British intelligence agencies are to offer video gamers hooked on espionage-inspired adventures the chance to live out their fantasies.
Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the surveillance arm of the intelligence services, will this month become the first spy agency to embed adverts for new recruits inside computer games.
The advertisements will appear as billboards in the fictional landscapes of games including Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent. They will not be written into the games themselves but will be fed into games when they are played on personal computers and Microsoft Xbox 360 consoles that are connected to the internet.
A spokesperson for GCHQ described the potential recruits that it wanted to reach as “computer-savvy, technologically able, quick thinking.
“We find increasingly we have to use less conventional means of attracting people . . . to go beyond glossy brochures and milk-round stalls.”
Industry figures suggest that the adverts will reach a mostly male audience, aged from 8 to 34. GCHQ hopes to “plant the idea in the heads of younger players” of pursuing a career in the secret services.
“We will monitor the results from this campaign and are ready to change our recruitment methods,” the spokeswoman said. “We know we can’t stand still.”
The move into video games demonstrates how the intelligence agencies have moved away from old-boy networks. This summer MI5 advertised for staff on the sides of London buses.
But adrenaline-addicted video games junkies should beware. GCHQ, which works in signal intelligence (hi-tech eavesdropping) and information assurance (protecting government information from hackers and other threats), is concentrating on recruiting software experts. Most will work from the agency’s main listening post, in Cheltenham, and will be nowhere near any James Bond-style exploits.
GCHQ was consulted on where its adverts would appear but the main decisions were made by its advertising agency, TMP Worldwide. Kate Clemens, head of GCHQ’s digital strategy at TMP, said: Online gaming allows GCHQ to target a captive audience . . . Gamers are loyal and receptive to innovative forms of advertising.”
GCHQ was characteristically reticent on the cost of the one-month campaign, but industry sources suggested it was comparable to that of a large recruitment advert in a Sunday broadsheet, which can run into the low tens of thousands of pounds.