Reebok has signed a multi-title sponsorship agreement with Electronic Arts, which will see the sportswear manufacturer's products included in a number of EA's sports titles - starting with NFL Street 2, due out in the USA on 26th December and in Europe on 28th January.
Terms of the deal were not discussed, but the idea seems to be that Reebok products are prominently displayed in-game, including footwear and other products that have not yet been launched at retail - giving gamers the chance to preview new sportswear before their contemporaries.
As Reebok is worn by every player in the NFL, the inclusion should not prove too intrusive for gamers used to this kind of "authenticity", and NFL Street 2 is the obvious choice to debut the approach. It's no surprise to discover that NBA Street V3 will also feature Reebok sponsorship prominently, as Reebok is also the exclusive supplier to the NBA.
Both will provide a decent showcase, too, worthy of comparison to glitzy and gravity-defying TV shorts - NFL Street 2, for example, transfers American football to the streets of the world and beefs up players with unlikely skills, like the ability to leap off buildings and run off walls during play. Far from a novel method of building awareness, Reebok's vice president of integrated marketing Brian Povinelli insists that such schemes are vital to the marketing effort.
"Our goal of enrolling youth into the brand through sports, entertainment and technology manifests itself perfectly in games like this," Povinelli said this week. "It's an important and extremely effective part of our integrated marketing model."
EA, for its part, played down the potential effect of turning its games into billboards for this sort of advertising, with director of marketing Tom Goedde explaining that the deal "adds great authenticity to a wide variety of our games".
This isn't the first time advertising or product placement has affected games, naturally. Sports games have included prominent advertising hoardings for some time in order to appear authentic, although often with permission from the manufacturer rather than at a price. However, recently companies have started turning this area of games into a potential revenue-spinner - notably EA with its McDonald's deal for The Sims Online, and Rebellion with its Red Bull sponsorship in Dredd vs. Death.
EA will doubtless be watching closely to see how the public reacts to Reebok's involvement, and wariness over the reaction may be the reason this deal is coming in to play with its "Street" titles first and not its headlining Madden NFL and NBA Live franchises.