself, near a car parked in a shipping container yard. The containers bore fake company names. Another image showed an H-3 freeway tunnel entrance surrounded by billboard-free, lush green mountainsides, true to the Koolau Range.
The images are pre-release versions of the game's scenes, likely before any advertisements were placed therein. It is also possible that what appeared to be highway signs in the images found yesterday, could become billboards upon the game's release.
Townsend feels the game's scenery showcases Hawaii's beauty, a view shared by game reviews found online.
"It's all about appealing to people's fantasies," Townsend said. "There are many, many ways that you can extend the envelope of a real-world environment," in a video game.
In that envelope, there is room for strategically placed, or integrated products -- or advertisements.
In sports games, gamers can choose shoes that make people jump higher or run faster, for instance.
"It's the same with cars as well," he said.
Test Drive Unlimited's cars are customizable. Like a Ferrari Enzo needs pimping.
IGA places static, interactive and other forms of ads in video games for console-, PC- and hand-held games in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The IGA Web site shows a can of Red Bull in one game and a mock-up of a Hawaiian Airlines plane in another.
"Test Drive Unlimited" will feature Ben Sherman and Marc Ecko clothing stores that gamers can enter for an interactive experience. The stores are there so gamers can choose driving attire. Really.
The company can update or change the ads as players play online to reflect sponsors' new ad campaigns and products.
IGA places a piece of software in the game during development, "so we've already pre-identified placeholders in billboards," for example, Townsend said.
The IGA Web site notes that a top-selling video game can generate "1 billion eyeball hours," which should be no surprise to parents of gamers. Not only do gamers play the games, they talk about them with friends and seek cheat codes and share stories about them online.
In-game advertising, projected to become a $1 billion-a-year industry by the end of the decade, is the realm of IGA and its competitors.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org