Post no Bills!
I enter through the ropes, my black and gold silk trunks swishing as I lightly bounce on my feet. My mouthpiece, gloves, mind set--all ready. The bell rings and I lunge at my opponent, another silk-clad warrior of the square circle, and we trade blows. Four rounds later, I knock him out with a stunning right to his chin, and I raise my arms, triumphant. Confetti flies, fireworks explode, the spectators cheer. It’s bedlam in Madison Square Garden: a new heavy weight champion of the world has emerged. I turn as someone throws a robe over me and there with my belt, his plastic face grinning, is The King. The Burger King. I look down, and the surface we’ve been sparring on is covered with a large Burger King logo. Overhead, banners with the Dodge emblem sway, and a new Dodge truck is waiting in the corner, shiny and red. The fantasy dies, and I’m sucked back to reality; that’s not me boxing, but my avatar. I’m playing EA’s Fight Night Round 3 for the Xbox 360, and ads for Dodge and Burger King abound. The announcer declares that I’ve won the Burger King Wednesday Night Fight, sponsored by Dodge. This is just another video game filled with in-game ads, and this phenomenon is growing as Americans are spending more money on video games than movies now.
We are surrounded by advertisements every where we go. Commercials on the radio, on television, ads in the daily paper, on billboards, and before movies are all common occurrences. We are used to seeing hundreds of ads a day, and it is no surprise that they have shown up in our entertainment. According to Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon in Signs of Life in the U.S.A., with all the advertising out there, it is getting harder and harder for advertisers to get our attention, or keep it, so they are constantly experimenting with new ways of getting us to listen” (144). As video gamers become more abundant and economically relevant, and video games are becoming more enmeshed in popular culture, it is only natural that this medium is targeted by advertisers. Industry analysts at IGA Worldwide project that video games will bring in over ten billion dollars this year, and that number is only expected to rise through the decade. This, coupled with the fact that the development costs of a current generation game run anywhere from fifteen to thirty million dollars, means that in-game ads are here to stay.
As advertising in games becomes more commonplace, new ad firms are springing up whose sole purpose is to create and consult on in-game ads. The firm IGA Worldwide was founded in 2004, and caters exclusively to the producers of video games. Their main demographic is the 18 to 34 year old male, a group that is also considered to be difficult to advertise to given the differences in age of that spectrum. This demographic is also the one most targeted by the video game industry, and the crossover is readily apparent in many in-game ads. A case study of the possible success of in-game ads is detailed on IGA’s website. Ben Sherman is a British lifestyle and fashion brand advertised in Test Drive Unlimited, an online racing game developed by Atari. In the game, players are exposed to billboards depicting some of Sherman’s products, and an in-game store allows players to purchase clothing for their character. IGA reports that almost one million copies of Test Drive Unlimited have sold since its release, and an estimated two and a half million gamers have rented or heard about it ("FAQs"). Included in the game is an achievement point system that rewards players for collecting enough Ben Sherman products. In addition to exposing gamers to ads for a retailer, these ads may bring a game company around ten percent of the cost of development, no small amount considering the costs of making a modern game.
In-game ads don’t have to be just hard-written into a game, either. With the rising popularity of massively multi player online games (MMOs), developers and advertisers are offered the ability to change or drop in new ads, depending of the success of the current campaign. For example, the popular MMO role playing game Everquest, allows players to click a Pizza Hut icon and have a pizza delivered to their house. Similarly, Subway offers daily ads in the popular on-line first person shooter CounterStrike (Jana).
Many gamers, including myself, find in-game ads to be obtrusive or an eyesore. As consumers, many feel that they aren’t spending their sixty plus dollars on a new game merely to have it filled with ads. Subway, Axe body spray, Mountain Dew and Dodge all make frequent appearances in new games, showing up on in-game billboards, posters on bus stops; anywhere we are used to seeing an ad in real life, we see them in video games. Developers and some gamers claim that these hard-coded ads actually make the game more realistic or cinematic, exposing how accustomed to ads we have become when we need to see them to reinforce a reality. Some games include blatant ads that the player must navigate around or over, as seen in Tom Clancy’s popular Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. While controlling secret agent Sam Fisher, players have to scale a massive neon Axe deodorant sign on the side of a building. Developers claim that adding elements like this only contribute to the overall game experience, as it adds new lighting possibilities (Jana). Burger King, in addition to advertising in several games, has created their own small series of games starring their garish mascot, The King. Available at any Burger King, these games are both advertisements and products to be advertised, and may be the start of a new trend among companies. It doesn’t seem to be a far stretch to imagine more ‘games’ like these, that are little more than interactive commercials.
We live in a capitalist society. Everything around is for sale or used to advertise the sale of something else. Stadiums bear the names of corporations, NASCAR drivers and their cars are festooned with ads, and now they have encroached into video games. Burger King, Dodge, Axe, and scores of other products are hard-coded in to the current generation of games, making ads impossible to escape. It is a sign of the times, when I must lay down my (or my wife’s) hard earned money for a video game that comes with its own ads. This trend will continue, given the benefits to game developers and advertisers, but where will it stop? Will the next game I buy come wrapped not in plastic, but in a Burger King box with a side of fries? Even worse, what will the goal of that game be? To satisfy my character’s hunger, by running around a maze of ads to find the right product?
"FAQs: Why In-Game Advertising?" IGA Worldwide. 23 Apr. 2007. http://www.igaworldwide.com/aboutus/faqs.
Jana, Reena. “Is That a Video Game – or an Ad?” BusinessWeek 25 Jan. 2006. 29 Apr. 2007. http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/jan2006/id20060124_792815.html
Maasik, Sonia, and Jack Solomon. “Brought to you B(u)y: The Signs of Advertising.” Introduction to Chapter 2. Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006.
Vore, Bryan. “Activision Nielsen study In-Game Ad Effectiveness.” GameInformer 5 Dec. 2005. 23 Apr. 2007 http://www.gameinformer.com/NR/exeres/D84777E0985D-44D2-7 B186-9E850FA1152.htm.