Screw Google! And stay out of my games!

ITwire.com reports that Google recently filed a patent for monitoring player character behaviors in MMORPGs to build user profiles which are then used to target in-game advertising to players.

I used to think that the people over at Google were pretty smart. Apparently, they are dumber than a noob begging for gold. Oh wait, we should show that guy advertisements for credit card offers.

One would think that Google staffers would at least run a quick search on what a MMORPG actually is. They are supposed to have the world’s most powerful search engine, right?

You know, I absolutely hate the idea of in-game advertising. Not only do I think it ruins the experience and the immersion, but even if it is contextualized and done well, I’m forced to think about their product instead of bashing orcs on the head with a holy mace.

Seriously though, profiling behaviors for advertising? Am I going to start seeing gun ads while I play counter-strike? The crazy anti-gaming freaks that blame violence and school-shootings on games are going to be all over this. Games as art? Not with advertising splattered all over the place. And what about guys that like to use female characters? Tampon ads? How about 16 year old teens running around with a beer-swilling dwarf? Alcohol ads? Will players that like Clerics and Paladins be seeing advertisements for local churches?

Google ads already adorn nearly every web page on the internet. Fine, whatever, I never read them anymore…but I sure as hell don’t want them in my games. Google go home.

One last thing…do you really want an organization as large as Google profiling your behavior? Isn’t that a bit much? What happened to privacy? Can they even legally do this with minors? Isn’t this the same thing as watching kids on the playground or monitoring your behavior at work?

“User dialogue (e.g., from role playing games, simulation games, etc) may be used to characterise the user (e.g., literate, profane, blunt or polite, quiet etc). Also, user play may be used to characterise the user (e.g., cautious, risk-taker, aggressive, non-confrontational, stealthy, honest, cooperative, uncooperative, etc).”

Think about THAT for a minute.

This is just a bad idea straight across the board. I’m disappointed in Google.

The thing that is *really* going to piss me off are the developers and publishers that buy into this little scheme of Googles and gives them access to their games. I’ll never buy another game from one of those companies…I don’t care how good the game looks or plays.

//scowl//

14 thoughts on “Screw Google! And stay out of my games!”

  1. “One would think that Google staffers would at least run a quick search on what a MMORPG actually is. They are supposed to have the world’s most powerful search engine, right?”

    It’s a particularly captive market of ten million addicts, women, and children.

    I don’t think it’s going to be as big a deal as you’re making it. It only takes one uncareful line in the EULA/ToS to spark off the “Google is spying on your kids” news report. Now that this is known, when MMO publishers start rewriting their agreements to safeguard liability, gamers would suspect Google. It won’t likely make or break a game, but it would affect subscriptions noticeably. Ad revenues might offset that somewhat, but someone in these companies should be smart enough to realise that selling out will make a much larger difference in future games they release…. or so we hope.

  2. Consider the idea of a MMO that is *completely* advertising supported (not that much of a stretch, AO comes close). A lot of game ideas that aren’t otherwise commercially feasible become possible.

    Google coming into the business of in-game advertising gives it a credibility that makes it more attractive to both MMO builders, and their potential investors (and, for that matter, potential advertisers).

    –Dave

  3. My point is that they are monitoring the behaviors of players based on their *character’s* actions, in addition to what they say. The point of a role-playing game is uh, well, Role Playing.

    I happen to like anime. I would be a good person to show anime based advertising to…but can you ascertain that from the actions of my dwarf cleric or elven ranger?

    And yes it certainly wont make a game and probably wont break one either, but any extra revenue this sort of stuff might generate is offset by the revenue it would lose from people not playing because of the ads.

  4. Point taken, but I would suspect it would have more to do with indicators such as language, hours/week, guild membership status, questing vs. grinding (as one of the aforementioned characterisations), and normal schedule against timezone than your DPS compared to the rest of the party (and reading the article now, as I should have before, confirms this).

    Side note: Remember the outrage at WoW’s ‘Warden’ system monitor? Google will be storing your *dialogue* for 24 months. That’s not gonna go over very well.

    In all likelihood, given the volatility of the game community over threats to their experience, this will end up being a portfolio patent. Heck, in light of the recent intentions of patent reforms it should stand a good chance of being rejected. Patenting the application of targeted ads to a resistant medium shaves obviousness pretty closely.

  5. Patenting doesn’t mean they’re going to implement it, just that they’ve thought of it and wish to block other innovation

    In the US, behavioural profiling is inevitable because you have no data protection laws. You already get targeted ads based on store cards and credit cards; this is just a next step.

    Finally, I think it would go down quite well in Second Life, which is already commercialised everywhere, and probably won’t be deployed in WoW. Even Blizzard aren’t that dumb, it would be an NGE-like massive error.

  6. To me, the problem with Google Ads is that I have never, and I do mean never, seen a link in a Google Ad box on a website that I actually wanted to click. Either they do a horrible job at associating links to sites, or the majority of the world clicks on stupid links…

    Nevermind, I understand now. :)

  7. I’m kinda curious how they’re actually gonna integrate the advertising in the game. It’s different to be running around in a CoX city, or docked at an EVE station than landing on some jungle outpost in WoW.

    I’d expect (or at least brace for) advertising on a billboard in-game inside a city or station, but I’d never expect it on the wild or some remote outpost. Where are they going to put it if there’s nowhere that makes sense?

    $10 says one of the bright ones in middle management is the first one to come up with the idea of putting inside quest text.

  8. Yeah it sounds like profiling algorithms they might sell to game companies, who can use it to target advertising, or just to learn more about their players for creating new content. Certainly watching and analyzing user behavior is better than listening to some whine on forums. It all depends on how it gets used. But of course it looks like they want to use it to target advertising, which is … ugh. Certainly all the quotes they mention are ridiculous.

    People don’t realize Google is not some nice hippy new-age company that cares, it’s more interested in finding everything out about you than Microsoft or even the NSA. For awhile I’ve been leery of them, from their bizarre Google News which humans intervene in and they filter out sites their managers don’t like, to their actions in China, to this.

  9. “it would have more to do with indicators such as language, hours/week, guild membership status, questing vs. grinding (as one of the aforementioned characterisations), and normal schedule against timezone than your DPS compared to the rest of the party”

    Right, but these are things your character is doing. Many of your choices and actions are going to be based on what you want to do with your character in a particular game world. Maybe you need to mine a lot in Eve to get some resources or you have a pirate problem…are those indicators of behavior or preference? Or are you merely reacting to the game’s content and situations?

    Even so, what does language, hours/week, guild membership status, etc. really mean? I’m failing to see what these indicators could be used to imply what kind of advertising I want or what products should be targeted at me.

    What if my character likes to repeatedly blow up or deface in-game advertising? What does that tell you Google?

    Anyway…any game that relies solely on in-game advertising is no longer a viable game in my opinion. It is simply a vehicle for advertising.

    The only way to do in-game advertising right is when it is done in a subtle and context sensitive manner, and that requires more time and resources by the developer to do. That decreases the viability.

  10. Google generally are smart, and I think is probably going a step smarter than you think. The most valuable information they could possibly get out a MMORPG is not whether your character is killing orcs versus killing rats, but your sense of values – how long you are prepared to work to gain a perceived reward, the value you place on status items versus functional items, the amount of time you spend socialising versus direct play (which could probably be measured in WoW, for instance, by your activity on global channels and the time that your character spends without significant movement in major cities). This sort of stuff is marketing gold and there’s really no better or cheaper way to obtain it.

    Plus, I don’t think the only way to do in-game advertising well has to be context sensitive. I’d LIKE it to be context sensitive, but that doesn’t mean that a game with, say, a scrolling ad banner at the bottom of the screen wouldn’t be fun and wouldn’t have players, especially if the ads allowed it to be cheap or free. There is unfortunately a large gap between the perfect world and the profitable world.

  11. Jason said

    “To me, the problem with Google Ads is that I have never, and I do mean never, seen a link in a Google Ad box on a website that I actually wanted to click.”

    Interestingly, I often do. Google Ads based on the actual website content doesn’t seem to be that accurate, though that might be a function of the sites I spend time on — when gold selling site ads are blocked, the ads on, say, EQ Trader aren’t going to tie to MMOs much. I’ve noticed however, that when I started using Google Mail, the Google Ads I saw were suddenly much more closely tied to things I’ve searched on rather then the website I’m currently on, making those ads suddenly much more relevant to me personally. I can’t say I consider that a total positive, since it ably demonstrates how much data they are storing about individual users of course.

  12. I doubt that they would implement ads in MMOs where subscribers pay a monthly fee to play. But I can totally see it happening in games like Second Life and even Guild Wars. What’s scary is the thought that they might change the MMO subscription model once it catches on and stop charging the monthly fee in exchange for trying to sell us stuff ingame.

    And yes, I’ve seen quite a few ads (on websites) that are relevant to the content I’m reading and have clicked quite a few.

  13. Not a chance. Hours per month per capita cannot be high enough to cover what they’re getting from subscriptions, not to mention that the ads would be seen by most as a distraction to be ignored. The rest of the party waiting to get up and hit the instance will be damn pissed if Billy the Mage decides he wants to do a price comparison and order a new gadget before he heads out. I would drop the guy and find someone else.

    Also, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to do non-targeted ads, so they can be used as reference and come up more often?
    “Where’s my trainer?”
    “Turn right at the McDonald’s billboard. It’s the second house on the left.”

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