Certain genres are predisposed to advertising while others just aren't. It's hard to imagine anything less immersive than battling your way through a dark and dangerous fantasy dungeon only to come back into the light and stumble across a big ol' billboard. Or to be fighting an alien queen in her black, airless lair and have your character's Nokia phone suddenly ring. Anyone remember Everquest building a pizza-ordering function into its game? Whose brilliant idea was that? The gimmick might have generated a lot of buzz for EQ II, but did it do anything for the gamer or the game? Unfortunately, in the last five years, gamers have gotten even more accustomed to the idea of conducting commerce inside of games thanks to the increasingly prevalent online free-to-play model that enables gamers to play games for free and purchase optional in-game items. If gamers have gotten used to spending real world money in games on virtual items, is it that big of a stretch to imagine that soon they'll be regularly buying real world items by way of a game? With transparent in-game interfaces and easy pay setups, in-game product placement could well become another way for ad companies to dip their hands into our pockets when we're not even looking.
If product placement is good for advertisers and publishers and questionable for gamers, what good does it do for the games themselves? As mentioned before, there are some who would argue that inserting recognizable brands into video game worlds adds a layer of realism and increases immersion. That may be so, and it certainly may benefit games that take place in contemporary times and real world settings. The problem is, products soon become dated, and by association, games containing them will become dated even more quickly than they normally would. On top of that, if product placement becomes the publishers' trend, mightn't game concepts become even more dependent on market research and notions of the tried-and-true than they already are? If publishers are concerned about keeping their advertisers happy, might they not alter or inhibit creative decisions in order to keep those advertiser dollars coming?
With so much money at stake, there's just no easy answer regarding the benefit or harm of in-game advertising and product placement. While we as gamers would like to think games are made exclusively for us by idealistic teams of creative purists, the reality is that games are a business and businesses exist to make money. Astronomical game development costs have created a need in game development for huge piles of cash, and the practical fact is, other than investors, the best way for publishers to offset those costs is by cozying up to advertisers with deep pockets. At this point, there seems to be no reason to panic since product placement in games is as yet in its infancy. With interactive entertainment evolving all the time, however, we can speculate that in-game advertising will evolve right along with it, and most likely become even more prevalent than it already is. Whatever happens, the important thing to remember is that ultimately it's the gamers who hold the control. No matter what anyone advertises or where it appears, we express our rejection of or complicity with it by choosing how to spend our hard-earned dollars.
By Neilie Johnson
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*