A decade ago, automakers didn't want to give Turn 10 Studios the time of day when the video game developer approached them about including their vehicles in the first "Forza Motorsport" racer for the original Xbox.
The companies were concerned about protecting their brands, Turn 10 says.
Now, it's the automakers that are knocking on Turn 10's door to see how they can get their latest rides showcased in the games and increase their presence in the "Forza" universe.
Their reasons, again, are all about the brand. "Forza Motorsport," first released in May 2005, is the flagship racing series for Microsoft's Xbox consoles, drawing a devoted audience of millions of gamers in search of their daily racing fix. Like its counterpart for the Sony PlayStation system, the "Gran Turismo" series, it uses stunningly lifelike visuals to help gamers fulfill their driving fantasies, with each update as eagerly awaited by fans as the next-generation Ford Mustang.
As a result, Turn 10 Studios says, car companies now see the gaming world as a key market that builds brand affinity among the next generation of buyers, along with growing numbers of well-heeled adult gamers, while providing a unique platform to do special product launches, where gamers can burn virtual rubber on vehicles before they've even hit local dealerships.
And because Turn 10, a Microsoft unit, can build eerily accurate product clones that mimic their real-life counterparts right down to engine noises and steering wheel texture, automakers can have confidence that their vehicles are well-represented.
John Wendl, Turn 10's content director, said 10-year-old boys are forming brand affinity with Audi, BMW, Lamborghini and Ferrari, which is likely their first meaningful interaction with the brands.
"There was a time where it was difficult, [but] it's become a lot easier now because [automakers] see the opportunity in a brand like 'Forza,'" Wendl said.