Does in-game advertising really hurt video games?
Just for purchasing a discount card at a local video store (GameStop), I not only got a year of 10% off video games, I also picked up a free one-year subscription to Game Informer. Not too bad for $15. In this month's issue, Issue 157 (May 2006), there's a page of debate (yes and no) to the question of whether or not in-game advertising really hurts video games. In this post, I'll be looking at the two responses, as well as crafting my own response to this question.
Pro in-game advertising
According to the Pro argument, in-game advertising makes sense for two reasons; money and realism. Regarding money, advertising can help pay for the expenses that developing a game incurs. Not only does it help the bigger companies, but it especially can help the smaller ones.
In-game advertising also adds an amount of realism to games. If you're playing a racing game and you're passing billboards, why not have actual advertisements, instead of pure fluff? True, having advertisements that are fictional will allow you to put humour into the ads, like the recent Grand Theft Autos, but it's quite alright to put some of each. In short, if you're playing a game that's supposed to be realistic, why not use real(istic) ads?
The Con argument
The con argument presented in Game Informer is pretty simple; Batman doesn't eat McDonald's, but if in-game advertising continues as it is, one day he will be. Games, according to the debater, should be free of objects that take away from the escapism appeal of video games.
Honestly, I'm going to side with the side that says that in-game advertising makes sense. If I'm playing a game where real-world objects make sense, why not put real-world advertising in place? Does Spider-man where Gap jeans? I don't know, but in the movie he was wearing some jeans, and as long as the product doesn't attempt to take the spotlight, there's no reason to not allow the label to be seen. Am I going to feel that I've lost out on the fantasy? Not really.
Of course, therein lies the real point; once the product becomes the focus, you've lost what you should really be paying attention to. If I'm playing Need for Speed: Most Wanted, I expect to see what kind of phone is being used. However, if I have to watch an advertisement before I get to the game-element, what the game is about, then you've lost me.
Likewise, if I'm playing Final Fantasy, or Suikoden, I don't expect to see a McDonald's. Earthbound? Maybe, since, after all, the game takes place (or really, took place) in the present. Advertising, just like in the real world, has to make sense where it's placed. Show me a new racing game where you can't drive real-world cars and I'll show you a game that's sub-standard. Show me one that does, and I'll be looking at a real-game.
In short, in-game advertising can make a whole lot of sense, if it's done right. Do it wrong, however, and you show the world that your marketing staff is sub-par.
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