I was recently asked as to what I thought about in-game advertisements. Given the fact that I am a game developer, the whole concept of in-game advertisements does seem like an intriguing subject. There are two ways to really look at the whole idea of in-game advertisements.The first and the most obvious one is of course as a potential money spinning tool for developers/publishers and is quite an interesting idea to explore. But there is a also a view that such ads inside games will end up polluting and degrading the overall game experience and could attract an ire from the players or the community as a whole, and in the worst case have an adverse effect on games sales. The last thing you want is a commercial break or a cutscene marketing something inside a fast paced game. Such a thing will be a disaster and I am sure players will frown on games that take this road.
My feeling is, game designs don’t need to this drastic to have the whole in-game advertising thing working for them. It would be a horrendous mistake to have advertisements inside the game that degrade gameplay. However having interactive ads that are properly integrated into the game may not necessarily be a bad prospect. That is exactly why ads in games need to be more than just inert props and simple banners. To a player such things make little impact and might or might not get noticed. The impact from any 2D inert items will be limited, especially if the game features a 3D world (2D games could still make use of banners more effectively than 3D ones, but even they could do better if the ads were interactive). Games typically differ from other traditional forms of digital entertainment in the fact that they are an interactive medium and therefore like every other gameplay element, ads within games will also be most effective when the player interacts with them.
Gamers (, especially hard-core gamers) might frown on the idea of having in-game ads but it may not be all bad. Not all games are ideal for in-game ads, I will touch on that point a little later. I personally haven’t seen any ads in most of the games that I have played. But I have seen it in some games, the example I can sight is Second Life. Second Life is a great example of how ads can make into games without being immediately frowned upon. The player is given a choice of whether he/she wants to interact and view the content (of the ad) instead of something being forced on him/her. A player will appreciate this, and the ad campaign will thus be successful. In the brief time I played Second Life (here), I visited a couple of interesting places where the in-game advertisements looked really great. Music seems to be the best appreciated followed by fashion when it came to ads there, but I am sure people must be advertising all sorts of stuff over there. As I said, my stint with Second Life was pretty brief.
As a game developer I look at the whole scenario of in-game advertisements positively. I am sure using proper game design advertisements can be made sufficiently interactive so that they could “fit into” a game without actually nagging the player. I would even go further and say that if used effectively a game could actually be enhanced (case in point Second Life) so that marketing inside games could be something that player can look forward to and actually find an interest in the whole idea of having an online try-before-you-buy opportunity. Can all games be effective as in-game advertising mediums? No, some might do a better job at it while others might not be as effective. MMOGs like Second Life will probably be far better at it than say a FPS with it’s setting on an alien planet. Some games like shoot-them-up tournaments might not be effective at all. Having said that, we can never be too sure about marketing ideas and how “genius minds” work. So, someone might just find some way to insert a “Matrimony Online” banner inside the Strogg Nexus on Stroggos, you never can tell.