1 Pepsi Invaders – The Coca-Cola game
Originally it was only the attendees of a 1983 sales convention that would find themselves in possession of this particular piece of video games history. They were given a copy for the Atari 2600 as a promotional item. The game – reportedly commissioned by Coca-Cola itself – was a near carbon copy of the Space Invaders formula. The only significant change was that the ever-advancing alien forces were instead replaced almost entirely with letters spelling "Pepsi". Players controlled a vehicle that just about represented a Coca-Cola bottle. Their task was defending something – Coke's profits perhaps? – from the advance of the Pepsi brand. It was a mischievous piece of marketing on the battle field of the cola-wars of the 1980s, and brandished its own slogan: "Coke Wins", in typical tub-thumping style. The fizzy drinks outfit had created perhaps the first-ever example of a branded game, and a future high-priced collectible. Copies have traded for upwards of $1800 in the contemporary collector community.
2 Burnout Paradise – Obama's 2008 campaign billboards
In 2008, as Barack Obama's push for the US presidency gathered pace, his team didn't limit their vote chasing to the physical realm. For citizens in many Republican states, even virtual worlds offered no escape from the campaign. Obama's posters had appeared in racer Burnout Paradise, as well as a number of other releases with in-game advertising hoardings that had the facility to be updated after purchase. Apparently John McCain was approached with a similar deal, but rejected such involvement in games. Maybe McCain felt billboards in an infamously fast driving game were likely to go unnoticed. Obama did win, of course, but how much the virtual ads actually helped his cause remains unrecorded.
3 Uncharted 3 - Subway meals
With the Uncharted series, studio Naughty Dog crafted a classic action-adventure. It offered tremendous escapism, taking players to jungles, temples and other locales straight from Indiana Jones's and Lara Croft's escapades. Its settings felt every bit the titular uncharted, far removed from the minutiae of modern life. On occasion, though, that illusion came crashing down. When, for example, a promotion for the online multiplayer mode of Uncharted 3 saw Subway meals and staff uniforms appear in parts of the game's world. The food chain's reach, it appears, goes far beyond the towns, cities and airports of the globe's well-mapped territories.
4 Zool– A lot of Chupa Chups
The Amiga home computer found its way into numerous bedrooms and living rooms through parents convinced it was a great platform for homework. The fact that they were right didn't matter. The computer thrived as a gaming machine, and Zool: Ninja from the Nth Dimension was one of a handful of the mascots it promoted as a rival to Mario and Sonic. The gremlin ninja of the title spent his time leaping between 2D platforms, where he was surrounded by Chupa Chups lollipops and branding. The game was awash with the confectionary, which apparently sprouted as a sort of sugar crop throughout many levels, having taken the control of an invasive plant species. Like a sticky rash, they almost outshone the protagonist, such was the volume of their presence.
5 EverQuest II – Pizza Hut ordering
Playing a fantasy RPG epic like EverQuest II can be an all-engrossing experience for some. It can feel hard to leave. Indeed, it seemed the most devoted fans could find even the challenge of leaving their computer to order a takeaway too difficult to bear. Fortunately for them, Pizza Hut spotted an unlikely space in the title's in-game advertising real estate, and injected a branded presence that allowed players to place orders and pay without having to leave their virtual adventure for even a second. A short while later, their pizzas would arrive in the real world. Which left sedentary players with the final conundrum – how to make it to the front door without having to spend a moment away from EverQuest II?
6 Skateboarding games – skateboarding brands
From the influential Tony Hawk series to EA's quietly radical Skate, games based on sidewalk surfing have often been saturated with the iconography of sports corporations. From character clothing to in-game billboards, it has long been close to impossible to ignore the sport's commercial and cultural overlords in digital skateparks. But it went deeper than that. In many cases every skateboard wheel, truck and deck aped a real-world brand and model. As such, the games presented a slightly more authentic interpretation of a sport subculture where logos and brands enjoy particularly high status. With that authenticity came more capacity for uninterrupted escapism. In Tony Hawk games many players could even build their own real-world board set-up, and ride in their favoured model of skate shoe. It proved that even the most shameless in-game advertising, when placed perfectly in context, can once in a while bring something extra to a game.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010