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Popular pretend-life game The Sims is now selling $20 add-on packs of virtual IKEA furniture to decorate their virtual houses. Advertising like this in video games seems, on its face, to be a win-win business proposition; companies get captive, slack-jawed audience for their virtual ads and products, and game developers get a new revenue stream where none existed before. The only problem: nobody really knows whether these types of ads work. Oh, and the other problem: The entire concept is incredibly sad.

To a large extent, video game ads are a reaction by companies to the disintegration of traditional forms like the 30-second TV ad. Companies are scrambling to find anywhere to advertise that can reach the short-attention-span consumers of today. If you people are going to turn off the TV and gaze at a video game instead, fine; they'll just put their ads on there. Effective? Who knows. The entire market is only worth around $300 million, so it's still just a speck in the overall advertising picture.

Then, the sad part; the anomie of modern life that causes people to pay $20 to buy imaginary IKEA brand furniture for their imaginary crib, which is doubtless far nicer than their real one. I stole the phrase "anomie of modern life" from somewhere, but it reflects this situation well. Didn't people used to take drugs for this?

Steve Seabolt, vice president for global brand development for The Sims, said Electronic Arts was pursuing similar arrangements with other companies. He declined to say which one might be next, but named as potential partners consumer electronics companies, like Philips, Electrolux and Sony, as well as brands like Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Borders books.

The Sims 3 is set to be released next year, with new features like a town center that has plenty of virtual storefronts (read: opportunities for advertising).