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October 11, 2010

In-game advertising. Hate it? Or REALLY HATE it?

Activision's Bobby Kotick has been taken to task (Ok, that's putting it mildly) for a lot of the things he's said. It's funny how nobody ever broadcasts the things he says that most gamers actually agree with.

One of those statements is in regard to in-game advertising.

I was catching up on the One of Swords podcast (Dan Americh's Activision podcast), and in one of the episodes, he mentioned this when talking about Kotick's statements at a Merrill Lynch event back in September. While this statement was endlessly talked about:

""Bungie are a very unusual company. They're probably the last remaining high quality independent developer."

This statement wasn't really talked about much:

"There was a time where we thought advertising and sponsorship was a big opportunity, but what we realized is our customers are paying $60 for a game or paying a monthly subscription fee and they don't really want to be barraged with sponsorship or advertising," Kotick explained.

"So being very respectful of our audiences, unless it's something that's really authentic and will enhance the game experience, we're generally not going to include something in the game. There may be future opportunities where you might offer a consumer an advertiser-supported experience so they wouldn't have to pay for it. 

"But as long as our audience is paying $60 for a game or a subscription fee I think we're going to limit the amount of advertising or sponsorship incorporated into a game."

I would have thought that would be bigger news.

See, I *hate* in-game advertising, even as I realize that in this day and age it may be hard to get around it. I really disliked the blatant Verizon and Energizer advertisements in Alan Wake, though I do understand the need for it (the "Can you hear me now" joke was a bit over the top, though).

That being said, I don't mind it if it's in context, partially because I also don't like the way films and games get around not using product names.

Have you ever noticed some movies that didn't sell in-movie advertising to a company, where the family is sitting around a table drinking "Cola" rather than Pepsi or Coke? Or at a bar where they're drinking "beer" rather than a brand of beer? Or, in movies and TV shows, I really hate those soda machines that just say "COLA" or "SODA" on them, rather than being Coke or Pepsi. I find that distracting too. It's just a needless reminder that this isn't the real world, which can harm the immersion I like to feel in the story.

I also don't like "fake" ads, like those used in some sports games. That just pulls me out of my suspension of disbelief too, as I no longer feel like I'm playing as the Steelers or as the Iowa State Cyclones in the real world.

Wow, I sure am picky, aren't I? So what do I want in regards to advertising in games?

1) I want in-context ads

If you're playing a skateboarding game, I would expect ads for skateboarding stuff, or stuff that is inherent to the skateboarder culture (since I'm not in that culture, I have no examples). Or I would expect to see beer advertising, as well as other advertising, at sports venues.   Considering how often you're using batteries in the game, I guess Energizer was fine for Alan Wake, but this brings me to my next point...

2) Don't throw it in my face

I really hate it when, in a movie or game, the camera suddenly does a close-up on a product, so that the brand name of the product is prominently displayed for 3 seconds or so, before moving on. Can you make it any more obvious?

Or maybe a cop standing over a dead body says to his partner "I'm going to call this in on my Nokia SC-2000 Smartphone that has everything from a 2000 mega-pixel camera to a holographic projector! Hey, why don't you check his pockets while I'm doing this?"

Background advertising, where you can clearly see the Apple logo on the computer (but the camera isn't intently staring at it) is great! I don't mind that at all. But don't make it so obvious that the viewer/gamer just rolls the eyes.

3) Don't overdo it

This can be context-sensitive too. Sports venues have a *lot* of advertising, so it might be a little more understandable in a sports game. But don't have 5-10 different sponsors for your 10-hour game, throwing blatant product placement at me right and left. I want to enjoy your game, or watch your movie. I don't want to have my head reeling because of all the advertisements being thrust upon me at once.

Did you ever see the movie Wayne's World?

They did a wonderful parody of the overpowering product placement in movies that was taking place at the time, all while getting that same product placement in the movie!



If you're going to do it, why not have fun with it?

I realize that this is all pie-in-the-sky stuff, and that I will never be totally satisfied. In-game advertising is here to stay.

But I love that somebody as powerful as Bobby Kotick has come out against its overuse.

Ummmm, on second thought, can we get another advocate please?

Thank you.


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