The spoiler popped up automatically when the speedometer of the new Audi RS7 Sportback moved past 130 kilometres an hour on Charles Bridge in central Prague, creating just enough downforce to ensure the tyres gripped the road around the next turn.
Racing through the city’s scenic old quarter in the “Forza Motorsport 5” video game is unnervingly realistic — not least thanks to the force-feedback steering wheel that makes the speeding driver struggle to keep control.
The upcoming Microsoft Xbox One game is also just one example of an increasingly symbiotic relationship between software developers and the auto industry. Together they get games fans behind the wheel and carmakers in pole position to woo today’s younger consumers as tomorrow’s car buyers.
Even if many of the players may not be able to afford to buy a car now, Volkswagen’s Audi sponsors the game since it can start winning brand loyalty for the future. It is also well aware that driving games are not just enjoyed by the young.
“It’s not just about reaching the youth — an Audi in a video game also reaches our core target group. Unlike in a movie where there is a straight narrative, a video game is interactive and the storyline is not defined in advance,” said Kai Mensing, head of International Product Placement at the company.
Meanwhile Nissan competes on screens as a partner in Sony’s rival PlayStation game “Gran Turismo”, giving gamers the chance to enter a competition which starts with driving a Leaf electric car in their living rooms and could lead to actually racing a real 370Z sports car on Britain’s Silverstone circuit.
Consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates in-game advertising will be a $2.8-billion industry worldwide this year. Carmakers say it is cheaper than product placement in films and they can even collect licensing fees for handing over their vehicle specifications to game developers.
And carmakers need to stimulate demand among younger drivers.
Whereas car sales have stagnated at around 3 million vehicles for years, video game sales in Germany rose for a third straight year in 2012 to a record 73.7 million. More importantly, over a quarter of the 26 million Germans that regularly played video games last year earn above-average incomes, taking home over 3,000 euros after tax every month.
For carmakers this means an audience expanding in size, increasing in affluence and diversifying in its base, and experts agree that product placement in video games can be an