I know that most hardcore gamers react very negatively to in-game advertising. I can see the problem of advertising seeping into ever more facets of our lives, so I can’t say that the critics are wrong, per se, but additional income is sorely needed to fund next-gen games. (Or so they say.)
It looks like the publishers want to do this right. Was anybody ever bothered by the ads in sports and car games, where they’re placed on billboards, like in the real world they emulate? Probably not. The only thing that bothers me about the ads in, say, Burnout 3, was that they’re static and look dated very quickly – apart from the Axe ads perhaps, which are timeless in a sad sort of way.
When advertising came into Anarchy Online, we could see what could go wrong. The first ad was an animated billboard for Alienware gaming PCs, which was absolutely spot on for the context. The next ad, for MÃ¶tley Crue’s new album, was not integrated to the game world and thus it stuck out. I can imagine there being a MÃ¶tley Crue in the far future of the game world, but I have trouble with the “out now” slogans; stuff which breaks my suspension of disbelief and connects me with the day to day real life.
In sports and car titles, I actually like the presence of real-world brands. It brings an air of authenticity, as long as there’s a believably large number of brands present. Need For Speed Underground gained lots of atmosphere due to every tuning part being a licenced product. Not just any neon, Streetglow neon!
If I’m going to be affected by advertising anyway, I’d like that advertising to be really targeted at me and those influences to come from stuff I actually like (games), instead of the mass market bombardment. Every banner I’ve ever clicked on has been on a fringe or community site, heavily targeted at that site’s audience. Penny Arcade has stated that they only display ads on products they feel they want to endorse, which lends them immense weight – the stuff feels like genuine recommendations, not just blind advertising. The guys have even drawn many of the ads themselves to better integrate them into the PA experience.
I trust that the videogame publishers know they need to treat their end-user relationship delicately and that they’ll handle their advertisers as carefully crafted partnerships.
There are some larger issues at hand, though. If in-game advertising becomes as big as I think it might, what about games which cannot incorporate real-world advertising in a natural manner?
How do you go about putting real-world brands into World Of Warcraft? Some have speculated about sponsor messages in loading screens, menu screens and the like, but I’m afraid that they would still detract from the user’s enjoyment of the fantasy theme.
If in-game advertising becomes a commonplace, substantial part of a game’s budget, what happens to games which can’t benefit from it? Or are we destined to have fantasy worlds swamped by branding, drinking our mead at a fantasy-themed Starbucks and using Snap-On tools to fix our equipment?