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IMO: Advertising Inside Games

Keith Elwood / January 25, 2015 at 12:00 PM / Gaming, Opinions

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. It is about a topic that many people may find controversial or even something that many people may be opposed to outright.  The below article is written in order to provoke thought and discussion on what-if scenarios pertaining to advertising inside game worlds, it is not advocating for anything. Quite the opposite.

In the recent past there was an article about advertising inside games on the GamesRadar site, which I took to be mostly satirical and meant to be tongue-in-cheek. You can read it here and decide for yourself on that, if you like. It made me think about the topic a little bit, though. Practically, I’m not so sure it would be such a bad idea if it were done the right way. In all bluntless, the thing I hate most about advertising as a practice is when it is obnoxious, annoying and low effort. If it were done the right way though, I think it would by and large be possible to make a game with certain kinds of advertising in it.

For example, lets take Left 4 Dead as a series. I would not be opposed to seeing vending machines with the Coke or Pepsi, or other logos on them so long as they met a few basic rules. Firstly, the art can’t be of higher quality than the rest of the game. By that, I mean, it cant be of higher texture, or somehow cleaner or less bloody than the area around it.

Secondly, placement needs to be done right. What that means is that just like vending machines in the real world, their placement in-game needs to be done in such a way as to maintain suspension of disbelief. They can’t be out of place, and on every single corner in the game. In other words, the test for that would be able to pass by one, see it, but also not really think much of it.

Thirdly, it needs to fit the setting. For example, selling in-game DLC by way of in-game advertising isn’t something I would support, or even say should happen for the simple fact it doesn’t seem like it would fit. When it comes to fantasy settings such as games like Skyrim or ArcheAge, you could still have advertising in it but I would think that the advertising would need to be dramatically different to what you might find in something like Left 4 Dead, or even Star Citizen. This is because while its perfectly possible for a company to exist in an alternate, zombie-filled universe, or in the far future, there is a much harder hurdle to overcome when it comes to fantasy settings. It isn’t possible for companies to really transplant themselves into alternate universes, or even go back in time really, and still continue to exist in a believable format.

An alternative could be advertising for companies that make replica swords, or even knife makers being offered advertising space. The demographics might have a hard time overlapping, but it would be much more preferable in comparison to seeing a Coke can or a Pepsi product in a Star Wars or Elder Scrolls game. In other words, the more suspension of disbelief required to be immersed into a game there is, the more the advertising would need to be tailored for and selected for the game. Doing it wrong, or even badly, could end up backfiring and hurting more than it could ever possibly help the game.

There are, believe it or not, games that have tried this before, with mixed or outright poor results. Planetside 1 had in-game advertising. Back in 2005, Sony Online Entertainment tried to place in-game billboards with streaming adverts in them. The advertising network was hosted by Massive. They were loud, obnoxious and placed in spawn rooms and staging areas – places that people spent time in, frequently. What ended up happening should shock nobody: Players blocked them by editing their computers Hosts file to redirect the ad network’s advertising servers to their own computers, thereby not seeing advertising to begin with.


Are there any other rules that you would use when it comes to placement of advertising inside games that would make it acceptable?

Keith Elwood

I have been a gamer ever since I can remember, starting with the Sega Genesis and original Nintendo consoles. I graduated to frogger on an ancient IBM home PC, and then onto Sim City 2000. In 2004, I got into shooters and MMOs. I haven't looked back since. Professionally, I am certified in private security. In my spare time, I dabble in information analysis and study geopolitics. I sometimes write at my own blog at