Cord-Cutting Leads To Gaming Studios Exploring In-Game Ads To Unlock Gaming Perks

from the this-is-gonna-suck dept

Advertising in the digital age is always something of a tricky subject. On the one hand, we have made the point for years that advertising is content and content is advertising. The point there is that the more useful and entertaining or engaging advertising tends to be, the more the public looks at it as just more content to consume, while really good content also serves as an advertisement of sorts for the content provider. Many folks simply believe that the public hates advertising full-stop, but that’s really not true. Were it true, one of the hallmark experiences of the Super Bowl wouldn’t be watching the ads. Instead, ads have to be engaging, fun, or useful. Unfortunately, the vast majority of advertising is otherwise, leading to the public tending to look for ways to not have to experience advertising generally.

The worst solution proposed in all of this is to find new and nefarious ways to force the public to view ads. The second worst solution is to coerce them into doing so. And the worst place to do any of this, it seems to me, is in the video game space, where the public has already often times dropped hundreds of dollars on gaming rigs and the games themselves. But that, it seems, is exactly what company PlayerWON is looking to roll out.

A first-of-its-kind in-game advertising platform called playerWON launches this week, allowing big-name marketers that are used to running splashy TV ads the ability to target younger demographics with similar types of spots that will run in video games.

-The platform, which is owned and operated by Simulmedia, a TV ad tech company, will let users determine whether they want to watch a 15 or 30-second video ad in exchange for being able to unlock exclusive gaming perks.

-Simulmedia has struck deals with some of the world’s biggest gaming studios, including Electronic Arts (EA) and Tencent’s Hi-Rez Studios, its EVP, Gaming and OTT Dave Madden told Axios.

If you’re anything like me, your initial reaction to all of this is likely to result in you having convulsions over just how repulsive this all is. But we should take a step back and acknowledge something: this could be done well. The idea of injecting optional advertising into gaming, especially free-to-play games, isn’t an inherently awful idea.

No, the real problem is that virtually nobody in the gaming public has, or should have, any faith that this will be done well. What does doing it well mean? Well, for starters:

  • The “perks” involved had damned well better be nice-to-haves and/or cosmetic and not offer some kind of boost to being able to compete in or play the game itself. Otherwise, you’ve broken the balance and experience of the game.
  • The ads had better stay short and not interrupt the gaming experience to the point of television, where gamers just leave the room while it plays.
  • The ads, as noted in the opening of this post, must be engaging, useful content of some kind.

Missing on any of those three will cause an even larger revolt among the gaming public than will almost certainly already occur. If you need an example of how to absolutely not attempt any of this, 2K Sports has you covered.

Now, while this is largely being spurred on by younger members of the public also being cord-cutters, making them less likely to be reached by traditional advertising, Morgan Stanley seems to think that in-game ad programs like this could be a $2 billion industry. Though, importantly, that projection is based on nearly half of gamers opting into the ads.

I’m sorry, but there’s no fucking way that’s going to happen, even if this is done perfectly. Not if it’s opt-in. What is more likely is that this will only be opt-in for a while and then someone, or several someones, are going to try to first make it opt-out and eventually non-optional. And then you’re going to really see the consequences of advertising programs being done terribly, because nobody will buy those games.

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Companies: ea, simulmedia, tencent

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Comments on “Cord-Cutting Leads To Gaming Studios Exploring In-Game Ads To Unlock Gaming Perks”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Daydream says:

If you’re going to put ads in games, why not integrate them into gameplay?
Have a side quest where you go looking for unicorn tears to make Doritos. Win a special race to unlock the new all-electric Toyota. Have Voltaire appear and perform during an event quest. Have a Xenoblade crossover in your Zelda game. Actually, I have seen those last two…

Do it right, you’ll add a little something fun to your game, and your audience (more likely than not) will take an interest in the source material.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
DeathOfRats (profile) says:

Re: Ads in games

@Daydream: I totally agree with you. There’s placement advertisement in series and movies, I don’t think it would be wrong in videogames… If correctly placed.
Just think of any "open world" game. Billboards, cereal boxes, chocolate bars, soda drinks (Nuka-Cola, anyone?), whatever… Suddenly, the sky is not the limit, anymore. Not even the next galaxy. Or Universe. If you make it fit in a way that "just seems" logical and somehow "feels correct".
I get it if a company doesn’t want to associate themselves with a dystopian end-of-the-world apocalyptic game, but… I think they are losing A LOT when they don’t place their products (always in a logical and non disruptive way) in videogames. It would also mean an extra revenue for game producers. Not that I think that I’m inventing the wheel, here, it’s that I can’t think of a really well implemented case.
Of course, if you wanna do things right, take a look at the final prize for the Beachhead Expedition in No Man’s Sky: the ‘SSV Normandy SR1’ from Mass Effect that you could add to your frigate group. Now THAT is an example of an advert placed where it should go. A perfect example of target, nay, BULLSEYE advertising, methinks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Ads in games

I totally agree with you. There’s placement advertisement in series and movies, I don’t think it would be wrong in videogames… If correctly placed.

They’ve tried this before in other games. An example would be Prototype. (Openworld game set in NYC.) Had adverts on the billboards placed throughout the in-game city. Seemed neat at the time. The last time I played it, a few years ago, it just had a bunch of Gamestop ads. Not sure if it’s the default or what, but those constant Gamestop ads making the entirety of NYC look like a bought out company town, got annoying real quick.

Which is where the real problem lies. Over time these ad networks will be upgraded and replaced. The servers, much like everything else, will eventually go offline. How will these ad-enabled games function when that happens? Will they degrade gracefully replacing the ad placements with in-universe adverts? Like Nuka-Cola in in the Fallout series? Will they degrade like Prototype and leave the player feeling out of place in what is otherwise a complete world? Or will they fail to run altogether because no-ads means no ad revenue for the publisher, which is the entire point of including the ads in the first place? My money is on the latter.

Just think of any "open world" game. Billboards, cereal boxes, chocolate bars, soda drinks (Nuka-Cola, anyone?), whatever… Suddenly, the sky is not the limit, anymore. Not even the next galaxy. Or Universe. If you make it fit in a way that "just seems" logical and somehow "feels correct".

Sure, if they perform proper ad placement it could be a good gimmick to make an extra buck off of the $70.00+ game purchase, not including DLC, subscriptions, and "freeimum" content also available, but what are the chances of them actually doing that? Why bother, when they can just use targeted advertising to automate placement and make more money to boot? They’ve already got CPU cycles to burn, and in the case of Windows games, full access to your Documents and Internet History to scan for relevant adverts. Every other platform has a builtin unique advertising ID to query. If you’re the publisher, may as well use it and collect your $Zillions.

Who cares if a giant condom ad appears in your COD game? Or an ad for the iPhone 22 appears next to Hitler in the latest nazi shooter? The thirsty publisher made more money off of your gameplay and that was the entire point. Mission accomplished.

I’d much rather have that Nuka-Cola "product" in Fallout. Why? Because it creates a more believable world to play in. Not every work of fiction needs to be tied to the real world with an advert.

The creation of things like Nuka-Cola, even if they are an obvious reference to something in the real world, shows at least some level of thought went towards creating a world that was more than just skin deep. That the developers wanted to create a world where the players could also stop and explore what it would be like to actually live there. Even if the developers don’t actually show that world’s version of "normalcy" in gameplay.

Placing a bunch of real world ads and calling it a day, just makes the players more skeptical about the world they are playing in. Players in such a world are far more likely to point out the story’s plot holes, or the sheer lack of content. (Far more so in a 3D game. That extra dimension creates a lot of empty space that can make the game look and feel unfinished.) Place too many adverts and your entire game could be seen as nothing more than an advertising platform. (Which would look ridiculous if the game kept running after the ad servers went down.)

The simple reality is, most of the companies (EA, Ubisoft, etc.) that would use this advertising model to make more money are far more likely to use it in a way that will reduce the amount of content that the resulting game worlds would have otherwise. Again, why spend money creating Nuka-Cola when you can just place an ad for Coke and make money instead? This will only hurt the games they create, and we the players will loose the creativity we’ve enjoyed over the years as a result.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Increasing the bottom line isn’t inherently evil.

It’s only awful and repulsive because it’s being done while:

  1. underpaying the programmers and artists.
  2. overworking the programmers and artists
  3. pretending that overtime is voluntary, but declining to work (literally deadly) overtime costs you your job via contract non-renewal ("not dedicated").
  4. ignoring and suppressing widespread sexual harassment, as well as regular harassment.
  5. firing hundreds of workers to "cut costs" during record profit quarters.
  6. giving bonuses and stock to executives that far exceed the "savings" the above firings supposedly generated.
  7. giving handfuls of cash to everyone but the employees via questionable stock buybacks, possibly done to manipulate stock values.
  8. making terrible $60+ games that are full of ads AND microtransactions AND predatory real-money gambling.

THAT’S why it’s evil.

Anonymous Coward says:

This isn’t anything new, mobile games have had this kind of ad setups in them for years. And they pretty regularly fail all 3 of the above points.

The rewards given tend to be basic resources needed to play the game. They often interrupt gameplay by requiring players to watch an ad immediately or lose the reward, if not with completely unsolicited popups. And the adverts themselves are dull, repetitive and often blatantly false.

Of course, its one thing to have crap like this in a free mobile game, but quite another to expect people to pay money for it.

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Carthoris says:

The Workarounds Are Inevitable

The non-optional ads will never work — at least on the PC (I can’t speak to consoles). Currently, some games have an interminally long introduction consisting of animated logos and fancy graphics that I’m sure someone somewhere is very proud of. Just Cause 3 is the perfect example, where you stare at a guy sitting in a beach chair for what seems like an eternity. But almost immediately after a game’s introduction, workarounds are released that eliminate those sort of introductions completely. The same thing will happen with these unskippable ads.
And then there are the "Trainers", programs that hook into the internals of a game for things like God Mode and Infinite Ammo. Won’t take very long for those Trainers to eliminate ads on command as well.

Like DRM, this effort to insert ads into a game will only result in wasted time and money on the part of publishers and developers. Those who can bypass will. Those who can’t will buy something else.

Paul B says:

Re: The Workarounds Are Inevitable

In many cases, those videos are built to cover up load times as the first load of a game can require unpacking huge amounts of assets and loading them into memory.

You might be running a top of the line PC, but for games like this to run on everything you can see some long loading times based on the PC spec.

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Anonymous Coward says:

The ads had better stay short and not interrupt the gaming experience to the point of television, where gamers just leave the room while it plays.

Translation: gamer uninstalls the game, and never returns – even if the company has a change of heart and removes those advertisements. And that’s a big hit to your dedicated player base. And as "players are content for one another", it means you’ve substituted one-time, only-maybe profit content for dedicated, self-proselytizing content.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m surprised there s no in game billboards in games like player unknown battlegrounds or fortnite or maybe could famous brands on walls
Many people play those games without spending any money on lootboxs
I never watch ads when ads come on I change the channel
Some ads can be funny or engaging but that’s very rare
Ads reflect our culture zeitgeist
So watching old ads can be interesting
Ads from the 80s are very sexist

ECA (profile) says:

Dont think I need to say much.

A few games have tried imposing Adverts Into games. It really dont work, it LAGS(real bad thing).
The Adverts will need to be National, not local. Local gets expensive and the need to know Where someone is. Ask Roku, how they do that. And Local companies arent going to pay National prices.
The Age old problems of adverts is going to popup again. How to give a person the items they want? And how many Advertisers seem to price the Adverts based on How many see it, Not aways based on Sales.
Try getting more then 1% of the people to come and buy something. Then try to insert adverts into a game, Lag abit, and pissoff everyone. While they are trying to kill the Dungeon dragon.
And they might be short at the beginning, but with enough money, the company can get them Longer and longer. Then interactive, where you have to click a few things to SHOW someone really watched it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Though, importantly, that projection is based on nearly half of gamers opting into the ads. I’m sorry, but there’s no fucking way that’s going to happen

Why not? Everyone needs to take breaks occasionally. One may as well click the button to show a 30-second ad, and return from the kitchen to a free upgrade after refilling their beverage. While this does not meet your definition of doing advertising "well", I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that 50% of gamers can game the system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Remember over a decade ago, how Crackdown had the ingame billboards display real life ads? And how after advertisers stopped paying for them, all the billboards are just kinda sitting there doing nothing because nobody bothered to make a variety of in-universe assets for them like ads for products in the game’s world, they just have placeholder assets sitting there. Way to kill an aspect of your game’s atmosphere.

McGyver (profile) says:

No thanks…

Nobody wants a game to have ads, nothing they are going to offer will compensate for the interruption.
Maybe in the beginning they will offer something vaguely interesting, yet useless, but I can guarantee that will evaporate once idiots accept ads in games, then you’ll get nothing in return and be paying to be interrupted by ads…
Just say NO.
The most I’d accept would be in open world sandbox games where billboards or signs and posters would be for real life companies… that’s it, because just like in real life, you can ignore it if you chose, otherwise anything that I HAVE to pay attention to is a dealbreaker.
And you know it will all quickly devolve into a crap fest of stupid and repetitive ads.
Ad people don’t know when to quit or enough is enough.
No, just no thanks X10,000,000,000

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: No thanks…

"Nobody wants a game to have ads"

I’m OK with a F2P game having unintrusive billboard style ads in return for an uninterrupted experience that doesn’t go down the road of "buy this random currency for real money or wait 30 minutes to carry on playing" kind of experience.

If it’s a full priced game they can fuck right off, similarly if they interrupt the game to show the ads.

Anonymous Coward says:

This will have to be done very well for it to work. Just look at the recent Facebook fiasco with trying to get the buying public to buy VR games with ads in. They started with Blaston as an experiment and even before it went fully live, enough customers had raised a stink for the developers to turn round and say sorry, we won’t do this after all!

Anonymous Coward says:

Amazon convinced people to put ads on the lock screen of their phone for like $20 off the device. The consistent problem with microtransactions is unclear. Either nobody who buys them uses the Internet or the people who complain bitterly about them also often purchase them too. I’m convinced it’s the latter and a program that offers ads for games will be successful as long as they can get kids without money on board and push them ads for garbage to bug parents about. I’m not clear how this would work in countries without much disposable income. They’d be the most willing to do anything that doesn’t involve paying, but if they don’t have disposable income what’s the point of advertising to them?

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Or, a better way?

One thing I never understood about western advertising is why they couldn’t comprehend the Hong Kong model.
It’s really taken off throughout Asia since the mid 80s.
It started with movies back then but it’s in local gaming as well.

You sell internal advertising to real companies. In films this works by using that company’s or products extensively in the story.

But let’s move this to, say, GTA 6?
We have 500 billboards in the game. 250 are static. Sell the placement just like real life: few hundred bucks a month each.
The other rotating boards are $50 per 15 second display.

Approach CJDR/FC and say; we’ll advertise and use your real cars for $1mil.
Go to Pepsi and offer to make 2/3 the vending machines Pepsi for $1mil.
Go to S&W and say we’ll use your real products
Go to The Range At… and say we’ll use your real products

With always on gaming: you can sell advertising in monthly allotments.
Update the advertising once a month with an advert skin pack. And pay gamers $1000 in game cash for the quick download.

If done the movie style where it’s just a part of the experience, it could work well.
Take it interactive for double the price. Amp Energy of Jolt gives you 90% life?
Can you imagine Apple and Samsung budding over who’s phone the game characters will use?

Get a handful of manufacturers on board and you could make GTA free. And take in major profits anyway.

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