For advertisers, they're not just games

Advertisements in video games are becoming as common as billboards on California highways.

Only a few years ago, a video game company had to pay goods makers if it wanted to include their products in the virtual world for a dose of realism. But today, advertisers are handing over millions of dollars to get their brands in front of the 140 million people who play video games in the U.S.

Advertisers are expected to spend $183 million this year to pitch their real-world products in video games, according to Yankee Group. The research firm, which also measured the playing population, predicts in-game ad spending will reach nearly $1 billion by 2011. Internet giants are investing in technologies that let them broker those ads. In the past year Microsoft Corp. snapped up Massive Inc. and Google Inc. acquired Adscape Media to try to cash in on the trend.

Gamers don't know what to make of it.

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