The benefits of in-game ads

"I really believe there's long-term potential to benefit developers, publishers and consumers alike," reckons Crackdown producer Phil Wilson of the recent trend for brand-imaging (shudder) in gaming. It's a controversial statement, and a controversial topic - primarily because it turns us from being gamers into being, as Wilson says, "consumers."

To his credit, Phil does add "did I really just call you a consumer? I'll get my coat..." to the end of a column he's written for the latest issue of the UK's Xbox 360 World magazine. But, despite his light and honest discussion of the topic, the Crackdown developer is clearly a supporter of the new shift into bringing in-game ads to our eyes. Thankfully, though, he's also a supporter of the right ad for the right moment.

"Advertising must never obstruct the game experience. Nobody is willing to endure any patently needless extra bollocks. It must also uphold rather than debase the game's perceived reality. Don't even think about stashing a Lucozade vending machine in the depths of a raid-able tomb!"

If you've played Crackdown online you might have noticed ads like the one pictured above. It's this sort of wrong-headed subject selection that Wilson wants to avoid: "I for one happily learned the release date of the movie 300 purely by chance while juggling the corpse of a hapless noob Crackdowner high above the rooftops. But then it went wrong...oh so wrong! I turned a corner only to find that The Royal Navy was recruiting the people of my city. WTF!?"

Er... so, what were the benefits then? From a gamer's viewpoint, we can think of very few. But for developers, the rewards can be high. Wilson points out that while the designer in him doesn't want to sell out, "the project manager side sees increased pressure to fund ever more epic experiences only for a jaded, seen-it-all-before audience to pay the same unit price they did 10 years ago. If we can recoup anything from advertising then, hell, we should!"

Can ads negatively affect your game? Surely developers will fight pressure to have Sam Fisher extol the virtues of his shaving gel selection during a mission? Or ignore suggestions from 'blue sky thinkers' perched on bean-bags that maybe Lara should drink Lucozade instead of use first aid packs? No one has the answers now, but so long as we have designers like Phil Wilson, at least we can count on in-game advertising being almost bearable. Can't we?

May 15, 2007