The Idea of In-Game Advertising

Right, so I took time to tune in to Activision’s earnings call yesterday afternoon, and I’ll get around to that tomorrow. I was cooking dinner, my wife was talking to me, and my academic advisor called, so I missed pretty much the entire last half of the presentation.

They did mention one thing, though, that struck me as absolutely horrifying – In-game advertising. Now, I realize that King, and it’s well-known Candy Crush, are part of their business. Likewise, the entire industry is making moves in that market right now and I can’t blame them. In-game advertising is pretty much par for the course. Like radio, TV,  YouTube, and even webpage banner ads we’ve grown accustomed to it. It’s just “how it is.”

When I think of Activision though, I don’t think of Candy Crush or mobile games. I think of WoW and Diablo, and eventually might remember that CoD exists too. The idea of these games with in-game advertising conjures horrifying images like something straight out of Ready Player One. Of course, that’s a movie and only reflects reality in the same way a contoured mirror would, by minimizing some aspects and making others larger than life.

Of course, evidence indicates that we would, for the most part, acclimate to it eventually. The only real major problem I see is that it would break immersion. In this case, we’re not even talking about MMO immersion, but any immersion. Imagine you’re running around saving the world, but up in the corner, you see that Jimmy Johns would really like it if you could come buy a sandwich.

Watch this video to unlock your daily login reward!

It’s creepy, and while I don’t presume I speak for everyone, I don’t want it. Obviously, the next logical step would be to remove mod and/or custom UI support because the first thing that would happen is people making ad-blockers for games.

Still, that money goes to the companies that develop and publish our games. Like it or not, they have a certain duty to their shareholders. At least the publicly traded ones do. It ultimately boils down to what each individual is going to be willing to tolerate. For many many years, I really disliked MMO subscriptions and didn’t play games that had one. When I finally decided to give FFXIV a try and saw what a subscription game can be, I relaxed that idea a little bit. Then I relaxed my stance on the slightly more “p2w” concepts currently used for free to play or buy to play games. After all, if I’m willing to tolerate a sub to enjoy a game, maybe I would enjoy some of these other games if I spent a roughly equivalent amount of money per month.

I’m off track though, and I’ve got other stuff to get done. Y’all take care, and remember, advertisers are always watching, recording, and projecting. You can search for a product in the morning and get served related ads a couple of hours later.

5 thoughts on “The Idea of In-Game Advertising

  1. In my eyes it depends on how it’s done. The perfect example on “properly done” is Anarchy Online. Being a SF MMO, it has bulletin boards all over the place in any city, etc. the game has a bunch of in-game advertisements, but also shows paid advertisements there.

    If you subscribe, you have the option to switch off paid advertisements, but being integrated in the world like that, many people didn’t even bother for that.

    Of course, the same in any fantasy world would be painfully jarring. And of course, there’s the risk that publishers decide to clutter the games UI with advertisements, instead of integrating it into the game. So yes, there’s the risk of publishers messing this up badly. At some time i was optimistic that customers would refuse to go for those games and thus their behaviour would put a stop to such things. By now, my optimism has faded. I’ve seen too many people accept many things, where i’d have expected the game to bomb due to how badly they viewed and treated their customers. But people still dropped their money on it.

    So unfortunately yes, as long as a publisher combines the first installation of something like this with an otherwise blockbuster game, it’s very likely to be accepted by enough people to get it established. 😦

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  2. I agree with what Sylow said. Another example of advertising that could be done right is Street Fighter V. At first they tried to make it so that the advertisement would be on the fighters outfits. It was optional but people complained about it. Then Capcom said they would take that feedback and make adjustments.

    Now the advertisements are in loading screens between matches. They appear like they were normal artwork with the fighters in contexts that make sense for it. It is still obviously advertising but doesn’t feel that jarring. If if is done that way I am okay with it. For me it isn’t any more immersion breaking then a normal loading screen would already breaking it.

    I am also pretty pessimistic about the acceptance of people towards things like this however. For instance, when Everquest 2 introduced a Cash Shop I didn’t like it one bit because I was already paying a subscription for the game. Then I saw others also having negative feelings towards it because of the possibility of P2W items. P2W items never came (as far as I know, I stopped playing the game a while ago) and it didn’t take long for those people who had concerns about it to buy stuff from the cash shop. I eventually caved in too and now just accept as a part of MMORPGs.

    Same thing happened with the Creation Club in Skyrim Special Edition and Fallout 4. I thought for sure people would not accept it given the whole “Paid Mods” fiasco. But much to my surprise I seem to be in minority when it comes to that as I refuse to even get free items from the Creation Club.

    So, yeah, if I advertisements became a thing I’d probably have to begrudgingly accept it as others would treat as normal.

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    1. I was thinking about this during my walk and I think was Sylow pointed out, as well as what you pointed out, would be the logical implementation.

      Since Activision is serious about this, it makes sense todo it in a thematically appropriate games that lends itself to modern ads or very carefully with loading screens. Honestly, I’m thinking they’ll do it with CoD first.

      It has plenty of matchmaking UIs where an ad could be slid in without being too intrusive, as long as it doesn’t negatively impact the user experience. Stupid stuff like not loading into a lobby because it’s waiting on an ad.

      Additionally, well placed billboards in a map, especially a well known one like Nuketown, could fetch quite a high price tag for the right products.

      I’m having a much harder time finding a good implimentation for their Blizzard products, but at the very least they could do something with a launcher that has a banner or some other integrated ad. Everyone playing the game has to pass through the launcher.

      I find that I’m not one of the high dollar spenders, generally, but that’s a function of price. I’m not usually willing to spend $15-20 for a mount or cosmetics when I can get an entire game for that price.

      Come to think of it, most of my cash shop purchases have been on Warframe, and I’m sure if I added up the total hours I’ve spent with it, I would find that it wasn’t a bad price to pay, really.

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      1. I’d say the opposite about EQ2’s cash shop. I played EQ2 from launch and I still play it today (played for about three hours yesterday). I love the cash shop there, which I think is one of the best in MMOs. It’s full of really useful things at very reasonable prices. My feeling is that it enhanced the game ffrom the moment it was added and over time it has only improved. I don’t relate it in any way to an attempt to “double dip” me a as a subscriber – I see it as a valuable, useful and very welcome service.

        On the other hand, I play GW2, which relies on its cash shop for most of its income and I think it sucks. It’s full of total crap that I find it very difficult to imagine anyone would ever want, although clearly they do because they run around the gameworld destroying the last vestiges of immersion with the ludicrous and disruptive sound and visual effects that the cash shop items layer on with a trowel to make them impossible to miss. Awful, awful stuff.

        As for in-game advertizing, it would be very hard to integrate into fantasy settings but it works well in SF or contemporary ones. I remember seeing adverts for a rock band’s latest album (I forget the band) in Anarchy Online back in around 2001 and thinking it was really cool. I can imagine advertizing working very well in The Secret World, for example, and any game with in-world radio stations could use radio spot ads very effectively.

        (Second attempt to post – apologies for duplication)

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  3. “I remember seeing adverts for a rock band’s latest album (I forget the band) in Anarchy Online back in around 2001 and thinking it was really cool. ”

    Hmm. I don’t know about 2001. What i do remember is that the All American Rejects pushed advertising in Anarchy Online quite far. They even had a “life concert” in the game. Which basically was a life stream from a concert they did to the big screen in the big club location in Anarchy Online.

    In the end they kind of messed it up, on the very last day they stumbled over some rights problem and only being allowed to stream within the US and stuff like that. So it was the one evening where many non-US players played over a US proxy.

    It was fun for those who were there, but all the evening there was the “i don’t see anything -> use a proxy” background noise. But digging further into that would be a whole different topic.

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