In-game advertising – a double-edged sword

Wednesday 18th July 2012   by Andy Comber

Matt Hughes is spending a week doing work experience with us here at matm. He’s 15 and an experienced gamer. So we asked him to look into an increasingly common aspect of the digital leisure world – in-game advertising. Here’re his views:

In the past 10 years, video games have developed exceedingly fast. This has perked the interest of many companies, including, Adidas, MacDonald’s and Intel to use these games as advertising opportunities.

However, the games industry have had mixed feelings on in-game advertisements, as it may be seen as ‘selling out’. This has caused some businesses to lose respect from customers.

Although a lot of businesses have gained millions of dollars from the revenue they have earned from the advertisements. One well known in-game advert was an advertising billboard for the Obama 2008 election in a game called Burnout Paradise.


This billboard was positioned on the side of a main highway, where the players would pass regularly and see the message.

Obama also appeared in NBA Live 08 where he featured on an advertising board with the same ‘EARLY VOTING’ message. It made a regular appearance next to the basketball court, which would have been viewed millions of times by players of the highly popular basketball franchise.

In my personal experience, I have never been put off a game because of it’s in-game adverts.

However if the development company were to extend the amount of adverts they add to their game even more, to the point that it may have advert breaks in the game, or if the game were to have advertising billboard on every available space, I would feel betrayed as a gamer, as I buy games to enjoy them, not to have corporate advertising rammed in my face every five minutes.

I feel that the addition of in-game advertisements adds to the realism as it creates a recognisable atmosphere that is relatable to the player of the game. However, if the developers were to abuse this, they may be criticized by the media, games reviewers and gamers.

Since in-game advertising has arrived in the last couple of years, a lot of game developers have had the ability to produce free-to-play games with no hidden costs or charges.

This has enabled them to use these games as a blank canvas for testing features to use on their new games, for example a game called Team Fortress 2 which was released in 2007, was originally priced at £8, however in early 2012, the game was made free to play.

This has allowed Valve, the game’s developers, to experiment with different features and create a better gaming experience for the future. They have used advertising in their game to help fund the development process and continue to produce new content for the game.

My view is that a lot of smaller, independent games companies could benefit from in-game advertisements because the extra income, which in some cases might be substantial, could offset development costs, making it easier to break into the market.

As well as advertisement, product placement has also become more popular in the gaming industry, with large businesses like Lynx placing their products in games, and well known characters taking Coca Cola from a branded vending machine.

This idea of showing the product in the game has proven very successful for many companies, for example, when Activision released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Mountain Dew also released Modern Warfare 3 themed drinks in which were several collectable cards that gamers could trade for in-game items and ‘Experience Boots’.

This boosted the sales of Mountain Dew significantly, as many of the gamers that play Call of Duty will do anything to get ahead of other gamers.

On 15 July 2012, in an article about growing alarm at our increasingly digital world, The Sunday Times said the average British adolescent spends up to 5 hours a day online and 10 to 11-year-olds have access to 5 screens at home.

Advertisers have realised that to reach a target audience, especially the highly prized younger audience, they must place their products where the audience is, and that is increasingly in cyberspace, not the real world.

Advertising on Facebook and Youtube is now the norm, now the ad people are beginning to shift over to games, as they know that a large percentage of the people that use computers regularly in their spare time are gamers.

The upside, is that this new element of the advertising industry is creating thousands of new jobs. The downside is that it is clear we will never escape seeing something we never knew we wanted.