Nissan provided a look at its longstanding history with video games, going back to the earliest examples of a driving video game that came in 1976 through a partnership with Bally Manufacturing.
Under the subsidiary Midway, the company released “Datsun 280 ZZZAP,” an arcade game that provided an entirely new experience to gamers: It featured a gear shifter, gas pedal, and steering wheel to replicate driving the 280Z.
As part of the joint venture with Bally, Datsun created a 280Z ZZZAP Edition sports car, with only 1,000 units produced. All vehicles were finished in stunning Sunburst Yellow paint and included a unique graphics package with side, roof, hood, and deck stripes, as well as rear window louvers and unique mirrors.
Gran Turismo Debuts, Features Nissan Vehicles
Twenty-one years after ZZZAP was released, the personal gaming revolution was well underway, and “Gran Turismo” debuted for the original Sony PlayStation in 1997. It has gone on to sell over 90 million units worldwide as of November 2022.
The original “Gran Turismo” featured Nissan vehicles, including a Skyline GT-R, which was also included on the cover art. Since then, the relationship has only grown, and the “Gran Turismo” series features more Nissan vehicles than those of any other manufacturer.
“It just ignited interest in Nissan, Datsun and our racing heritage overall,” said Mike Disser, manager, Social Media at Nissan.
Nissan, Sony Launch ‘GT Academy’
In 2008, Nissan and Sony Interactive Entertainment launched “GT Academy,” which invited the best Gran Turismo gamers to compete at the world’s top racetracks. A reality TV show was also produced and aired on Speed and Spike Channels.
Disser, who was heavily involved in “GT Academy” as then-manager of Lifestyle and Sponsorship Marketing, said 75,000 people registered to participate the first year – a number that exploded to roughly 400,000 the second year.
“Watching these gamers go from couches and gaming chairs to behind the seats of real cars – it was fascinating,” Disser said.
According to Nissan, “GT Academy” launched the careers of several professional drivers, including Lucas Ordóñez, Bryan Heitkotter, and Jann Mardenborough.
Jeffrey Kowalczyk, executive director, Entertainment and Alliances at the advertising agency TBWA\Nissan United, said “GT Academy” is an example of what can happen when two seemingly disparate organizations make a bold move together.
“It had never been done before,” said Kowalczyk, who was an integral part of the “GT Academy” team. “But when you marry the technology of Nissan with that of Sony and ‘Gran Turismo’, it was lightning in a bottle.”
Mardenborough Races GT-R, Nissan-Sony Partnership Leads to Film
In 2017, Mardenborough raced a GT-R around Silverstone’s famed National Circuit using a PlayStation DualShock 4 controller. The car reached speeds above 130 mph.
Hollywood also took notice of the Nissan-Sony partnership.
In 2023, Sony Pictures released “Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story” in theaters worldwide, with Mardenborough as the main character in the storyline. The film is based on the true story of a team of a struggling working-class gamer (Archie Madekwe), a failed former racecar driver (David Harbour), and an idealistic motorsport executive (Orlando Bloom).
“The movie truly captured the essence of the GT Academy program,” Disser said.
Nissan Enters the esports World
In 2019, Nissan continued to expand its video game ventures. It officially entered the world of esports by being the first automaker to partner with FaZe Clan and OpTic Gaming, two international esports teams.
In 2021, Nissan worked with Bandai Namco Group – the company behind Pac-Man and other arcade games – to develop in-car sounds for several new models, including the 2021 Nissan Rogue and Pathfinder.
The purpose of the partnership was to enhance the SUVs’ personality and character, and to communicate important information without distracting the user – just like sounds do in the best video games.