More After These Messages…

Like it or not, advertising is already well and truly established into the industry – in gagdets, in firmware and indeed in games. Computers often come pre-bundled with a massive selection of often useless items as “advertising”. Microsoft introduced advertisements in the recent X-Box Live interface. You can see billboards and posters littered around most cityscapes advertising everything from Apple products, to Coca-Cola and even Oreos.

However, I was today grouping up with some charming American people (no really, I mean it!) who were laughing about how to get money to fund Final Fantasy XIV’s extremely expensive development. Since it was released in the fall of 2010, FFXIV is a game that is not merely released and costing Square-Enix money for server and maintenance costs, but in developing it past its awkward birth towards the 2.0 version due later this year – a full two years after release. Millions of dollars are being poured into Final Fantasy XIV in the hopes that somehow, they can recoup it over the next six to seven years (Final Fantasy XI is still profitable and still popular among many).

They were joking about advertising in-game, and I was paying attention whilst they threw massive AoE spells about and made my pugilist feel pretty inadequate in every regard. About how they could have people drinking Mountain Dew in game cutscenes, and some branded chocolate bar as buff food.

Now, FFXIV is probably not a game where such things are going to be easy to advertise. They COULD install ads into the launcher in some hopes of generating revenue, but again, this isn’t something to take into consideration lightly – gamers don’t like that their games are being filled with subliminal and obvious promotional material for something in the real world.

But it is something that could, in theory, work with some sense. Resident Evil: Revelations had an episodic structure which recapped between each section. Games are becoming quite fond of breaking themselves up into this kind of structure – and the opportunities for advertising breaks in between those missions is perhaps the most obvious. It would work much like TV. And we PAY for TV subscriptions with ads, so please spare me the “I paid for it so it must not have ads!” – if it were that simple, no paid service would have ads anywhere ever.

But whilst episodic breaking and modern (and even sci-fi!) game settings are obvious natural candidates for advertising, the realms of fantasy are less so. And the biggest games of the last few months have been Skyrim and Kingdoms of Amalur, with Dragon’s Dogma looking set to make it a hat trick of fantasy awesome-sauce. Dark Souls could be stuck in here too.

These are games where advertising is simply not possible in the context that many would assume. You can’t have a poster on the wall of a medieval castle advertising an iPhone, for example. Not if you want to be taken seriously, in any case. So advertising for such games would need to be external, rather than internal – which is why EA want to push Origin. It gives them control and flexibility over games where internal advertising is just impossible – by making the external system governing the games carry it instead.

Many will argue this is awful. That it is wrong to see ads in games, but come on, we’ve always had games that were advertisements. In the 16-bit era, we had Cool Spot – which was advertising 7-Up for the whole shebang. Mick and Mack: Global Gladiators was advertising McDonalds. Games like these exist, and have done for many many years prior to our current situation. Sure, these were games designed wholly as advertisements, in a more innocent era, but they hold up as valid examples. Partially because games were cheaper to make in that era, so funding a game wasn’t such a bad investment move.

I do agree that there has to be a ceiling threshold, where we simply can no longer put any more ads into games without damaging them in some way. But they are already there. And as much as people joke about Square-Enix throwing inappropriate ads into games, they may be horrified to discover one day they log in and someone is running around dressed as Colonel Sanders, or in a huge bunny costume advertising something else. Heck, how about someone in these settings selling SOAP – that’d be ironically hilarious, right?

It’s impossible to escape from advertising. Advertising is revenue. It is money that funds development and post-sales technical support. It is easy money for relatively little work. Done with taste and intelligence, advertising is even a very good thing for gaming.

But it depends on the game, and how it is set up. Besides, that Skyrim patch with the Space Core crash landing into the landscape… what do you think that was?

It was funny. Quirky. Hilarious, even. But, more than anything else… it was advertising, and whilst funny – because the Space Core is hilarious – the end result, the helmet, just didn’t work in context. It didn’t make sense, it didn’t look right and it couldn’t hide the fact that it was, cleverly, advertising Portal 2.

But I digress. Advertising is here to stay. We’ve just got to stop buying into the ones that are doing it badly. Which, sadly, we do very badly at…

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