Real news from the virtual world:
— HAMMER TIME: Four years after its launch, Blizzard Entertainment's "World of Warcraft" continues to dominate the field of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (known by the acronym MMORPG).
It's not for lack of competition; dozens of companies have tried to peel off some of the 10 million "WoW" subscribers, only to be stymied by technical problems, lack of polish and player attrition.
Funcom's "Age of Conan," for example, got off to a fast start earlier this year, only to be derailed by those problems.
The latest challenger is determined to avoid such issues. "Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning," the sword-and-sorcery fantasy developed by Mythic Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts, has already attracted 750,000 subscribers since its September debut.
But Mythic co-founder Mark Jacobs said: "The launch is just the beginning. Even the first year is only a step."
"No MMORPG is ever ready to go out," Jacobs said. "These games are so complicated, you can never get it 100 percent right."
For a new online game to succeed, he said, players have to be "able to do everything it says on the box."
"Warhammer" executive producer Jeff Hickman said the goal is to "keep the momentum going," especially with the busy holiday season and a much-anticipated "WoW" expansion coming up.
"We stay on top of what's going on, and we're going to keep expanding," Hickman said. "We care about what the players are saying. Our first two patches were about making players happy — within reason."
Creative director Paul Barnett said "Warhammer" is more than a computer game, it's a hobby.
"And at 50 cents a day," he added, "it's the most cost-effective hobby in the digital age."
— VIRTUAL OBAMA: Most of us have gotten used to ads in video games, particularly in sports games, where they provide a dose of realism. It makes sense that you'd see a Ford billboard in "Need for Speed," or a Puma poster in "NBA Live."
But wait: What's Barack Obama doing in "Burnout Paradise"?
If your Xbox 360 is connected to the Internet, you may see ads for Obama in some 18 games, including "Madden NFL 09."
The Obama campaign is targeting gamers in 10 states that allow early voting; the ads promote a Web site, VoteforChange.com, that explains the process.
"It reaches an audience that is typically hard to reach — young males, roughly 18 to 34," said Holly Rockwood, a spokeswoman for Electronic Arts, publisher of all the above. "That's very appealing to our advertisers."
There's no indication that Republican John McCain's campaign will mount a similar strategy.
— FEAR OF MUSIC: The most intriguing PlayStation 3 game of the year is Sony's "LittleBigPlanet." Unfortunately, it got a little too intriguing when an early reviewer discovered a few quotes from the Quran embedded in a musical track.
Sony recalled all copies of the game, which was due to go on sale this week.
"We have taken immediate action to rectify this and we sincerely apologize for any offense that this may have caused," said corporate communications director Patrick Seybold. Revised "LittleBigPlanet" discs should go out next week.
— NEW IN STORES: Microsoft's "Fable II," the long-awaited epic from "Black & White" mastermind Peter Molyneux, arrives on the Xbox 360. ... Ubisoft's exotic first-person shooter series goes to Africa in "Far Cry 2" (for the 360, PlayStation 3). Rockstar revs up two new chapters of its "Midnight Club" street racer: "Los Angeles" (360, PS3) and "L.A. Remix" (PlayStation Portable). ... Nintendo invites you to create your own orchestra with "Wii Music." ... Marvel's friendly neighborhood web-slinger embarks on a new adventure in "Spider-Man: Web of Shadows" (Activision, most systems). ... Dracula's back in Konami's "Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia" (DS). ... Majesco takes a fresh approach to the classic dungeon crawl in "Away: Shuffle Dungeon" (DS). ... Disney delivers a batch of new delights for the kids, including "Think Fast" (Wii), "Sing It" (360, PS3, PS2), "High School Musical 3: Senior Year Dance!" (360, Wii, PS3, PS2) and — for those of you who are bored with "Madden NFL 09" — "Disney Fairies: Tinker Bell" (DS).