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Bring On the Advertising (or Help, My Friends Need Jobs)

February 15, 2009

Unless you’re illiterate or oblivious to the things going on around you, this industry is hurting. I haven’t seen anything like it since 1989 and before that 1983, but there were a lot fewer of us then. People are losing jobs left and right, north, south, east and west. These are good people and more than just game developers. They’re my friends that I have known for years and with whom I exchange ideas and share laughs. These are amazing people who are out of work. They have families and bills just like me (and maybe you). There are so many of us now.

So, I am making an official plea to introduce real advertising into games. Put it on the loading screen, on the save screen, on your intro menu. Every piece of screen real estate except for the game itself should take the opportunity the industry has long resisted and integrate advertising to fuel the rising development costs that make risks riskier and bombs much more painful than they otherwise need be. From the first load, all I ask is that the magic circle of the game be preserved. Once we are in, please let us have that. I need less opportunities to fight the BK King.

Ah, revolt, revolt. But get past it, eh?

Behold your coveted Facebook. Witness CNN.com. Think of movies what movies do. The first 20 minutes presents us with advertising for other movies, Coca-Cola, and Disney World. Think of television – even the shows you love so much – who stop your viewing every few minutes to pay the bills that will bring you yet another episode next week. Think of the advertising all over stadiums and racing cars and in the pages of glitzy magazines.

My friends need jobs.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2009 11:53 pm

    I have, for quite a long time, thought about the issue of advertising in games. I recently read an article on gamasutra.com about just this subject. I know people left and right will complain about product placement and adverts in films, as well as on television. I, myself, loath television commercials. However, their purpose, to make money and fund projects, is one that is all too central to these industries. What if some of our greatest inventions and moments never happened because of money? What games won’t be made because there isn’t any funding? Advertising, while done tastefully, could very well ensure that these great games and moments aren’t missed. Regardless of what anyone thinks about having these adverts, a lost job is not a good thing.

  2. February 16, 2009 1:50 am

    Or, Why not create an alternate identity within a game. Lets take an easy target like Eve Online. “Quafe Energy Drink” in that game could be sponsored by Coca-Cola or the “in-game” image for Coca-Cola. They could take all the current Coca-Cola adds and change the label to look a lot like Coca-Cola but it really says Quafe then put that in game. And in doing that you are taking a VERY easily understood and recognized brand and putting it in game context. The catch is when you Google it or search it or when the game makes reference to it it leads you to the Coca-Cola’s Website.

    By doing this the game wont break immersion and the ads will be effective. It is no different than me having an alternate ego (role-playing) in a game or even having an online handle to differentiate from my real life.

    Lets be honest when you buy a DvD you don’t watch the previews, you skip to the main menu. At the movies you go get snacks when the previews are on. Everyone owns a Tivo or DVR and fast forwards past commercials. When you install a game the first time you play it you watch the intro because your excited about the new game. But after the 3rd time you are searching the Google machine again looking for a way to disable or delete the intro so you don’t have to sit there for 10 min waiting for the game to load.

    Haven t you noticed the screen adds during your favorite episode of House got bigger? That the little people that walk onto your screen to tell you about the latest reality TV show that has a new time slot is suddenly 50% of the screen? Why do you think that is? It is because no one watches commercials, no one pays attention to ads, and no one looks at content. But if a viewer is interested in something and you interrupt and ruin that moment they will remember you. This WILL spill into the online game world if we don’t fight back. It is the ONLY way to reach people through advertisements these days.

    The only other option is to make quality products and let the value of the products drive the sales … but we all know our society is incapable of that right?

  3. Chris Pioli permalink
    February 16, 2009 2:30 am

    Product placement is another idea. But make it tasteful. For instance, seeing a torn up old Coca-cola ad circa 1950 in Fallout 3 could be an effective element. But I mean how many times have you seen games lose their believability factor because they had to parody a specific brand?

    But here’s an argument: aren’t specific genres or settings more apt to include product placements? Modern settings, sports games, City-sprawling sandbox games, etc.? It could be argued that in the future, (when and if product placement and/or advertisements becomes essential in games), games which cannot realistically support advertisements or product placements (rpgs, sci-fi/fantasy, etc.) will be seen as “risky ventures” because they couldn’t generate ad revenue to offset development costs?

    But like I’ve said a thousand times elsewhere, the cost of manufacturing AAA games for this generation of consoles (except the Wii) is enough to put anyone in the poorhouse if they don’t sell enough units. It’s like someone earning 60k/year going a casino whose tables have a $5000 minimum. Too easy to lose everything with one single game.

    For instance, I feel for SEGA b/c Valkyria Chronicles is an awesome game that was praised by critics (myself included) but gamers didn’t spend the money on it. If it continues to sell poorly, the development team might not be able to continue making such genre-defying games (these are the same people who made Skies of Arcadia). And I think Valkyria Chronicles wouldn’t done better if it was made on the Wii, insofar as the smaller development cost.

    At least, that’s what I assume. Does anyone know the hard numbers in developing AAA titles for the Wii versus the Xbox360 and PS3?

  4. February 16, 2009 7:39 am

    In England the soccer league resisted advertising on uniforms for many years. Now there are ads all over the uniforms. Perhaps someday it will happen with our professional sports.

    There’s a textbook publisher that places ads in its books. It primarily distributes them electronically for free. Their point of view is that people are going to pirate typical textbooks, why not give them away and try to make money from the advertising. (They do still sell, via POD, paper copies to those who want them.)

    Much as we dislike advertising, inevitably it is getting into everything. The trick is to make it external to the interesting matter at hand (game, soccer match, textbook) rather than internal and easily distracting.

  5. February 16, 2009 1:16 pm

    My friends need jobs too. So do my students. But Brenda, what makes you immediately leap from that to the conclusion that advertising is the answer?

    How about more low-cost development (handheld, Wii, XBLA) so that there’s less money at risk per project?

    What about a “stage gate” model of funding as proposed by DanC and others, where many low-cost prototypes are funded, and the few of those that show promise are developed further, so that AAA doesn’t mean all-or-nothing?

    Why not examine more closely the consumer pricing model? Now that games cost $60 each, would a price hike to $65 be too much to ask? (Or, conversely, would a drop to $55 lead to higher sales on lead SKUs?) Or how about examining the retail channel in general, and finding ways to bring down the cost of shelf space so that retailers aren’t forced to be so hit-driven and can take better advantage of the long tail?

    How about more widespread safe-and-sane work practices, since there’s overwhelming scientific evidence that crunch doesn’t work? (Seriously, how many companies have died because the dev team shot itself in the foot?)

    I’m not totally against in-game advertising, but I’m hesitant to call it a panacea, or to say that it’s the only way (or even the best way) to deal with the current crisis.

  6. February 16, 2009 9:30 pm

    @Ian – “But Brenda, what makes you immediately leap from that to the conclusion that advertising is the answer?” It is a part of the answer, but a really obvious one that we’ve been resisting for a long time.

    Yes, we can raise prices and use other means, but this seems to be a means to provide for external funding of projects.

    Furthermore, I think the time is right, particularly for online games. I imagine games becoming like facebook where there are built in hooks for advertising, and the advertising can change dependent upon the game, the player, the region, etc.

  7. Chris Pioli permalink
    February 16, 2009 11:52 pm

    If advertising were a possible solution, it should not be the only solution. Relying completely on advertising can lead to a lot of unintended consequences further down the road. Think about what happened with game reviewers and company advertising in the past two years with things like Gamespot’s review of Kane & Lynch, or EGM losing ad revenue because it wouldn’t fluff up companies’ products. Isn’t there a risk of conflict of interest when it comes to advertising and material?

    Meanwhile, development costs are rising. It costs a lot more money now than it did one or two generations ago to develop AAA titles. I think it’s worth a shot to let the development tools (middleware, etc.) catch up with the hardware (PS3/Xbox 360) so game development becomes… less costly? I don’t have enough resources to say with 100% certainty that “development costs is directly proportionate to processing power subtracted by development tools and middleware”, but that sounds possible, doesn’t it?

  8. jcaskey permalink
    February 19, 2009 4:05 am

    I get the feeling that incorporating that kind of advertising will be as detrimental to industry income as it would be beneficial. Sure, developers might make some quick cash for it, but work will spread and people will end up avoiding games with excessive advertising. Even if your wish was granted, and the game itself was untouched, advertising in games has such a negative reputation I’d expect players to avoid it on principle alone.

  9. February 19, 2009 3:03 pm

    An idea I have for a game goes along with the “Quafe Energy Drink” type advertising, only to another level, mechanics and design. Let’s say you have a game where you depend on a hi-tech phone, which my idea does not. You have some cool ideas and start designing. Well, rather than just doing research, ask Google or Apple if they would be willing to help. They already have lots of ideas for how phones can be used, and a game showing those uses associated with their phones would help them. So, if they like the game concept, they may give you research to help design the game and possibly help fund it.

    In that type of usage, advertising acts like a part of the game design, rather than intrusive ads. That’s because the game comes before the product placement.

    I know that won’t work for all games, and is likely to have legal and interest hurdles, but I think it is an interesting route for advertising and funding.

  10. February 24, 2009 2:28 pm

    The ads that appear before movies is one of the major reasons why I never go to see films anymore in the theaters. I do not think that ads are a viable solution. Instead, the solution is to have lower-cost games – games that are smarter instead of just bigger. I recently went to a tour of Kaos studios in NYC and the amount of wasted money is just outrageous. For their budget of one single (unoriginal) game, I could probably make small, smart games for my entire lifetime. This is the problem with the industry – it is simply too big. Your friends, if they are committed enough to game development, they can get back into it. Start a startup – there are so many opportunities arising for small teams these days, like Steam, the Iphone, and XBox Live Arcade. That’s the way to go.

    -Keith

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