On 10 November, crowds gathered for a record-breaking premiere at the Vue cinema, Leicester Square.
Actors Kevin McKidd, Craig Fairbrass and Billy Murray showed up for the opening in tuxedos, presenter Vernon Kay and comedian Dom Joly hosted the screening and Dizzee Rascal performed at the after-party.
But this was no movie - it was the launch of Modern Warfare 2, the latest in the best-selling Call of Duty series, in which players assume the role of elite special forces soldiers. The big-budget launch paid off, with the game shifting 1.23 million units and grossing £47m on its first day on the shelves - double the sales of the previous record holder, Grand Theft Auto IV.
Computer games are now a world-beating medium. In 2008, Britons spent about £4bn on computer games and consoles, more than music sales and cinema box office takings combined.
There are almost 21.4 million consoles and hand-held devices in UK homes, and more than 335 million games have been sold in the UK in the past 10 years, more than five per head of population.
Despite these numbers, in-game advertising is still a "relatively new discipline", according to James Salins, sales director at leading in-game advertising network IGA Worldwide, which handles sales for games such as Football Superstars, Race Driver Grid, Guitar Hero World Tour and Track Mania Nations Forever.
He says: "We are only just putting all the right systems, measurement and accountability procedures in place. But autumn 2010 will be a turning point."
Static in-game advertising has been around since the mid-1990s - with brands such as Puma running product placement deals in football games, where Puma boots give players extra speed and power, and Red Bull cans appear as energisers in various platform games.
However, the recent arrival of online gaming - where consoles or PCs connected to the internet allow gamers to play each other or join so-called massively multiplayer online games, playing fantasy characters in Lord of the Rings-style quests such as World of Warcraft - has expanded commercial horizons.
Advertisers can now book dynamic in-game advertising: essentially billboard posters on race tracks, football stadia or virtual streets that can be changed in real time.
Salins explains: "We offer the same opportunities as outdoor. Brands can target demographically or regionally - down to TV region - and update creative work online to match real-world campaigns.
"We have had problems with measurement and accountability in the past, but this autumn, the US Internet Advertising Bureau has produced a worldwide standard for in-game measurement, which gives us a proper trading currency. There is now no difference between us and any other medium."
The IAB's agreement means that, as of November, all ad impressions of 10 seconds operate to agreed standards, so clients will know the angle and rate of impressions. Advertisers will be able to track impressions through to purchase, using in-game variants of online cookies, and a host of further innovations are on the way.
For example, last summer, Microsoft patented "advertars" - online characters generated by advertisers to talk up products in online games and virtual worlds. In return for listening to the pitches, players could be compensated with real-world currency or in-game items.
Meanwhile, software company Ubisoft has developed "heat maps" that highlight common places players go to while playing, allowing advertisers to place billboards in high-density areas for maximum exposure.
Chris James, European sales manager for Microsoft's sales house Massive, says: "We are about to start selling ads on game-loading screens. We know gamers' attention is incredibly focused on the screen as the game loads up, which means they are an attentive audience. This is a good time to hit young people in these days of personal video recorders, downloads and channel-hopping."
To demonstrate the industry's confidence, in November Microsoft hosted its second "upfronts" season - a reference to US TV's May junket where agencies preview the autumn's network programming.
Games giants Ubisoft, Activision and THQ demonstrated forthcoming titles to advertisers - although buyers were surprised to hear Ubisoft's sales director Jeffrey Dickstein offering product placement during torture sequences in Splinter Cell Conviction. He suggested: "As you're slamming a terrorist's face into a urinal, you might ask yourself: ‘Is this the new Degree deodorant I should buy?'"
James explains: "In-game advertising can have a sense of humour. Nivea had a product placement deal in the previous Splinter Cell game, where the famously rugged lead extolled the virtues of shaving and skin-care. The gaming audience is savvy enough to appreciate the right ad pitch in the right time and place."
Adam Smith, futures director at GroupM, is optimistic, declaring that games are "proven recession-beaters". He comments: "There are many ways in which advertising can help evolve business models for video games and we have only just begun to explore that potential. Given gaming is now a mainstream leisure interest, in-game deserves the same consideration as mobile and social media."
Although hard numbers on the present levels of in-game ad spend are difficult to measure, GroupM believes the medium's scalability, accountability, high levels of audience engagement and positive brand associations should push global revenue to $1bn by 2014.
Games have always offered a low-cost route to reach young males. Active male gamers in the UK play for an average of 10 hours per week, and their activity is highest between the ages of 10 and 19. In 2008, Barack Obama tried to reach this audience when he booked ads in online games such as Burnout Paradise during his election campaign, spending $44,500 on in-game, compared to $205m on TV.
However, the boys' toys image, as pursued by Obama, is starting to change. James Binns, publishing director at the UK's largest games magazine firm Future UK, says: "Games are now the same as the TV schedules.
"Twenty years ago, the only genre covered by gaming was action. Today, if you like soap operas, there are games like The Sims, where you build up families and have them act out their family dramas. If you like sport, there are F1 racing or football titles; if you watch music shows, you can play karaoke or guitar-player games."
According to Binns, new consoles such as the hand-held Nintendo DS and the Wii - a so-called seventh-generation console with a wireless controller that responds to players' hand movements - have opened the market still further.
The Wii was devised by Nintendo to expand the saturated games market and nearly six million have been sold in the UK since 2006, pitched as an aid to fitness and weight loss, with boxing, tennis, football and bowling games. Ten million DSs have been sold since its 2005 launch, largely on the back of puzzles and nurturing games.
Binns explains: "Pre-teen girls are playing teacher, fashion designer, ballet dancer or cheerleader games on the DS, and older people like the brain-challenge games. Nintendo is about to bring out the DSi XL, which is in burgundy and ivory and comes with a bigger screen and bigger pen to appeal to older gamers."
Women make up the largest group of gamers in the over-35 age group, according to GamesVision, and 70% of online game players. Even online fantasy games such as World of Warcraft - which allows players to join Lord of the Rings-style sword-and- sorcery adventures with other gamers from around the world - recruits more than 33% of its players from the fairer sex.
The latest research in the US shows the average age of a gamer is 35 and rising, while according to new research from industry analyst GameVision Compass, 40% of the UK population are gamers, and 60% of them are over 20. The industry hopes to use these figures to tempt more fashion and FMCG advertisers into gaming, which is currently dominated by entertainment, tech and telco firms.
It is wise to proceed with caution when attempting to hit this audience, as gamers' reactions to in-game advertising proves creative execution is key. Griffin McElroy, who writes for online games magazine Joystiq, decries Pizza Hut's product placement in online role-playing game Phantasy Star Portable 2. He complains: "It includes a pizza box shield and pizza peel sword, literal pizza huts and dolls of the company's Japanese mascot, Mr Cheese."
However, the Hut's presence in sword and sorcery epic Everquest receives high praise from Jean-Paul Edwards, director of futures at Manning Gottlieb OMD. He says: "Hardcore players are at that game 10 hours a day. There is a function in the US where you can buy a large pizza within the game and then, when the delivery boy is outside your real-life house, a knight arrives in the game carrying a pizza to let you know he's outside."
He adds: "Games are a huge opportunity. About a year ago, we booked FCUK into Need For Speed using static and dynamic ads as a trial, and the client liked the results so much we are on our fourth campaign." He admits, however, that he has a slight bias. "If I'm on the PlayStation, I tend to choose racing games. I'm not sure my wife entirely approves."
The six tribes of gamers
Wolves tend to be younger and very male, and they want things as real, exciting and full of action as possible. They also enjoy being a character.
Percentage of gaming audience: 36%
Perfect game: Modern Warfare 2
Scrappers are primarily male and cover all age ranges. They like a fight or direct head-to-head competition against friends and they enjoy testing their acquisition of reflexive skills.
Percentage of gaming audience: 13%
Perfect game: Fifa 10 or Dirt
Lone Rangers are also male, but tend to be older. They like to beat the game itself - principally by completing it unaided. They enjoy controlling their environment, but like to be stretched and appreciate innovation in gameplay.
Percentage of gaming audience: 15%
Perfect game: Assassin's Creed
Creators love planning, managing and building environments, particularly empires and/or households. Their game-playing is cerebral and not about finger speed. This group has a bias towards older, female players.
Percentage of gaming audience: 12%
Perfect game: The Sims
This Lifers span the age spectrum and are mainly girls. They have no wish to be transported to distant battlefields, but are content right here, right now with puzzles and social games played with other people.
Percentage of gaming audience: 16%
Perfect game: Anything on the Nintendo Wii, Sony's Singstar or from the Professor Leyton puzzle series
Snackers are another female segment, but are much older. They want games that are easy to pick up and have straightforward paths to completion. They use games as a diversion rather than as a primary hobby, and appreciate a real-world benefit to playing the game, such as learning a language or losing weight.
Percentage of gaming audience: 8%
Perfect game: Dr Kawashima's Brain Training
Source: GameVision Compass