AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In 2008, Barack Obama became the first presidential candidate to put political advertising in video games. This year, it's not just the president's campaign injecting politics into game consoles.
As NPR's Sami Yenigun reports, others are getting in on the action.
SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: Let's say you're pushing 115 on the highway, racing neck and neck with a Chevy Camaro, in an online video game, of course.
(SOUNDBITE OF RACING CARS)
YENIGUN: Right as you're pulling into the lead, you notice a billboard pop up on your TV screen. Early voting has begun? Voteforchange.com? Whoa, keep your eyes on the road.
(SOUNDBITE OF RACING CARS)
YENIGUN: This is "Need For Speed Carbon," one of 18 games that the Obama campaign advertised in in 2008. This year, President Obama is back at it, running ads in "Madden NFL 13," on the free online game site Pogo.com, and in mobile games like Tetris. A spokesperson for Mitt Romney said his campaign has advertised in video games, as well, but did not provide any examples or information about the ads.
Video game makers and websites can sell space on their virtual billboards or on banners on the side of the screen. The game is online, so these ads can be updated. Political advertising only makes up a small percentage of all ads in games. But during an election season, campaigns can grab the eyeballs of video game junkies like Tommy Mullings. When a big new game title like "Madden NFL" is about to go on sale...
TOMMY MULLINGS: I'm always waiting at midnight for it and I'm like one of like a hundred people usually that's sitting in there.
YENIGUN: And he'll play that game over and over again, until another big title comes out. For campaigns, Tommy's devotion to a game is very attractive. He'll see that ad again and again the more and more he plays. So, Mullings must see political ads all the time.
MULLINGS: I've never seen a political ad or anything yet.
YENIGUN: The thing is, Mullings lives in Maryland. That state has been solid blue since '92. In 2008 and in 2012, the Obama team's targets are in swing states. The information that gamers give up when they register for an online service makes them easy targets, says Indiana University's Patrick Walsh, who studies political ads in video games.
PATRICK WALSH: Signing up for any service, they're going to ask you your name, gender, location, address, those types of things. So you can be really targeted based with the technology.
YENIGUN: So campaigns that want to reach young males in Ohio, might do better buying space in "Madden" than during the "Ellen DeGeneres Show."
Again, Patrick Walsh.
WALSH: You have someone there that's captive. They're typically not multitasking. They're typically just playing the game, so they're not on their computer. They're not on their phone. And it's a very desirable demographic.
YENIGUN: Nowadays, the average gamer is 30 years old, according to a 2012 study done by the Entertainment Software Association.
In-game advertising isn't the only way politics are making it onto game consoles. In late August, Xbox launched its 2012 election hub, an interactive platform that lets users learn about the candidates and keep up to date with the race. Jose Pinero is a senior director at Xbox Entertainment. He says presidential debates will be broadcast via the Xbox console, and Xbox users will be able vote and rate the candidates' performances.
JOSE PINERO: On your TV screen you will be able to see the debate. And you will be also able to see the opinion trending line, which reflects how the entire population of an Xbox is voting at the moment.
YENIGUN: Xbox is also hosting voter registration efforts by teaming up with Rock The Vote. Chrissy Faessan is a spokesperson for the organization, which registers young voters.
CHRISSY FAESSEN: When you look at the numbers of people who are using their Xbox consoles or are playing video games, it's huge. And if there's an opportunity for us to reach out to those individuals as well, and make sure that they've got the information they need to participate, it's a win-win for everybody.
YENIGUN: The biggest winner might be the video game industry, a multi-billion dollar beast that could pull more voters to the polls.
Sami Yenigun, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.