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In-Game Ads...No Duh!

Filed under: General Gaming
Posted by Jeremy on August 25, 2004 10:14 AM

Over the weekend, I stumbled upon this MSNBC column regarding in-game advertising. There is also a companion article regarding Activision's partnership with Nielson Ratings to track in-game advertising, something that we reported on back in May. The column, written by Tom Loftus, seems to miss the point regarding how gamers feel about in-game ads, making wrong assumption after wrong assumption.

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Mr. Loftus begins his column by invoking images of racing (NASCAR) games which, he feels, have too much in-game advertising. He then goes on to incorrectly state, "Product placement in the stealth title "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow" takes a more active role: Success is contingent on agent Sam Fisher mastering an Sony Ericsson P900 smart phone."

First, NASCAR itself is based on over-advertising. The fact that advertising makes it into the game is representative of the fact that advertising dominates the real sport. Would an NBA game not have a team's logo on the jersey? Would a ball park not have correct ads on the outfield wall? It's the same with stock cars. The virtual cars are identical to the real cars, advertising and all.

To be fair, Mr. Loftus does acknowledge that in-game ads do edify the "realism" of a game. He includes this quote from Mike Dowling of Nielson Ratings, "Gamers said that they prefer real products because it makes games more realistic." However, Mr. Loftus sees this as a bad thing, "So it's come to this: The better the game fantasy, the more real it needs to be."

You see, he's lumping two types of games into the same category: simulators and fantasy/non-reality-based games. You can't argue that in-game advertising hurts a game based on NASCAR because that game is supposed to be as near a real simulator of the real sport as possible. The ads do, in fact, add to the verisimilitude. And, that's why gamers like them.

And that brings me to the Sony-Ericsson phone in "Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow." Loftus claims that success is contigent upon mastering the phone. I would argue that success is contingent upon your stealth and shooting skills. The phone, or whatever interactive device you'd plop in there, is simply the "menu" screen for you. It is not dire that you master its functions. The fact that it's a Sony-Ericsson phone (or any branded phone) does add to the realism of the game in the sense that you'd imagine a super spy to have the best gadgets.
Also, Loftus fails to mention that in the original "Splinter Cell" Sam Fisher used a Palm handheld device. It's simply a branded in-game menu. It doesn't take away from the game in the least bit.

Going beyond these specific examples, Loftus discusses the subversive ways that advertising is slipped into the drinks of so many unsuspecting gamers. He quotes Gary Ruskin, the executive director of Commercial Alert, "Embedded ads are deceptive because many people don?t recognize them as ads." What Ruskin fails to realize is that: 1) Gamers are one of the most perceptive groups of people with a high faculty to critically think and 2) Gamers want ads in their games if it makes sense for the game to have ads. I don't think that anybody is slipping anything by gamers.

Finally, Loftus makes note of the fact that EA brought in $7 million in in-game advertising last year, claiming that in-game ads represent a lot "of "Ca-Ching!" for game publishers." And, sure $7 million is a lot of money to me or you but in comparison to EA's stated 2003 revenue of $2.96 billion, it's really only a small drop in the bucket. And, yes, there are reports that in-game advertising could reach $1 billion by 2008, but that is mere speculation. Advertising is an increasingly important stream of revenue for publishers, however, Loftus gives the impression that it's huge business.

My intention here is not to rip apart Mr. Loftus' column. I simply came away with the feeling that he misrepresented gamers and their awareness and fondness for in-game ads. A non-gamer would leave with the impression that "Splinter Cell" is all about mastering a phone and that racing games are hurt by their realism. Gamers are smart and vocal. We'll let publishers know when they've crossed the line.

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