I understand "X is in the game", but without a definite subject this phrase becomes meaningless to me. It's been used by EA Sports and other companies to advertise they have something special about their games but this lack of specification of what's special about it troubles me.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is trying to read meaning into an advertising slogan. – Chenmunka Jun 17 '15 at 13:16
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    You say "without a subject". Could you explain why you don't feel "it" counts as a subject? – Dan Getz Jun 17 '15 at 14:28
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    @DanGetz well spotted, I rephrase it to "definite subject" – Jader Dias Jun 17 '15 at 17:52
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    Are you absolutely sure it wasn't "it can be put into the game as DLC"? That'd make more sense. – Alec Teal Jun 17 '15 at 23:39
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    I was also bothered by this obscure slogan ~20 years ago when I first heard it. Please leave the question open, @Chenmunka. Also, Jader, you might want to re-evaluate the accepted answer. – Dan Dascalescu Jun 18 '15 at 2:58

Literally, to be in the game in such contexts means to be playing a [competitive] game, with the implication that you're a contender for winning (compare you've got to be in it to win it).

Advertising slogans don't necessarily need to follow standard idiomatic usages, and we don't have any specific examples to consider anyway. But in normal speech the only variation you're ever likely to encounter is something along the lines of...

Manchester United were 2-1 down at half-time, but they've switched to a more attacking play now, and they're definitely still in the game.

...where it simply implies United still have a chance of winning.

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    The other answer is the correct one. This answer is unfortunately a guess. – Dan Dascalescu Jun 18 '15 at 2:59
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    Actually, this answer is a valid meaning of the phrase, rather than a guess: it just happens to completely miss (probably through lack of awarenes) the context of the question. – GreenAsJade Jun 18 '15 at 6:24
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    It would be a curiously modest advertising claim. "EA Sports: we might not lose!", "EA Sports: PES is not irretrievably ahead of us!" – Steve Jessop Jun 18 '15 at 10:38
  • @Dan: As my second paragraph points out, it's not necessarily meaningful to ask what the words in advertising slogans "mean". StoneyB's answer correctly explains how the specific EA Sports usage came about (everything in the real sport/game is also in the virtual/video game), but effectively that's just a cultural/historical reference. Native speakers will only "understand" the highlighted elements that way if they happen to know the original slogan - it doesn't represent a usage that's meaningful to anyone else, or in any other context apart from EA Sports or allusions to them. – FumbleFingers Jun 22 '15 at 12:23

The original version of the slogan was "If it's in the game, it's in the game", meaning that EA's sports-based video games captured everything interesting about the sports they represented.

Eventually the slogan became so familiar to gamers interested in games of this sort that EA truncated it to just the consequence clause.

muru asks for a source.

Here's the website of Jeff Odiorne, who with with Michael Wilde developed the original campaign at Goldberg Moser O'Neill and Riney. A brief video about it is at the bottom of the page.

Here's a story from Ad Age about Odiorne and Wilde's work after they left Goldberg and started Odiorne Wilde Narraway Groome with EA as their principal client. It includes this:

Goldberg won the account in August, just in time for Odiorne and Wilde to create a campaign to launch the EA Sports line for the Christmas season. The two came up with the position of authenticity that was based on not only a knowledge of sports but a passion as well. Their tag, "If it's in the game, it's in the game," was deceptively obvious, [Doug ]Transeth [VP-sports marketing at EA] adds. "It was so simple," he says, "it scared us." [my emphasis]

And here's a record of the trademark history, drawn from the US Patent and Trademark Office.

And just for lagniappe, to demonstrate what Odiorne and Wilde were after, here's an example of a fan praising the attention to detail in a recent edition of Madden.

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    Yeah, actually this should be the correct answer. – Dave Kanter Jun 17 '15 at 21:17
  • It reminded me of "It's all in the game" used extensively in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wire , to mean "its an inevitable part of the drug trafficking activities". – Ciro Santilli 新疆再教育营六四事件法轮功郝海东 Jun 18 '15 at 10:13
  • Is there a source for this? – muru Jun 18 '15 at 23:00
  • @muru will my addition meet the case? – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 19 '15 at 0:36
  • I would remove 'interesting' from your first sentence. The point of the slogan is that everything in the real game is also in the video game - not just the interesting stuff. Also chiming in with 'this is the correct answer'. – mcalex Jun 19 '15 at 4:38

The idea is that whatever you might ask for or expect, It's In The Game.

There is a general idiom, in advertising, of a slogan answering a question the audience might be expected to ask. From that, we get some slogans that answer multiple possible questions, cf. Prego, "It's in there!"

Some of these start out in a longer form, like "If it's in the game, it's in the game" or "Homemade Taste: It's in there" but over time change to the pithier version.

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