Feature – Seasons Don’t Fear…In-Game Advertising

May 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

The amount of people playing games is rising. This is good. The price of an average console game is rising. This is not so good. The cost of producing a standard retail release is also rising – due to the increased graphical capabilities of current generation consoles. This is bad. In an ideal world the expanding marketplace and increased retail price would make up for the increased costs developers are facing on their end, but if current evidence is anything to go by, this is not the case.

Many have blamed the recent influx of ‘unfair’ DLC – such as paying extra to unlock content on the disk, leaving a game story unfinished to get people to pay for it later or paying to unlock cheats – on greedy publishers looking to fatten their already overflowing wallets. This view is a little hard to believe. Such a practice sullies a publisher’s reputation in the eyes of many gamers, and as such appears to be an act of desperation rather than a calculated business strategy.

An alternative to forcing consumers to pay more is to get this extra revenue from advertising, by offering companies space in your game to promote their goods. Reactions thus far to this tactic have been negative, and understandably so. Attempts to sell goods to gamers have been unsubtle and patronising at best, and in worse case scenarios have actually negatively impacted a game’s quality.

Longer load times as a result of advertising are understandably a very bad thing, but it would be ridiculous to dismiss the idea altogether. Load times during games are without question their worst feature, and at best simply provide banal ‘Hints’ or show off the game’s art (Bayonetta’s sublime loading screens notwithstanding). Why not monetise these moments when the gamer isn’t playing, and thus place your advertising in a place which in no way affects gameplay?

In-game billboards are another route that can be done well if enough care and attention is taken. No one wants to see a Pepsi billboard whilst traversing the ruins of Washington DC in Fallout 3, but gamers are usually okay with seeing the same advert on the side of a Gran Turismo track, or on a football stadium. If the care is taken to fit ads in similarly well with non-sports titles, then could they not add yet another layer of realism to an experience?

Similarly, real products could be used as items in a characters inventory, in the place of something generic made up by the developer. Alan Wake’s use of ‘Energizer’ batteries is a good example of this. The idea of having to pick up batteries to extend the life of your torch was always going to require batteries to be present in the game. The fact that they happen to be ‘Energizer’ doesn’t change the gameplay experience in any way, and likely provided Remedy Entertainment with a little extra cash with which to keep the game’s development going for as long as they did. Alternatively would anyone really care if caps in Fallout 3 were from Coca-Cola bottles rather then Nuka-Cola?

No matter how good a game is, nine times out of ten it’s only going to provide money in one form: sales. If gamers look at an ad whilst they wait for their online matches to load, then this can provide developers with an additional incentive to keep their servers online for as long as possible, as well as providing them with income with which to put out free patches, and potentially even free DLC.

Gamers are right to get angry at in-game advertising as it stands. It can ruin a game for many people, and often leads to a feeling of exploitation when you’ve paid for a full-price retail release, only to be forced to look at obtrusive ads whilst you play. If adverts are unobtrusive and cleverly done however, they might just provide a valuable way of making riskier games more profitable, which will, at the end of the day benefit consumers like us.

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