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The Almighty Buck

Product Placement in Online Gaming 376

ceejayoz writes "MSNBC/Reuters has an article about product placement in 'The Sims Online'. EA has made a multimillion dollar deal with Intel and McDonalds to include 'Intel's familiar jingle, its product logo, and computers using its Pentium 4 processor' and 'a McDonald's kiosk and ... the company's branded food' in the game."
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Product Placement in Online Gaming

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 16, 2002 @08:48PM (#4269975)
    And, hey, maybe your Sim can sue McDonalds for making them fat and get rich. That'd sure beat the hassle of that job thing.
  • by billnapier ( 33763 ) <napier AT pobox DOT com> on Monday September 16, 2002 @08:49PM (#4269981) Homepage
    Not bring down the price of the games.
    • by dattaway ( 3088 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @09:00PM (#4270053) Homepage Journal
      Pop ups in games add value to the product. You are lucky the price isn't going up for these features.
      • Do you work for the cable company?

        It's like adding an extra charge to your cable bill so you can use the Program Guide with your digital cable. In other words, you pay more because their product sucks and to see more ads.

        Gosh, I love advertising tactics...

    • > Not bring down the price of the games.

      I always find it interesting that the price of games is essentially unchanged from the commercial market for Apple ][ games back in 1980, when most would fit on a single 5-1/4" floppy. (360Kb, IIRC.)

    • That requires a followup question - Is the price of producing video games increasing or decreasing?
  • In the sims world, how large will the "Intel Inside Pentium 4" logo be on the computers? if it is real life size, it will hardly be visible in the game! Chances are the developers are going to put a giant decal on the side.

    Pretty soon, the cars in the game may look like they came from Nascar...
  • by thelinuxking ( 574760 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @08:54PM (#4270015)
    If we're lucky, we might find The Sims Online in a Happy Meal :-)!
  • Good for EA! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by toupsie ( 88295 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @08:56PM (#4270024) Homepage
    EA is in the business of making a profit. If product placement within a video game will fatten their bottom line, good for them and great for their investors. It doesn't seem to hurt one of the most popular spectator sports in the US, NASCAR. No one even seems to find the irony of cars flying around a circle at 200mph with beer ads emblazoned on the sides of the cars.

    EA will quickly learn if this business move is bad. Their sales will drop from "The Sims". Frankly, I have never figured out why so many people are afraid of advertising. If you don't like it, don't buy their products. The only question I have is if the Mac OS X version will drop the Intel ads?

  • by EXTomar ( 78739 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @08:56PM (#4270025)
    One thing I've always wondered about this wonderful set of games is exactly how much wheeling and dealing did they have to do to get as many "real" cars and products into the game.

    In any event it is the perfect touch: a race track without product billboards isn't very realistic. Cars that you can say "Hey I know someone with that car" are playable. You can walk into a tire store and look at the same tires offered in the game.

    Software companies promote themselves all of the time in their own games but should they now seek ad revenue for games? Hungry companies could see this is a new boon. Players could start to see this as a new bother.

    However the GT series does this correctly because it is subtile. The car designs and products are the ads themselves...you don't need to be intrusive with load screens shouting "Parts of this game were funded by Soandso". If players start seeing intrusive ads they'll start to turn away from it.
    • I read somewhere that car manufacturers actually ask to get their cars in Gran Turismo. The only stipulation they have is that the cars can't be damaged, because that reflects poorly on them. "What a piece of crap car! I just barely touched that wall!" So it works out great for Polyphony as well as for the car manufacturers. I don't know about the billboards, though.
    • If players start seeing intrusive ads they'll start to turn away from it.

      And if players start turning away from it, companies will stop doing it. So what's the problem ? If it's really a bother to anyone, that person should voice his opinion in the only way that really matters - by not buying it. Methinks, however, that ovewhelming success of the new Sims product will show that LOTS of people don't mind that much.
  • by Powercntrl ( 458442 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @08:56PM (#4270026)
    While I'm sitting here drinking my cold, refreshing Coke, I looked on my KDS LCD flatscreen monitor that I bought from ThinkGeek and realized that they should apply this to TV shows as well. Why interrupt a show with a commercial break when product placement could work just as good? In the movie "The Truman Show", which I watched the other day on my DirectTV satellite system, the "show" that the movie was about had no commercials, just product placements. While that was just a movie, if The Sims proves this can work for other mediums, maybe we'll soon see a future where Tivos can no longer skip over commercials because there AREN'T any to skip over.
    • Oh boy! Who needs content when you can have wall-to-wall advertisements?

      There was a recent article [technologyreview.com] tthat suggested that product placement could be a means of getting the content cabal to give up their hard stance on PVR's, or conversely, cause a degradation in content quality.

      Oh well, at least it will be better than putting ads in music [adage.com].
    • I have a friend who worked for a major cable premium network that produces some very popular series. He worked in product placement, and it was his job to negotiate deals with companies for all sorts of placement of products.

      Nowadays they generally try to be a little bit more subtle than back in the day when people would describe the virtues of their products directly. It can be as simple as what brand of soda is out on the kitchen island, what watch comapny is featured in the closeup, or what type of car the cool lead character drives. However, rarely are these uses of brands unitentional or for artistic purposes.

      Movies are incredibly bad offenders. MIB is a prime example. It is basically a sci-fi music video add for a variety of products. Probably worse than that though are children's cartoons. They are basically half hour long advertisements for all the tie in merchandise: collectible cards, action figures, video games, t-shirts, bedroom sets, lunch boxes, etc. I'm just surprised no one has started to geographically target local advertisers in television programs and movies using the technology news and sports broadcasters have used to 'edit' billboards and the like digitally so local affiliates can get the right adds. Maybe they have.

      • Nowadays they generally try to be a little bit more subtle than back in the day when people would describe the virtues of their products directly. It can be as simple as what brand of soda is out on the kitchen island, what watch comapny is featured in the closeup, or what type of car the cool lead character drives. However, rarely are these uses of brands unitentional or for artistic purposes.

        Wow...what subtlety.
    • I don't know about the states, but here in Australia, when demolition man was shown on TV, we didn't have Taco Bell..... So the soulless bastards replaced it with Pizza Hut!!! It was really badly done too, like in the simpsons.

      "this is my good friend... *mr black*... i want you to listen to *mr black* and do what he says"

      It was hideous.

    • I looked on my KDS LCD flatscreen monitor that I bought from ThinkGeek

      What? So there are people that pay the extremely high prices that ThinkGeek slaps on their items that can be bought at hundreds of other places for much less?
    • You've obviously never seen Friends(TM) then.

      Pop quiz hotshots:
      - What computer magazines does Chandler read?
      - What's Joey's favourite English beer?
      - What brand of corn chips do the gang enjoy?

      Unfortunately product placement isn't confined to 50's reruns. It's alive and well and killing today's TV shows. It managed to beat the crud out of James Bond too.
      Now that's a powerful force.
  • Mmmmm, McDonald's (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Logic Bomb ( 122875 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @08:56PM (#4270029)
    So, if your Sims eat a ton of Big Macs, do they fatten up, get hardened arteries, and have heart attacks? I hope EA is sticking with the "reality" theme.
    • ... and when they do, can you sue Sim McDonald's for forcing their sim products down your sim throat?
    • No, but they may shoot their kids after they nag "Can we go to McDonalds... I wanna happy meal" for the 20th day in a row... :-)
    • from the article:"Eating that food will also improve their standing within the game."

      That is the one part about this that bothers me. Gamers will have an incentive to virtually eat at McDonald's. In fact this kind of "selling out" is enough to convince me not to buy the game. When it fundamentally changes the game experience, that is too far. I'd feel the same way if racing games took money from car makers to make one car outperform others that it wouldn't normally beat. I'm buying a game, I'm not selling myself as a consumer.
  • Great.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Eric_Cartman_South_P ( 594330 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @08:57PM (#4270031)
    So while you slurp down 100 grams of fat in one meal, your on-line representation can also plump up, too.

    I would agree to this kind of advertising under three conditions.

    1) The price of the game should be reduced by a percentage of the advertising revenue, since it's our eyeballs doing the work of watching the add.

    2) NPC's should get fatter, sue because they don't want to be responsible for anything, including what they shove in their mouths, and then they clog up your court building and you loose 1000 points.

    3) You should be able to rob the drive-through, just like in real life.

    • by toupsie ( 88295 )
      1) The price of the game should be reduced by a percentage of the advertising revenue, since it's our eyeballs doing the work of watching the add.

      Why? If you don't want to look at ads, don't buy the game. No one is forcing your eyeballs to watch ads. You are making a choice to do it. EA should sell "The Sims" at any price the market will bear. If product placement fails, their bottom line will show and they will make a different decision in the future. I am always bothered by people thinking they are "owed" something from a company. You get what you pay for and if you don't like it, don't spend the cash.

      • Wait... (Score:3, Insightful)

        Because "If you don't want to look at ads, don't buy the game." won't soon apply since adds will be everywhere, and unless you want a Ted K. type shack to live in, you'll have BigMac's floating around your head as you walk through the mall.

        Why should I pay for entertainment, then be forced to watch advertisements? Once this makes its way into every game (every movie is getting polluted, and TV shows are soon to be) it's going to be an ugly world. Until then we call all use Mozilla and BannerBlind. That is, if Mozilla is still legal to use post Palladium.

        • Why should I pay for entertainment, then be forced to watch advertisements?

          I think you've stumbled onto something here. This is the way you pay for what the pirates cost the developers. If those people paid for the game these starving game developers like molyneux, garriot and the rest wouldn't have to put ads in the games to afford castles and such.

    • I want to buy a cup of sim-McCoffee, spill it all over my sim-lap, get sim-3d degree burns, then get sim-denied for medical bill compensation.

      Then, I'll sim-sue!

  • by MongooseCN ( 139203 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @08:57PM (#4270032) Homepage
    But Mc Donalds meat is already simulated meat. So when it gets used in a simulation, does it become real meat? What a philisophical pondering...
  • by the_other_one ( 178565 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @08:57PM (#4270034) Homepage
    for weapons manufacturers.
  • Yeah, the Intel logo is going to matter a huge amount to me - while I'm playing on my new high-end AMD box!
  • Let us not forget all the "real" stores in Crazy Taxi, like KFC, etc. They're not even just there for decoration either; you have to deliver people to them.
  • by afflatus_com ( 121694 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @09:00PM (#4270051) Homepage
    and a fine addition to the game.

    On of the big events The Sims is watching them respond to events, like when there is a fire on their stove.

    The fires get a bit boring after a while. A nice event instead will be watching your Sim collapse in the McDonald's kiosk from a cholesterol-induced heart-attack.

    Makes a nice tie in too for genuine Intel(R) products: crack open the nearby computer equipment and use the live wires to see if you can shock your Sim's heart into restarting again.
  • "I think this deal ... reflects a growing recognition by Madison Avenue that video games have become mainstream entertainment with a large and desirable demographic target," EA spokesman Jeff Brown told Reuters.

    Brown said the game was appealing to Intel and McDonald's because almost all of its players are young people, with nearly 50 percent of them young women

    Well, said that's a desireable target demographic... ppl who spend lots of money on fast food, and get lots of money spent on them (by parents). Sounds like your average college-goer.

  • Guns. (Score:5, Funny)

    by DarkHelmet ( 120004 ) <`ten.elcychtneves' `ta' `kram'> on Monday September 16, 2002 @09:03PM (#4270074) Homepage

    In the middle of fragging your friends in Doom3, a message appears in the console:

    This small show of violence was brought to you by the NRA. Without us, your dreams of actually owning your own mini-gun will never be realized.

    I love you Charlton Heston, you damn filthy ape!

    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      Just give us some real life models to play with. With a reload action though. The Navy Seals Quake mod did it right. Once you see how well an AK47 works, you'll want one for all your assault rifle needs! Or the Desert Eagle .50 Caliber. [magnumresearch.com] Oh yeah. I know where my next tax refund is going :-)
  • Ads done right (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mthed ( 120041 )
    I have no problem with product placement, as long as it is used in such a way that it doesn't interfere. For instance, in movies, it's natural to see brand name products in scenes, since we see brand name products in our lives. This could also be true for games such as "The Sims". However, I hope that they don't go in the direction some movies have, blatently shoving products down our thoats. Look at the latest Austin Powers installment. It's like watching a Heinekin commercial in some scenes.

    As a side note, it's strange that Mike Meyers is such a big offender of product placement overuse, after bashing on it in Wayne's World.

  • Good for EA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by richattri ( 562739 )
    I don't see a problem here. We all recognize these brands, and to that degree having them in a "virtual" world further legitimizes that world as one we will recognize. The kudo here is that EA got companies to pay THEM, not the other way around.

    When I was working on PC flight simulators, to use any likeness, logo, or performance data you had to pay the aircraft manufacturer. We argued that they were getting free exposure for their product, but got no dice. At least in this instance EA was able to turn it to their favor and further fund development. Good for them.

  • My virtual cup of coffee was WAY too hot...
  • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Monday September 16, 2002 @09:11PM (#4270115) Homepage
    I don't see a probelm as long as they use it correctly. I was in the Earth and Beyond beta and I love the game, but I'm not going to buy it. There are quite a few games that look fun that I won't buy. Why is that you ask? I refuse to shell out $60 for a game, only to have to pay $15 a month for the 'privilage' of playing the game that I bought with my hard earned money. If it cost me $10, I could understand a $15 monthly fee. If the game was the same price, but the monthly cost was $3, I could take that too. But I refuse to be extorted

    But back to my origional point from before I got on a rant. If they use this money to do something like elimenate the monthly fee, I'd see no problem. They could even make it an option: pay us $10 a month (or whatever) or see branded items. I don't see a problem with this. As long as they ads aren't obtrusive, it's fine with me. What do I mean? If your sim's computer play the intel song and shows a P4 logo when you turn it on, that's fine. If your sim can buy McDonalds when they're hungy, that's fine too. What I DON'T want to see is my house wallpapered with the golden arches, or finding NPC that always steer the conversation towards "Have you heard about Intel's great new powerful processor? And it's only costs... you should buy one now! Infact you can buy one from me!". THAT would clearly drive people away.

    It's like my opinion of product placement in movies. If it seems natural or is unobtrusive (Tom Hanks working for FedEx in "Cast Away") then I see no problem with it. But if it gets like that ad in "The Truman Show" or like Wendy's in "Mr. Deeds", that I don't want to see.

  • Oh no! (Score:3, Funny)

    by beej ( 82035 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @09:15PM (#4270143) Homepage Journal
    But ads get in the way! When I'm playing DOOM III the last thing I need is to be bombarded by bright flashing graphics and loud sounds!
  • by Qender ( 318699 )
    Will my sims get sick and throw up like real people do after eating the McSomething?
  • by Mihg ( 2381 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @09:22PM (#4270176)
    If they really wanted to sell more PCs, Intel would pay EA to include Macs as well. They'd cost twice as much as the P4 PCs, and they would generate less happiness points (or whatever the hell they're called...).
  • Will I get to play the straightedger Sims firebombing MacDonalds, the Hindu Sims suing MacDonalds, OR the PETA Sims protesting MacDonalds by making the Burger King Sims eat veggieburgers?
  • by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @09:46PM (#4270318)
    "I started out just like you guys - on trash. Now, I'm washing lettuce. Pretty soon I'll be on fries. In a year or two, I'll make assistant manager....and that's when the big bucks start rolling in!"
  • if done correctly, for example I much rather see someone drinking a can of coke then someone drinking a can of what looks exactly like a coke can but is labeled cola (or whatever). I like the idea of Mc Donalds, as long as its not the only hamburger place, same with pizzahut, its harder to control pizzahut thoe as the Sims order pizza on their own and it would suck to see a the pizzahut logo on every pizza box, I don't like the idea of the Intel inside logo unless they plan on making it life size ( 1"x1") so you really cant see it without zooming in really close, it would suck, if it was a big ass logo on the side of the computer, as it would not look real
  • brings the price down.
    The local stores still want 40+ dollars for the main sims games.
    I spend that much on a game that has been out that long. There are a lot of people who feel the same way. Thinking long term, it would be best to lower there price of the main game to about 20 bucks. If I or my wife enjoy the game, we will by the add-ons.
  • I'd hate having product placement in a workspace environment. But I wouldn't meind seeing a few in some GNU games. That way there'd be more games for my favorite OS.
  • Bladerunner effect? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by svzurich ( 524785 )
    Wonder if the Sims Online might have the same negative energies as Bladerunner. When BR came out, it featured some of the most successful and prominent companies of the time. Now all are gone (with Atari being a tool of Infogrames). I think it would be very interesting if the Sims Online had this kind of karma for the companies it advertises.
  • I'm for it as long as I can't tell it's an advertisement. Kind of like the way they do it in movies.

    It's especially cool if I can use hamburgers from mcdonalds as weapons.
  • Imagine a world with no disruptive advertising...

    Browsing the web without popups. All it takes is a proxy filter to replace generic terms like "drink" with advertising terms that we already relate to, like "Coke". Then you could subvert the advertising by blogging about how your aunty choked on her "drink", and the product placement's parent company would start getting bad PR.

    Then again, I think I am coming down now...

  • Anyone who had an NES, or had a friend who had an NES, has at least heard of "Yo! Noid", from Capcom. The game didn't feature any product placement; it was an advertisement all by itself. I don't think I've seen anything like that before or since in an electronic game.

  • Last year Sobe had a 'vendo' in Munch's oddysee...gave you back your health. (What about truth in advertising?)

    I'm 90% certain the Atari 2600 E.T. game had Reeses Pieces in it. (E.T. was supposed to be caught with M&M's, but Speilberg couldn't get the rights. Boy was THAT a bonehead move!)
  • by marko123 ( 131635 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @10:38PM (#4270536) Homepage
    I want my sims to sit down at their computers, log in, and connect to my UT2003 server. I want to show them who's boss. If they beat me, I'll make them downgrade their hardware.
  • for product placement in the in-game advertising of the metaversion of the Sims that the Sims play on their computers.

    My head hurts now.
  • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:00PM (#4270632)
    One of the big concerns about The Sims Online has been the way it seems designed, from the ground up, for griefers. Even the designers admit that they don't know how that aspect will play out on line. The one play journal that was on the website for quite a while was almost purely about how much fun it was to grief other players in imaginative ways - and that's just the design team.

    So, in a game that's [potentially] going to be the very worst for abusive play, do you really want your brand getting associated with it? Imagine the joy of having "A Mac Attack" becoming the most hated concept on the net. Or maybe the next "A rape in cyberspace" story beginning, "It was under the pixelated golden arches of a virtual McDonalds..."

    Money can't buy that kind of advertising. Probably for a very good reason.

  • How long before they strike a deal worth millions and, as the Sims are about to "get it on," that old familiar "Trojan Maaaaaaan" jingle is heard. To make matters worse (just because they simply _can_) Trojan Man himself makes an appearance, horse and all. In his tone of voice, we hear the Sim's patented mumble, obviously giving them advice on why to use his rubbers. Finally, he hands the couple a Magnum Size and rides off into the sunset.

    Will Microsoft fight back and offer more money to, instead of the Intel jingle, have their Microsoft Sound play when a Sim sits at a computer? Could the Linux Community lobby in favor of Tux on the screen? Wouldn't it be just the shit if a Sim sits down, boots up Linux, starts WINE and plays The Sims?

    I'd say I have too much free time on my hands, wouldn't you all?
  • Great, now I'm going to be playing a computer game with characters who have faster computers than I do.

    Hmm, maybe that's why people aren't buying high-end chips. They can just have their Sims buy them instead...
  • I've been watching Big Brother 3. The product placement is very bold and obvious. (Liquor, doughnuts, etc.) It is clearly in-your-face. However, I really don't think this is the final step. This is obviously going to go further in the future.

    How? Well, imagine Greenpeace sponsoring some episode of some Star Trek series. But instead of having Greenpeace play some sort of force protecting a planet, they pay for a plot that shows the evil of commercialism and the Great Truth in environmentalism. That is, manipulation of the underlying message to support the organization's goal, rather than pushing the organization itself.

    So, a company/organization can pay $XX for their name to be integrated into some part of the show, or they can pay $XXX to have creative control and send the message that they want as well. (Probably more important for political groups than anything.)

    But do you see where this will go? They've opened the door for products to pay to become part of the plot. How long until they cross the line to pay for a plot which meets their goals?
  • "The Sims," a franchise that has sold more than 19 million units worldwide, making it the best-selling PC game of all time.

    Gosh... remember back when Deer Hunter was like the best selling game for several years in a roll. not Doom, not Quake, not Warcraft / starcraft budged it from the throne. It was humiliating to be a PC gamer, with that kind of statistics.

  • Scene 1 - the player talks to a Freeport guard for information...

    Player: Hail!

    Guard: Hail, Welcome to Freeport! Be sure to check out the new Burger King next to the Mercenary Guild!

    Scene 2 - the player is running low on food and water...

    Message: You are low on food and water. You could really go for Col. Sander's original recipe chicken, accompanied with an ice cold Pepsi!

    Scene 3 - weapon and armor are replaced with namebrand apparel...

    PlayerA Auctions: WTB Gap Jeans. Will pay 50PP.

    PlayerB Auctions: WTS Old Navy Performance Fleece!
    10PP or Express Jacket wanted!
  • your character be allowed to read Fast Food Nation?
  • Heh (Score:3, Informative)

    by zapfie ( 560589 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:55PM (#4270806)
    Yeah.. this is a first for McDonalds.. they have never paid for product [vgmuseum.com] placement [vgmuseum.com] in games [vgmuseum.com].. no siree..
  • by mumkin ( 28230 ) on Tuesday September 17, 2002 @12:49AM (#4271014) Journal
    The Maxis (or are they EA now?) spokesperson in the article stated that there would likely be more product placement deals announced before the launch of The Sims Online. They also made the point that the nature of the game allows for easy "upgrading" of clients to handle additional advertiser/sponsor insertions into the simworld after it launches.

    I really don't have much of a problem with product placement on this level, as long as there are other options (ie, not every restaurant is a MacDonalds, and not every computer has Intel Inside). It will be equally troublesome, however, if they are signing exclusive contracts with these companies.

    Just as in RealLife, I would want my Sim to have the option of eschewing certain brands. S/he shouldn't have to starve I choose not to endorse the MacEntity. Similarly, I would hope that Intel's inclusion doesn't mean that Apple can't buy some simspace as well, or Red Hat for that matter (maybe IBM would foot the bill and go for a co-branded sim-machine). Not only would it completely suck for there to be only one (real) brand of food, computer, car, etc (and make one wonder about the legal ramifications of monopoly positions in a simverse), but it would be either grossly unrealistic or virtually post-apocolyptic.

    Damn, this makes me wonder whether any degree of entrepreneurialism is coded into The Sims Online. Can I have my character open a falafel and carrot juice stand, corner the market on vegetarian health food, and go on to sell franchises across the simverse? Hmmm.
  • So, if you play something like Half Life or The Thing, your MacDonalds hamburger can sprout legs, start oozing blood, and attack you. I always thought they were made from alien meat anyway.
  • sure, ads in "useful" software we can't stand ... but maybe ads in games isn't such a bad thing. don't take my word for it ... arcadian del sol commented on this a month or so ago (specifically concerning the Sims Online):

    http://www.arcadiandelsol.com/article.php?sid=129 [arcadiandelsol.com]

  • by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Tuesday September 17, 2002 @05:25AM (#4271524) Homepage
    A long long time ago, on the Commodore 64, was a game called Action Biker [c64gg.com]. A good game for its time, it was produced by Mastertronic for £1.99.

    That game was sponsored by KP Skips crisps. Follow the link above and you can see a screenshot clearly showing the Skips logo. Now - I can't remember if there were any Skips logos actually during gameplay, but that's the first piece of advertising within games that I'm aware of.

    1985. Can anyone point to anything older?


Honesty pays, but it doesn't seem to pay enough to suit some people. -- F.M. Hubbard