In-Game Advertising

Good grief. In-game advertising sounds like such a wonderful idea…extra revenues, targeted advertising, dynamic ads, etc. etc. Everybody wins with in-game advertising except for the players.

One of the cardinal rules of game design is to “maintain suspension of disbelief”. What the hell is that you ask? When you watch a movie and you see the ropes holding the superhero as he does his spiffy martial-arts moves, or when an egg spontaneously explodes to destroy all of the aliens, or if Rambo takes out a battallion of tanks with his knife and manages to avoid all of the bullets…well you are likely to say “what the hell, that doesn’t make sense”.

The job of filmmakers (and game designers) is to pull you into their story and immerse you into the environment. You willingly suspend your disbelief of what you are watching and experiencing. When you see something that is out of place, or kicks you in the head to remind you of the real world, your sense of disbelief is no longer suspended and the filmmakers/designers have failed.

In some games, particularly racing games, or worlds set in the current day, you would expect to see advertisements for Coke and Nike, or maybe even T*Mobile and Ford. This is expected and actually enhances the sense of immersion.

But in other games, these ads are grossly out of place. Anarchy Online is a good example…why would billboards on some other planet 30,000+ years in the future have an ad for Reebok or the next James Bond movie? It makes no sense, and ruins the sense of immersion in the game. This is one of the things that really pisses me off, and reaffirms my opinion that most MMO developers and publishers really dont know what the hell they are doing. I’ll save that for another rant.

Anyway, Massive recently announced that they would be serving ads in the new MMO Auto Assault. Dumb dumb dumb dumb. It makes no sense, it doesn’t fit within the world mythos, and is entirely out of place.

If you are determined to have ads in games, then stick them at the login screen, or show them during the brief time when players zone from one area to another. Just keep the ads out of the game itself. There are plenty of other areas to advertise to the same people (and likely achieve a better eyeball stickiness).

Intrusive ads suck. It is bad enough I have to see them every few minutes on TV. I play games to escape the real world and to entertain myself. I don’t want to see them in-game unless Im playing Nascar or FIFA.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “In-Game Advertising”

  1. Advertising fits in AA better than in most games. Their backstory is at least “modern world +a few decades,” rather than “ancient magical kingdom” or “distant star cluster in the far future.”

    What I object to is the possibility that we could be paying a subscription AND getting hit in the face with ads. I don’t object to ads in principle. People have to make their money, and I fully support AO’s free, ad-subsidized subscription option.

  2. AO did it the right way though. It lets them offer a free game for those that want a free MMO to play. Thats a win win situation for everyone involved.

  3. I’m not saying that ad supported games are wrong or bad…quite the contrary, I don’t have a problem with it. What I DO have a problem with, is how they are implemented, and where. “+ a few decades” is an important thing to note here…an ad for a new movie would be entirely out of place. Even ads for current day products would be abnormal, unless of course they were parodied or modified a bit to be as they might possibly be in the future.

    I also agree that advertising and subscriptions shouldn’t mix. That isn’t to say that there should be one or the other, but we are all used to paying a subscription to a website in exchange for getting ad free content.

    Who wants to see ads for Bud Light in D&D Online?

  4. Who wants to see ads for Bud Light in D&D Online?

    Indeed, they really need to consider Mountain Dew instead.

  5. I never realized AO had modern day ads like Reebok or James Bond movies. From my (very) limited gameplay experience, I have seen very tasteful ads for their expansion packs and monthly subscription-based in-game worlds and features.

    I thought this was implemented very well and I actually enjoyed it. I really felt that my character was reading the billboard and was being drawn in and _wanted_ to explore new worlds and “get away from it all” and dammit, I so wanted to buy the expansion pack and go on a monthly after that…. Kudos to Funcom for that, but if they’ve gone ahead and sold themselves to Coca-Cola or Viagra, then boo hoo….that sucks.

    As far as in-game ads for AA? That’s mental…this is a post-apocolyptic “Mad Max” world of destruction and chaos – I’m pretty sure functional billboards wouldn’t be on the priority list for the powers that be (unless the planet is owned by Coca-Cola or Disney….like ours is…and they really have a hankering for some scrap plastic bottles and broken ipods – hmm…that kinda does look like a Coke bottle doesn’t it?)

    I like Mountain Dew too.

  6. AA could be a great place for ads. Take your current billboard, make it look like it has been there for 30 years. If sufficiently aged, it could fit in. The real point, though, is that I recall players’ being able to interact with their environment more in AA. If you can destroy that billboard, now we are talking. Want to show your hate for Disney? Shoot Mickey up a bit. Use your blades to carve a vegan message into Burget King? Why not? And the advertiser knows that people must actively interact with their ads to do this sort of thing. A team of people went after your billboard for five minutes in an effort to blow it up, putting it front and center on their screens. It will respawn in the near future.

    How much would you pay for product placement in Molten Core?

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  8. The previous post makes a point I think.

    Prevent Warrior Balding! Is your Barbarian suffering hair loss? Does the cleric in your group make fun of you? Do you have a hard time picking up elven chicks? Then you need our Druid special “Bear Hair for Bare Men”.

    Sure, that’s funny, and would be perfectly fine in almost any fantasy MMORPG…but how about an ad for Calgon (lol) or some feminin hygiene product blasted across the doors of the “evil castle”(tm) or emblazoned on your shield? Yeah, I realize that most in-game ads now are the billboard type, but as long as gamers and developers allow that, advertising in our games will get more pervasive and intrusive.

    Even if they are “targeted” its still going to suck.

    If you still don’t think this is a bad idea…then imagine playing quake or myst with in-game ads, or maybe watching star wars and seeing ads on the backs of all of the stormtroopers. That’s what we are in for.

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