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In a nutshell: Farming equipment is a niche product category with a narrow demographic. Aside from ag expos and industry magazines, there aren't many places where you see advertisements for things like tractor combines. However, it looks like the newest marketing venue for companies like Göweil and Manitou is, of all things, Farming Simulator.
Farming Simulator has situated itself at the top of the food chain as farming sims go. It literally has no equal since its closest competitors are cutesy mobile games that care nothing for realism, like FarmVille and Stardew Valley. This unparalleled realism has led to a series of 14 games so far, including Farming Simulator 23, launching in May.
Interest in the game has grown so much that it became a competitive esport in 2019. Equipment manufacturers took notice of its popularity, concluding what better way to get their product in front of millions of people than paying to put it into a popular industry-related game.
Developer Giants Software claims it receives hundreds of product placement requests from farming equipment manufacturers annually. The Guardian notes that this side revenue stream has become lucrative enough to cover development costs. It's a 180-flip from when the Swiss studio had to request permission to use a hay baler or seed drill in its game.
"In the beginning, we had to ask manufacturers to be included in the game," said Giants Software Marketing Manager Wolfgang Ebert. "Today, we have to consider who we can integrate and what benefit there is to the game--we have many, many brands waiting to be included."
It has gotten to the point that equipment companies have begun timing their newest equipment launches to the studio's update schedule whenever it features one of their products in a content release.
It's not all about advertising, either. Giants Software's Partner Manager Martin Seidel notes that the company works closely with manufacturers to get the physics and the methods of operation right to ensure each piece of gear works as closely as possible to its real-world counterpart. That realism translates into game sales to actual farmers who can virtually test-drive the latest equipment before spending half a million dollars or more on something.
Naturally, product placement supply cannot meet OEM demand. The niche title virtually owns the farming simulation market unchallenged. While a lack of competition means that Giants gets all the business, it also means not all companies can leverage the game into their marketing plans.
According to Giant, it only has room for about 500 products in its PC and console versions and 130 for mobile. So the developer has to choose which new products to feature in an update. This limitation also means that a manufacturer can't necessarily advertise its entire catalog. They have to be selective. As such, most companies want to place their larger, more expensive machinery into the game.
"The really interesting stuff is above nine meters, and that's what everyone wants to advertise," Seidel points out. "It's up to me and my colleagues to be patient and negotiate."
The streaming community also plays a part in the advertising, albeit unknowingly. Most Farming Simulator players and viewers on Twitch are enthusiasts who, in many cases, know their stuff. So discussions often wax on an equipment's abilities and value.
The company was tight-lipped about how much it makes off product placement deals, stressing that its primary focus is still on the gamers.
"Our main business is game development," Seidel said.
That may be true, but a little side income never hurts.