There seems to be alot of controversy at the moment about various companies buying space in games to advertise their products. Considering that in 2005 roughly $56 Million was spent on advertising in video games, this subject is not one to be ignored easily. In this post I will explore the argument for and against in-game advertising and, at the end, deliver my personal opinion on the matter.
In-game advertising comes in various forms, from sports games such as the Fifa and Tony Hawk series advertising relevant sportswear to deodorant companies buying space in Splinter Cell. More recently, of course, is the appearance of Barack Obama in Burnout Paradise (pictured below) and seventeen other games.
Many gamers argue that the placement of products from the 'real world' breaks the illusion of a 'virtual world' that many games try so hard to create and therefore destroys the immersive aspect of gaming. For instance when playing SWAT 4 many gamers rightfully became annoyed when, lost in the moment and completely absorbed into the game's atmosphere, they were confronted with adverts for up and coming US television shows.
What's so good about in-game advertising then? Well surely the advertising companies are paying the game developers to place their products in the games, in theory that would mean that more money was being spent on the game meaning that the game would be better. These days it is also very difficult to get funding for anything, especially games so can you really blame developers and publishers for wanting extra money?
Furthermore, surely the more money invested on a game from outside influences the more pressure the developer has to make the game great? For example, if I knew that I had large advertising companies relying on my game to sell well then I would sure as hell make sure to make an amazing game. The more outside criticism and influence on a games' creation the better, right? It stops developers creating self-indulgent pieces that only they will enjoy.
Also, everyone else is doing it so it must be cool! Take films for example, when was the last time you saw a film that didn't contain product placement of some kind? Take every Bond film for example, nearly every scene has some kind of advert for Aston Martin, Rolex, BMW or (perhaps more obviously) MI6. Other films may not have even been possible had it not been for product placement, let's not forget the more than obvious placement of Red Bull in Snakes on a Plane and has everyone forgotten that 143 minute long FedEx advert?
Finally, we are surrounded by adverts nearly every waking hour of our day. Be it labels on clothes, pages in magazines/papers and even on websites like our very own Destructoid. Surely then, for certain games to fulfill their criteria of being 'realistic' they should contain as many adverts as possible. I believe that the screen below showing Times Square and it's virtual counterpart in GTA IV highlights this point clearly. Admittedly the adverts in GTA IV are all either spoofs of real ads or creations of the game developers, but if they were real adverts would it not highten the realism even more so?
My personal opinion is that in-game advertising is only annoying when it is abused or gets in the way of the game itself. Yes, if a can of Coke or a pair of Nike trainers appeared in Mass Effect or The Force Unleashed then I would, quite rightfully, be annoyed. But if whilst playing Burnout I stumble upon a billboard with Obama's face on is it really going to cause me to turn off the game and never play it again? I don't believe so.
Furthermore, what's wrong with the odd billboard in the background or logo on a shirt if it means that the game publishers and developers can keep making games? With internet piracy being at an all time high, game publishers must be finding it harder and harder to make money. Can we really blame them for finding it somewhere else?
This post was sponsored by Tesco. Every little helps