Video Games! That’s right, and if you act now you can have the game of your choice, paid by our sponsor, you! Band of Bloggers is proud to shamelessly advertise this month and deliver a subsidized experience that glorifies our non-existent financers!
As you may have guessed, this month’s theme is about advertising within video games! While in-game advertising is nothing new to the games industry, it has become far more prevalent in recent years. In a world with ever-growing project costs, developers and publishers are always looking for ways to fund their games and grow revenue. Third party sponsors are one of the ways they mitigate funding issues.
In-game advertising started out as a generally harmless practice that was often implemented via clever product placement. Environments might include promotional materials, objects could be branded, or in more obvious cases, the character was incentivized to interact with products. However, years of marketing research have led to significant revisions in how advertising is implemented in games today.
"Just look at the glow on that magnificent burger!"
The free-to-play business models have received widespread adoption, because they make video games far more accessible, but less rewarding. The base games are often meant to serve as a proof of general quality for potential customers, but are carefully designed to be bland or tedious without premium memberships or in-app purchases. Paid versions of the games might offer exclusive content, progression benefits, or custom cosmetics that are designed to augment the base game and improve the player experience. What players don’t immediately realize, is that the free elements of the game are the advertisements. Once the players are mentally and emotionally invested in the game, they are more willing to spend money. In this framing, it could be argued that free-to-play games are essentially just ads that continuously encourage their playerbases to spend more money. That’s not to say that free-to-play games are inherently bad though. There are plenty of franchises that offer fair experiences to their non-paying/frugal players, but the ads are certainly persistent.
Another interesting strategy that marketing departments have experimented with is “brand familiarization,” which was developed on the premise of subconscious exposure to marketing. We won’t get too far into the psychological details, but here’s how it works. A company like McDonalds may decide they want to try and sell more “kids meals”. Since kids are the primary audience for that product, McDonalds decides to hire a game developer to make kids games based upon their brand. McDonalds then advertises their games wherever necessary to get awareness out, and ensures the games are accessible. In many cases the games are completely free, but what’s important to McDonalds, is the brand exposure that the games provide when played. Now forget McDonalds, this is just an example. Many companies do this in one form or another, but this concept has become far more common in modern games. This approach to advertising is based on the principle of constant exposure, and because video games are continually growing in popularity, marketing groups will continue to think of ways they can use games to increase brand exposure. It’s genius, but it’s not always ethical. Giving away free beer koozies to adults is not the same as conditioning adolescents to buy fast food.
Are you tired yet? We are too. Let’s finish this up with a list of cringey acts of marketing in video games:
Death Stranding - This one should be fresh in all of our minds. Death Stranding did it’s damndest to make us crave a Monster Energy drink. Killing entities from foreign dimensions is tiring work, after all.
FIFA - Sports games fall into a weird category, because real sports are so riddled with ads that it would probably detract from the immersion of something like FIFA to see unbadged jerseys and blank billboards. The ads are everywhere though in these games. Love them or hate them.
Splinter Cell - When Sam Fischer needs to conduct stealthy counter-terrorism missions, he relies exclusively on Sony Ericsson phones to get the job done. These phones are actually known for their reliability, but Ubisoft surely didn’t feature this brand in their games for no charge.
Burnout Paradise - Some may find it hard to believe, but the Obama campaign did actually run paid ads in this video game back in 2008. Obama does like classic sports cars though, so maybe this isn’t actually all that much of a surprise.
SimCity - It’s no surprise to see another EA title with in-game ads, but if it couldn’t be any worse, the Nissan Leaf charging station is meta. What do we even call this? Advertise-to-win?
Fortnite - One of the most successful and popular free-to-play games of all time. Fortnite has not been afraid to try all sorts of new things, such as sponsored concerts and limited-time crossovers. During peak popularity, the in-game ads for new character skins weren’t all that invasive. Epic has noticeably stepped up the invasiveness of the item-shop flyers since the beginning of Chapter 2 though. They clearly haven’t dropped the prices either.
Did you enjoy this month’s content? Was it too serious? Always feel free to let us know. We seek to be interesting and relevant, but never offensive. If you have your own thoughts on in-game advertising, feel free to share them in the comments! If you’re feeling overly ambitious, write a blog of your own! Just remember to tag BoB in the beginning of the headline so we can readily find your content.
The world’s a crazy place right now, but we have a busy month ahead for gaming news! Stay safe and be sure to rub Shoggoth’s forehead for good luck, maybe your E3 wishes will still come true!