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The role/future of advertising in games.

August 9th, 2010 by

This first post is about a question I’ve been thinking about recently and one that I feel might not have a definitive answer. What role does advertisement have in gaming? A few weeks ago I was playing a game and during one of the loading scenes there was an advertisement for facebook. Now initially it didn’t bother me; probably because I like and use facebook. But it did get me thinking. What if it had been something else? Would I have felt the same way? I think I would have been a bit put off had it been an ad for something like Burger King or a promo for Despicable Me. OK… maybe not that last one (awesome movie!) lol. This is something a lot of people are passionate about on both sides, and the difficult thing is that both sides seem to have fair points.

Anyone else suddenly thirsty? Weird……

Developer$ agree! It’$ all about the game$!

With games now costing between 20-30 million to develop on major gaming systems like the PS3 and Xbox 360, in-game ads can significantly reduce the risk to the developer and as this cost rises with the next generation of consoles, in-game advertising is likely to become a necessity. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all when I play a game like Gran Turizmo 5 or Forza 3, seeing the advertisements for Brembo or Bridgestone seems natural and adds to the realism of the game. Would it feel the same if your Bugatti had Tono Tires rather than Toyo? But can it be taken to far?. What if in a future big IP title for a next gen system, the production price was so high that, like with most movies today, outside brands held a significant sway, and they subtly put a brand’s logo in the corner of an in-game menu like the pause screen, or have an ad in the loading screen. Would you still buy your favorite game if you had to see an advertisement every ten or fifteen minutes? What if you had to put up with an ad running on the bottom of the screen during cut scenes? Or a scrolling ticker in the start screen, similar to the start screen of halo wars, except instead of tips, its\’s an advertisement? It may seem unlikely now, but like any tv series that becomes popular, the show tme quickly gets smaller and smaller as more advertisers push to get their commercials shown while it’s airing, until eventually it seems what you originally liked about the show is outweighed by the constant irritation of ads.

"Too much?" "Nah, they'll barely notice!"

With games like Modern Warfare 2 selling over 7 million copies on day one, you can bet advertisers will push to get their products involved.

The other side to this of course is that because your paying for the game, you don’t want advertisements like this interrupting the experience. This fact is demonstrated every day by freeware games that offer ad-free versions for a small price, which many gladly pay. So when your expected to pay up to $60 for a game, shouldn’t that entitle you to an ad-free experience? I mean after all, if your forced to pay for a game, you shouldn’t have to pay for something you don’t want right? But that’s exactly what people do every day when they watch television? You pay for it and you still see commercials; hundreds of them every day. Some developers look at this and argue that its only a natural evolution of the industry that as it gets bigger, this would happen with games as well. Some would even say that it’s necessary for the game industry to continue growing. But many argue that with television, you aren’t paying for a specific channel but rather the service of cable, making the channels free, and the commercials tolerable, and it’s if you had to pay for a specific channel that you would be unwilling to tolerate sitting through the commercials. And indeed for some payperview channels or shows, there are no commercials because what you pay covers what they would make from advertisers. That is why many gamers argue that by charging such steep prices, developers have no right to make them pay for content they don’t want like in-game ads. But this begs the question, if developers offered cheaper versions of their games that were exactly the same but included ads, would you buy it?

My view is that for the most part, in game ads are relatively harmless and generally don’t have an adverse effect on the experience. As a gamer I have no problem with seeing a Pepsi vending machine or a billboard advertising an up-coming TV show as I play through the world.  Between school, studying and my social life, I rarely get time to browse the marketplace when I get online, so I’m grateful to see ads for the latest Xbox-Live Arcade games like Deathspank when I sign in.  And when I play a great game by a developer I haven’t heard of, I wouldn’t mind seeing an ad for their upcoming title in a loading screen.   In fact there is a great potential for advertising to enhance the experience of a game, by making the environment seem more relatable or realistic.

Go Sony!

So really, advertising can be awesome!

What if in something like World of Warcraft, you could have a variation of pizza-hut, that was actually sponsored by Pizza Hut? It would be modeled after the style of WoW in its design and naming, but on top of buying an in game item, you could place an actual order to your local pizza hut using the credit card assigned to your WoW account? Now instead of having to leave your game, you can stay immersed in it while you order dinner in real life.

Best burgers in Azeroth!

Advertising can also be used as a way of expression. On Xbox live where your avatar is an expression of who you are and what you like, they are often walking advertisements.  From an obi-wan costume, to a Journeyman’s Hat from Fable 2, the clothing and accessories available for your avatar all have the dual purpose of letting you express yourself while potentially peaking a gamers interest in these products in a non-intrusive way.

It’s when developers begin to ignore gamers for money that I think in-game advertising gets out of hand. If I’m paying for a game, I don’t want to be forced to view an ad every time a game has to load, especially if it has nothing to do with gaming. And if I had to go through that while playing a game, I’d be so upset at whatever company the ads were for, there’s a good chance I might just boycott them on principle! The scary part is some major companies are already doing exactly that… sort of. In games like Red Dead Redemption, Halo 3, and other popular IP‘s, its common to see messages in the loading screens. These are often game tips, or subtle ads for the company who created the game and are meant to provide you with a distraction while the game loads. So it would be extremely easy in the future, with gamers already used to seeing this, to replace them with actual advertisements for other companies.

This game is brought to you by....

I don’t think marketing will ever be as prevalent in gaming as in television, because unlike television, people have gotten used to their games advertising being largely subtle, and I don’t see gamers allowing that to change. In the end as long as in-game advertising stays subliminal to the point that you can choose to ignore it, I don’t think there will be any issues. It’s when it becomes apparent, when you are taken out of the game experience and forced to view something that, at that moment you have no interest in, that I see problems developing

But the reality is that, with games providing companies an almost guaranteed way of getting consumers to see their products, advertisement in games is almost certainly going to get stronger as the industry grows, and I believe that ultimately, it will be the gaming community that determines how big of a part it plays. So I want to know what other gamers think about this issue. How far are you willing to tolerate advertising in games? Should paying for a game guarantee an ad-free experience or does the developer still have the right to protect themselves against a production cost that might otherwise bankrupt them? In a future where downloadable content is becoming a staple of any great game, would you prefer it be free with ad’s or would you rather pay for it to keep it ad-free? Would you buy an ad-filled version of a game if it meant you could save fifteen or twenty dollars? more? How much would you have to save to buy an ad-filled version of Halo: Reach or Gears of War 3? Or is it even an issue? Let me know what you think! And if there is any aspect of this topic I didn’t cover and you would like to discuss, please let me know!

This Community Content article was created by Enzo, a member of our community. Community Content is your way of getting long-form writing and opinion out to the Midlife Gamer audience, an open platform to get something off your chest. For full guidelines on our editorial standards and how to create your own post, click here. The views expressed within are those of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the Midlife Gamer Staff.

One Response to “The role/future of advertising in games.”
  1. avatar David Murphy says:

    It’s something that wouldn’t bother me too much so long as the developers didn’t crowbar advertising into the story and all the advertising was relevant to the gameplay.

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