By JimmyJackJones 5 Comments
I hear the discussion every now and then. Well, OK, I actually hear someone talk about hearing the discussion. That person is usually Jeff Gerstmann, and the discussion is about in-game advertising. When I hear Jeff talk about it (on the Bombcast. I'm not trying to claim he and I are tight buds or anything), he mentions that apparently there are people who are offended whenever they see some form of in-game ad. Since I've never really waded into the debate or looked it up, I can't say I really know all the arguments about why. Maybe that's why I don't really understand why some people think in-game ads are such a big deal.
Two recent games really stick out in my mind regarding this topic: Splinter Cell Conviction and Alan Wake. During a few of the Bombcasts, I've heard the crew laugh about and deride the Dr. Pepper ads in Splinter Cell, which I guess is just a big wall texture or something. Honestly, I've never seen this ad. And I've played Conviction. I've played a lot of Conviction. And yet somehow I missed these ads. I have no idea what the Dr. Pepper ads look like in Splinter Cell Conviction. So I guess the ad failed in my case. Or maybe it worked TOO well. Maybe it just blended into the game world like a normal ad in the real world would. And like one of those ads, I just ignored it. Either way, can you complain about an ad that can somehow go unnoticed?
The ads in Alan Wake are a bit more obvious, at least to me. When Alan first picks up a flashlight, you see Energizer written down the side. And supposedly you keep picking up Energizer batteries during the game. But those battery packs are so small, I honestly couldn't tell if they were branded or not. The only time I ever recall seeing the Energizer brand was in the moment I described above. It's not like Alan runs around proclaiming, "God Bless the Energizer Bunny! I'd be doomed without the ability to harness the power of lithium!" Then there are the Verizon ads. Late in the game, there is a large billboard out by the street that is pretty much just the Verizon logo. You know what? I didn't care. There are billboards out there in the world, and some of them are for Verizon. Seeing something like that in this game didn't ruin the atmosphere for me. It seemed feasible.
OK, so there is apparently an actual TV ad for Verizon in the game as well. I say apparently, because I never found it when I played through the game. I just saw it for the first time today on YouTube. And you get an achievement for watching the ad. That's pretty lame. But as I said before, I never saw this ad when I played the game. You aren't forced to watch it. The game doesn't halt and play the ad, keeping you from moving forward until you acknowledge that you can indeed hear him now. So I can't really complain about this ad. Tycho of Penny Arcade fame discusses this stuff in his newspost for a comic on this topic, and I basically agree with his point of view. The TV ad is annoying, but I don't think it really has an impact on the game.
I guess I just don't really get what's so offensive about in-game ads. Again, it's not like they're TV commercials, where the action is brought to a screeching halt while you watch the Sham-Wow guy hock his wares. Alan Wake's TV ad may come close, but I maintain that since you don't have to watch it, it doesn't count. I think product placement sometimes makes a game feel more grounded in reality. Seeing a Coke machine instead of a "Cola" machine, or seeing someone use a branded phone just makes it seem like the game relates to our world just a little bit more. Sure, if this stuff shows up in a game like Mass Effect, that's kind of reaching. And it would be really offensive if it was in a fantasy world, like in Star Wars or a Mario game. But I haven't come across a situation yet in a game where I come across an ad or product placement, twisted my face, and said, "Oh come on!" What is it about ads and product placement that bothers some people? Is it the belief that corporations are evil, soulless machines that produce nothing but death and decay? Guess what? If you bought a big budget game, you have supported at least one of those corporations with that purchase. If you refuse to buy those kinds of games and only get indie titles? Well why are you complaining?! You've already dealt with the situation. And if you pirated the game? Well, without getting into the debate about the morality of piracy, do you really think you have the right to complain about the content of a game you didn't have to pay any money for? The only thing it cost you was bandwidth. Heck, you're probably stealing that too.
Of course, there are games made by companies that are purely ads within themselves. Remember those Burger King games they made for the Xbox? I would say those are offensive not because they were ads in game form, but because they're pretty bad games. Plus, I don't think they really cost anything. Weren't they packed in with a value meal or something as a promotional item? Maybe they were a couple of bucks. I don't remember. Then there was Darkened Skye, the infamous game about Skittles. You know what? I actually kind of liked that game. I never got very far, and yeah, the controls weren't all that great, but I actually found it to be kind of entertaining. Maybe that makes me a bad person. And I have to mention Chex Quest. It was a game about a character who was a piece of Chex who went around fighting aliens, and it was built using the Doom engine. Come on, that sounds kind of awesome, doesn't it? And it was actually fun to play, again because it used the Doom engine. Plus it was free. OK, so you had to buy the cereal, but I'm not going to complain about having a bowl of Chex to eat while I'm playing a Doom clone. Heck, make some Chex Mix with it. My point is that a game built around a product isn't necessarily a horrible thing. It's only bad if the game is bad and you had to pay some extra cash for it. Which most people have the good sense not to do.
So yeah, I'm OK with ads and product placement in video games. I'm not saying I'd be OK with it in any form and any situation. I've already mentioned some scenarios where I think this stuff would be unwelcome. If I saw stuff like that in my games (or like this comic), I'd join those who raise their voices against the advertising machine. But right now, I don't see the problem. Video games are pretty expensive to make. I don't mind letting the game developers cover those costs in the form of the occasional product placement. If I have to use an Energizer flashlight in order to experience a game like Alan Wake , I don't think that's such a bad deal.