As Electronic Arts (ERTS) prepared to market "Medal of Honor Warfighter," the latest version of its top-selling video game released in October, it created a website that promoted the manufacturers of the guns, knives and combat-style gear depicted in the game.
Among the video game giant's marketing partners on the website were the McMillan Group, the maker of a high-powered sniper's rifle, and Magpul, which sells high-capacity magazines and other accessories for assault-style weapons. Links on the "Medal of Honor" site allowed visitors to click through on the websites of the game's partners and peruse their catalogs of weapons available for purchase.
"It was almost like a virtual showroom for guns," said Ryan Smith, who contributes to the Gameological Society, an online gaming magazine.
After Smith and other gaming enthusiasts criticized the site, Electronic Arts disabled the links.
The video game industry was drawn into the national debate about gun violence last week when the National Rifle Association accused producers of violent games and movies of helping to incite the type of mass shooting that recently left 20 children and six adults dead in Newtown, Conn.
While studies have found no connection between video games and gun violence, the case of "Medal of Honor Warfighter" illustrates how the firearms and video game industries have quietly forged a mutually beneficial marketing relationship.
Makers of firearms and related gear have come to see video games as a way to promote their brands to millions of potential customers, marketing experts said. Magpul and Electronic Arts made a video posted on YouTube about their partnership.
"It is going to help brand perceptions," said Stacy Jones, the president of Hollywood Branded, a company that specializes in product placement in movies and television shows.
Assault-style rifles made by Bushmaster Firearms have a roster of credits that any actor would envy, including appearances in "Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2," a part of the popular Activision series. The gunman in the Connecticut killings, Adam Lanza, used a semiautomatic rifle made by Bushmaster, which is a unit of the Freedom Group.
The Freedom Group is owned by Cerberus Capital. After the Connecticut school shooting, Cerberus announced that it would seek a buyer for the Freedom Group.
Many players of shooting games like "Medal of Honor" and "Call of Duty" say they enjoy the simulated violence and the chance to virtually fire weapons even if they never touch a real gun. But along with some gaming fans, some firearms enthusiasts have become uncomfortable with the growing ties between video games and gun companies.