In-game advertisements are becoming more and more prevalent. How much is too much? and should in-game advertisements really even matter to gamers?
Years ago, you rarely saw an in-game advertisement. In fact, before the disc format was widely adopted, you could argue that in-game advertising didn’t really even exist. There were promotional games featuring different brands and characters throughout the 80s and 90s however, true in-game advertising didn’t really become widespread until the late 90s.
As a kid, I can remember playing Cool Spot, a simple platformer featuring the 7-Up mascot. The game came out in 1993 for the Sega Genesis and even as young as I was, I can remember how much it made me want a 7-Up. Fast-forward all of these years later and I realize that that game was simply a promotional tool with a ton of nods to the soft drink throughout the levels.
There have been many of those games made in the history of video games. Pepsi Invaders/Coke Wins was another prime example of advertising in a game. Coca-Cola created 125 Atari cartridges of the game for the 1983 Atlanta Sales Convention with it literally being a copy of Space Invaders promoting Coke. These types of games are still around today as you see with some iOS games and the Doritos Xbox promotion from a few years ago, however, they aren’t the broadest form of in-game advertising.
Now while those are prime examples of in-game advertising at its worst, the types that we have come to know are through the form of billboards, signs, skins, and anything else that you can implement into a game. Some games use ad firms to change the ads periodically while others sell ad space on different spots in the game. Games like James Pond Robocod (1991), Zool (1992), and the previously mentioned Cool Spot (1993) popularized in-game ads with Zool even having a full zone dubbed “The Sweet Zone” dedicated to lollipop brand Chupa Chups.
All of these games had different elements where ads have dominated the game but, a newcomer took it to a whole other level in 1999 with the release of Crazy Taxi on the Sega Dreamcast. I remember playing this game when it came out and I couldn’t believe the wide variety of destinations that you could go to. From Levi’s to KFC, nothing seemed off-limits and it really added to the gameplay. I think that if that game only had generic stores that you had never heard of, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful in my mind. More recently, we’ve had sports games, Burnout Paradise, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, and numerous other games allow dynamic or static advertising. Presidential candidate Barack Obama even went so far as to pay for a number of in-game ads during his run for President of the United States in 2008.
One game takes advertising to its very limits though, that game is Second Life. It makes sense doesn’t it, the name itself is Second Life so, and in essence, it should mimic life. That’s exactly what it does and ads are no exception. The game features its own digital economy where players can actually convert the money they earn into real-life cash. Second Life has even produced a real-life millionaire!
So with so much advertising in seemingly every game, the question remains, is it something that should exist or is it too invasive? For me, advertising has been everywhere for such a long time that I can’t understand why this would be such an issue to most. In-game advertising throughout its history has been more of a good thing than a bad thing. Whether it be a Crazy Taxi with real advertising or GTA IV with mock advertising, most ads have enhanced games and the case can be made that no ads have really taken away from the gameplay of any game. Look at any of the games mentioned in this post and you can see that at the end of the day, none of the ads in those games mattered and that is the way it will continue as long as we don’t start seeing ads for Burger King in a game like Assassin’s Creed.
As long as there are games there most certainly will be advertising in them. Ads are here to stay and there’s nothing anyone will do about that beyond an on/off switch in-game. When you see an ad in a video game the next time you’re playing, just think about what this really takes away or adds to the game you’re playing, I think you’ll be surprised by what goes through your mind. Advertisements are everywhere and gaming has just become a new home for them. For those who hate them, think about that the next time you redeem a code from the cap of a Dr. Pepper. Gaming has become so large that marketing firms have started to take notice. Like it or not, we’re all a key demographic.