Advertising and the way it permeates society has always been an interest of mine. I've written several (ok, one) articles about undercover advertising (wikipedia it, it's a good read). We've got advertising everywhere in our lives, on the TV, on billboards, on shopping carts that you steal from the supermarket to roll down hills on. What's stopping advertising magnates from putting advertising in our video games?
First, let's have a look at how advertising in games could work (not that any of us want it to!). Product placement would definitely be the easiest from of advertisement. It'd be simple to have 'Drink Coke' on a vending machine in downtown Liberty City, replacing the developer-made brand like 'Zapper Cola' or some other such brandname. If your player character drank Coke or drove a Toyota, it would get the brand across to you. And with video games, 'you' refers to more and more people form different demographics every day, not just the typical teenage gamer model of the past. Every man and his dog seems to play video games these day (a dog playing Halo would be awesome... Imagine if he was your partner in Team Doubles... He he... What?), and so the company advertising would get their product across to a larger range of people than in the past. Product placement is definately the easiest way for advertising to be in games, and generally prove to be the least disruptive in terms of gameplay. This form of advertising is really the only concieveable way that we can be urged to buy, buy, buy in videogames. For instance, would anybody actually buy a game that had quarter-hourly ad breaks? I think not.
Now, let's examine the reasons (they should be obvious, really) why advertising will not be in games in their current format. Firstly, it will cost too much for a company to put advertising in a game that will be sold in high enough quantities to actually get the product across. It is a worldwide advertising scheme rather than localised ones that are normally undertaken by companies, which makes it a huge gamble on whether the advertising will pay off. If not, the company has just lost a massive chunk of money that will take years to regain. Also hindering advertising's progress into the videogame industry is those game developers who actually care about their game, about their customers and about their own profits. If a game is rife with advertising, few people will buy it and so the game deveplopers will not make much money besides what they got from the advertising. Alongside not getting money, some game developers would see it as cheapening the product they've perhaps spent years on, tarnishing it in their eyes. Finally is that fact that games can be played virtually forever, or at least until the disk is scratched beyone repair because nobody tells me that moving the console while there's a disk running in it is a no-no. This longevity of games can be both a good and a bad thing for hopeful game advertisers. It is good in that, once the advertising is bought, as long as people keep playing the game they keep getting the product put across to them. However, it also has negative implications. This wil drive the price up a huge amount, causing only but the few richest companies to be able to afford advertising within games. It will also mean the product is a snapshot of what it was when the advertising was created. If the product evolves, if the company changes it slogan, if the company even ceases to exist, the advertising is outdated and no longer means anything to anybody, bar those few who play the game to see the advertising and reminisce anout the product. Really, it should be obvious that the reasons why advertising in video games should not exist far outweigh those about how and why it should.
From this examination, we have discovered that advertising cannot survive in video games in their current form. Perhaps in the future, video games will specifically be adapted to be able to hold advertising (read This Other Eden by Ben Elton). However, as they are now, video games are not an advertising media in their own right. Video games have to advertise themselves on other media such as television or billboards. The day that video games advertise other video games will be that day that the industry has become suited to offering advertising to other companies and interests. Until then, let's be happy that the boxart for Fable 2 doesn't have a hero drinking a can of Coke and a huge sticker 'Endorsed by Coca-Cola Enterprises' slapped on the bottom.
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