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When Are Ads in Video Games Okay?

Roblox Spongebob Simulator Game Ad

For decades we’ve seen variations of advertising inside video games to the point where some games are entirely ads. One that comes to mind is the Burger King game, Sneak King. While we don’t see many video games based on brands like this anymore, they’re still prevalent in Roblox. It doesn’t take long to find the official Spongebob game that’s filled with microtransactions and loot boxes.

Aside from these sponsored experiences, we frequently see collaborations in live service games where they’ve become common. For example, Fortnite recently introduced a few Billie Eilish outfits. While Call of Duty: Warzone has had collaborations with The Walking Dead and Attack on Titan. These are just two cases where ads in video games exist that we don’t bother to question anymore.

The question I wonder about is when are ads in video games okay? Is it alright if it’s a free-to-play game or as long as the ads aren’t too intrusive? I’ve never been one to buy skins or outfits so they haven’t heavily impacted me. But in reality, every time I see someone wearing a skin associated with a brand, that’s an ad right there. It’s a subtle form of advertising even when I don’t spend money.

Fortnite Billie Eilish Collaboration

This then becomes a balance in creating skins that stand out enough to grab attention but not too much to throw off the vibe. I referenced this in another editorial where Rainbow Six Siege has a pizza outfit that feels out of place. This shows how developers can create intrusive skins that ruin other players’ experiences. Even for something that’s just cosmetic.

The topic of ads in video games is fresh on my mind since a recent EA earnings call. EA CEO, Andrew Wilson, answered a question about inserting ads in triple-A games. He spoke about how while it’s still early, they do see it as an opportunity to embrace while being “thoughtful” about it. Earlier in the same earnings call, he referenced their EA Sports FC sponsored deals with companies like Nike and Pepsi.

But this leads to murky water where you have to wonder how EA would handle ads in buy-to-play games. After spending $70 on a new game, why should you spend more money on microtransactions or look at ads? I can understand creating a new revenue source if it’s a live service game with new content flowing in. Otherwise, I don’t want to look at ads or have microtransactions that impede my enjoyment.

Rainbow Six Vegas Axe Ad

Image courtesy of Reddit.

The last thing I need is for loading screens to become more common to provide ad space. If anything, I miss seeing those hints or random bits of lore along the bottom of my screen. I don’t want to look at Burger King deals. With that said, I’m sure there are plenty of ways to include ads in games without being annoying. I’d probably be okay with them as long as they don’t interrupt my gameplay and opt instead for a subtle approach.

Some tweets about the EA news echo my sentiments like having billboard ads that aren’t shoved in your face. Or placing real fast food brands into a city where they’d fit in organically. The issue with subtle advertising is that it may not be as effective as something you’d have to stare at it. Which is unfortunate, since we have seen cases like Rainbow Six Vegas where ad placements make more sense. Going off of memory and some research, they had ads that would change over time. This is in line with the dynamic ads mentioned in EA’s earnings call.

As opposed to only advertising real brands like the Axe example above, Ubisoft also showcased their other games in Rainbow Six Vegas 2. This is a neat way to cross-promote without players feeling like they’re always being marketed toward. And while I wouldn’t mind seeing the occasional ad like these, I have a feeling they’d break my immersion too easily. It really would depend on the type of game.

The big issue I’d worry about is becoming too comfortable with a small amount of advertising that quickly devolves into a mess. As they say, give someone an inch and they’ll take a mile. I wouldn’t say it’s an easy situation to figure out, but I’d also prefer not to have it at all. Let me buy a game and have it be as simple as that. I don’t want to look at ads every time I complete a level the same way many mobile games force you to. I can’t even play Minesweeper anymore without ads.