Good Riddance to In-Game Ads

Good Riddance to In-Game Ads

Is the age of in-game advertising over? Ben Cousins, EA’s mind behind Battlefield Heroes and Battlefield Play4Free believes it is.

“We actually aren’t getting much from ad revenue at all,” Cousins said in an interview with Edge Magazine. “The in-game advertising business hasn’t grown as fast as people expected it to. If you think about how fast the virtual goods business has grown in the last year or so, it’s been much quicker and become a much more reliable source of revenue.”

Some of those “virtual goods” Cousins refers to involve enticing people to spend money on micro-transactions in, say, Zynga games. Said micro-transactions yield an immediate profit for a virtual product that doesn’t have to be assembled and shipped; in other words, an instant reward for minimal effort.

So it’s easy to see where Cousins is coming from, and why EA thinks the heyday of in-game advertisements has come and gone. This is probably one instance where few people are going to feel nostalgic over yet another sliver of game culture breaking off and dissolving into history. Selling in-game ads was a no-brainer for EA, but players didn’t benefit much from the transactions. Obviously, the games industry is heavily commercialized, but once we’re sold on the game, do we really need to fire it up and endure ads for more crap?

There comes a point where we have to take personal responsibility for letting ads influence us. As Paul Anka chanted when 50-foot mascots were ripping up the Simpsons’ home town of Springfield, “Just don’t look.” We’re not obligated to pay attention to every advert. But corporations keep turning up the dial, and it’s hard not to grow cynical. Americans can’t pay for a movie without being followed by a half-hour reel of the same commercials that torment them on television. If we’re playing a game, we really don’t need constant reminders about what’s coming out on DVD that week.

Moreover, it’s not as if movie goers and game players reap savings from increased advertising. Movie ticket prices keep rising, and a video game that features in-game ads typically doesn’t sell for less at retail than a game that doesn’t benefit from supplementary ad revenue.

Still, it wouldn’t be fair to avoid mentioning the instances when a lack of advertising actually detracts from a game. One notable example is the re-release of Sega’s Crazy Taxi for Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. The original arcade game involved driving high-strung passengers to KFCs and Pizza Huts across the city. The re-release replaced KFC and Pizza Hut with generic fast-food joints, which evaporated a lot of the original game’s character. Crazy Taxi was a game that defined the ’90s; in-game ads were still a novelty at the time, and they loaned Crazy Taxi a feeling of authenticity that wasn’t common in video games back then. That, and Pizza Hut’s red roofs just matched up well with the cast’s Hawaiian shirts and neon hairstyles.

Then there’s The World Ends With You, a Nintendo DS RPG by Square-Enix that actually revolves around some of the unusual trends and fashions that can be found in Japan’s Shibuya district. In lieu of the usual chain mail and copper swords, characters equip the latest name-brand fashions. The World Ends With You is a unique game for numerous reasons, but the game would lose something if those clothing labels were replaced by something more generic.

There are also driving games that use authentic car brands, sports games that promote licensed equipment, etc. If such product placements were removed, the game would probably feel, well, counterfeit. But there’s also a difference between shoehorning an ad into a game, and implementing product placement organically. Nobody wants to play Guitar Hero with Mibson Guitars. Sure, Guitar Hero is about playing plastic instruments, but using off-brand equipment simply feels, cheap.

We can deal with playing alongside well-known brands. In ways, we benefit from doing so. But as for direct, in-your-face ads for whatever’s coming out in theatres next month? Good riddance.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

1 Comments

  1. Good flipping riddance. I gave a lecture all the way back in 1994 about what a bad idea in-game ads were — at a time when they were only a gleam in a publishing exec’s eye. I still think they’re a bad idea except in the limited number of places where they fit in, e.g. sports games.

    When you start to depend on money from advertisers, you become beholden to them. That’s not a good place for an art form to be.

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