Sell me something! In-Game Advertisements
To really get into meat of my argument lets take step back and take a very brief look at advertisements in games. In the beginning ads consisted of a static object within the game like a wall or a poster. The earliest instance of an advertisement that I could find was in Scott Adams’ 1978 game Adventureland which featured an ad for his next game Pirate Adventure. Ads like these were simple and only served to let you know that if you enjoyed the game you are currently playing, then you might enjoy the developers next work. Later, games like FIFA have companies like Nike or Addias on banners lining the field and who can forget the mission in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory that put you smack dab in front of huge billboard for AXE Bodyspray?
These days ads are high-tech and can change at a moments notice, and they do; this brings me to my point of why I don’t mind, but actually kind of like ads. My first exposure to in-game ads was in Rainbow Six Vegas 2. I was sneaking along a wall silent as a mouse and as I eventually reached the corner and hit the cover button so I could see what was waiting for me on the other side, I saw a poster holder in the middle of the hallway, it held an ad for a movie called Street Kings (which would later change to District 9) and I was hit with a realization that even though I’m receiving no benefit on my end for being subject to an ad, I actually liked it. The ad made me think of Vegas and as we all know everybody and their mother is trying to make you part from your hard earned money. A game about Las Vegas wouldn’t be right without a bunch of companies trying to sell you something, it added to my sense of immersion and helped me make a better connection with the game and the environment. Here’s another fun fact and anybody who has played Burnout Paradise would know: President Barack Obama (aka overlord obabu) had billboards featuring him as he was campaigning for his office which makes him the first president to ever buy ad-space in a game. How awesome is it that while you’re tearing up the track both figuratively and literally that you have Obama’s smiling face as if hes encouraging the destruction? I’ll tell you. It’s totally awesome.
Now, this love for ads does come with an asterisk attached, some “fine print” if you will. The ads in question have to be well placed, cannot distract, or be debilitating in anyway while you get down with your bad self. Battlefield 2142 made the mistake of installing software (read: spyware) onto user’s computers in order to serve ads that were special tailored to them. Ads have to make sense within the world, obviously seeing a bus-ad for Mountain Dew in Dragon Age wouldn’t make sense, but what if while you’re in a town a herald says “invigorating and fresh so much like the mountain dew, it is! Forsooth, prithee prithee” Ad agencies could record a few sound clips, update them every few weeks or so and you’re golden. Games like World of Warcraft can change things like which NPCs have which health or the way your spells work and all that is done server side. The technology is there, but few games take advantage of it.
Another Issue I have with in-game ads is even though some money is being made, the gamer sees no real benefit. We are still sold DLC, the game’s price doesn’t change, and other than that the ad’s serve as another texture within the game world. In my experience the only time I have ever seen an advertisement do something fun for the game was when World of Warcraft was running their promotion for the Alliance and Horde mountain dew flavors. Players had the chance to go to a special Mountain Dew website and submit a code for a special non-combat pet after-which you could buy some “robot juice” colored either blue or red and have your robots fight one of the opposite color. It was a fun and innovative way to advertise a product within a game, and I still have my Battlebot on my priest. After seeing this in game, you bet I tried out both those flavors (Code Red was here, Horde flavor is a loser)
I like immersion it’s why I play the games I do: there’s nothing like getting lost in a game and forgetting all your worries for a few hours and sometimes ads do it for me in a manner that a compelling story can’t. Ads are by no means a replacement for a good story, interesting characters, or a convincing world, but they can help to enhance what is already there.