Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
23 February 2006
Developers: artists who love money (from in-game ads)
I've often ranted about how the videogame media frequently forfeit any semblance of impartiality. It appears that in-game advertisements may soon force game developers to grapple with their own professional standards. This interview with Ubisoft's head of publishing, Jay Cohen, makes that clear:
Yes [in-game advertisements are an emerging opportunity]. We are in that beginning, bubbling stage of chaos. But we fancy ourselves as entertainers, artists, and creators of entertainment. It's a much more consistent way of running the business than going the other way and looking for something that is heavily ad assisted.

We ask ourselves, 'What does that do to the integrity of the creation and the perception of the market?' We don't know the answer to that but we are definitely quite scared of what it might be so we stay on the side of caution and stay with the consumer and their needs rather than the advertisers running the content for us.

We want the freedom of creativity to guide the business. Having said that, we as a company cannot turn a blind eye to the opportunity.
Got that? Game makers want to be artists, but also want to be rich. This, in itself, isn't a revelation, but it does highlight that game developers are on the verge of exploiting their creations in a whole new way.

Combined with all the sour financial news these last two weeks, summarized in today's Washington Post, the publishers appear to be giving us a choice: buy our $60 games, or we start slapping up billboards in your first-person shooters. Heck, they'll even charge you top dollar for the game and sell your info to ESPN for friendly

A few more bad quarters and these companies will be selling their artistic souls to advertisers to bail them out, and they'll lay the blame at the consumer's feet. If only you'd been willing to pay higher prices for the next generation of high quality (ahem) games!

It's clear the these guys want to run their products through the same Profit Maximization Machine that Ruffin says Microsoft's been using for years. This is just dripping with misplaced envy:
We get three to six months on the shelf and the then you're done and by the way the platform just died. Books or film or TV keep repackaging and redelivering and they're seeing a 30 to 50-year revenue stream and so do all the players - the actor, the composer, the publisher. For us there's none of that.
Permit me to call bull on that outrageous claim. Less than two years ago Nintendo repackaged several of their NES games and sold them on the GameBoy Advance for $20 each, several of them 20 years old at the time. That same year the PlayStation 2 got Atari Anthology with the arcade version of Asteroids which was 25 years old at the time. Someone is making money off of old games, and if you're not exploiting your old properties, then you've no one to blame but yourself.

And this bit about "all players" getting a cut is equally bogus. Are the programmers still getting a cut of games published even five years ago? Probably not. Maybe a head of publishing, like Cohen, is still getting residuals from all the games he's helped bring to market, but pardon me for being a tad skeptical of his interest in spreading the money around to every player in the business.

What kind of money are we talking about after all? This gives you an idea of what the industry is thinking:
So - holy cow - it starts to seem like we can earn more money potentially from ad revenue generation than from the price of the game. It really goes to that stratospheric level.
Oh? So if we accept advertisements in our games, we can just get the games for free, right? Just like broadcast TV! Except that the game makers have no incentive to give us the games, since we're already conditioned to buy the games for $50 (soon $60) a pop. So, what we'll get instead are games slathered with commercials that still sting when you lay down the cash.

I don't know about you, but that's a development I can do without.

Alongside this interview, Next-Gen also reported on Midway's new agreement with Double Fusion to incorporate in-game ads in several upcoming games. Steven Allison, chief marketing director, feeds us a line:
Our relationship with Double Fusion will not only add potential incremental revenue on top of our existing static ad placements, but allow us to work with a partner sensitive to game development and committed to making ad placements organic and credible.
Once you get past the marketspeak, you'll begin to wonder what he means by that highlighted bit. Incremental revenue on top of static ads? He probably means these games will be online-enabled and will periodically phone home for new advertisements to display. Nice.

It used to be that the worst we could expect from game companies was the occasionally buggy game and the frequently awful licensed games. Now they're taking a big step, cluttering our beautiful virtual worlds with the kind of craven advertising we've come to expect in the real world.
--Matt Matthews at 20:33
Comment [ 4 ]

Comments on this post:

This, in itself, isn't a revelation, but it does highlight that game developers are on the verge of exploiting their creations in a whole new way.

Don't know that there's anything particularly new about it. Not only is there Kool Aid Man on the 2600 & friends to show in-game billboards are nothing new, but we've got the age-old spiel where poets were funded by patrons and very readily created "art" on commission or at least art that very plainly played up the proverbial patron (alliteration unintentional). Art has rarely been free of commercial influences, and many right bright guys will argue that capitalism is precisely what enables the production of our leisure choices.

And if the product placement is done well, even Reese's Pieces well, I'm not sure I mind. The ads I've seen haven't bothered me too much, though I am tired of the Old Spice Red Zone and wonder if SSX3 was responsible for the model of the last car I purchased.

By Blogger rufbo, at 24 February, 2006 21:37  

Licensed games are a completely different beast, as they literally advertise that they're advertisements. Occasionally they rise above that, like Goldeneye 007, but mostly they're just interactive commercials and I'd venture that many (most?) adults view them as just that.

On the other hand, the recent Subway sandwich ads strike me as something entirely different. See here. Those don't have any connection to the game, in this case Counter-Strike, and actually are distracting. Commercials should draw your attention, but when focus on the game is important, I can see resentment toward them.

We can trust the market, one might say, to settle these issues: only those advertisement methods which are tolerated by the public will survive. Does the persistence of pop-up/pop-under advertisements on the web mean that people don't resent them? I know I get frustrated every time one gets past Firefox.

Timely article at Next-Gen just now: "In addition, 25 percent of those polled don't mind in-game ads as long as they help stabilize game prices and are non-intrusive."

Sounds like what you said there at the end.

By Blogger jvm, at 24 February, 2006 22:11  

We can trust the market, one might say, to settle these issues: only those advertisement methods which are tolerated by the public will survive.

Yep, trusting the market for short-term fixes is always a bad idea, which is the implication I hear behind your message.

Yet at the same time, it is precisely this market-based system that gave us the type of video games we enjoy today, on the whole. Would the Soviet Union have dreamt up RE4? I wonder -- not that the USSR was exactly Marxist in its communism. In some ways, where the USSR excelled culturally are precisely those areas, it would appear, that are also in the public domain of today's United States.

Can we say that the same capitalism that gives us Honda Elements at the bottom of the mountain runs also uniquely gives us the choice to play SSX? The answer is obviously no because of "unique", but practically, how else would we have these games?

By Blogger rufbo, at 26 February, 2006 11:45  

I should revise that USSR train of thought somewhat, I believe. I believe the argument is that they added to the genres that are well represented in the US's public domain, and are perhaps more proverbially evolutionary than revolutionary. Suprised? ;^)

By Blogger rufbo, at 26 February, 2006 11:46  

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