Earlier this month Google announced that they’re planning to bring Adsense — their context-sensitive per-click web advertising service — to the world of videogames:
Although Google didn’t show any examples of the ads in action, they did say they’ll be rolling out the system “soon”. Bad times lie ahead.
I’ve never been a fan of (real life) adverts in games, primarily because games are all about the ability to enter into the gameworld. Seeing an advert for a show on the TV later this evening is jarring — potentially destroying the carefully constructed fantasy world, and therefore undermining the gaming experience.
I remember when SWAT 4 added in-game adverts with a patch: there was an outcry among the community. Even in a game pitched in a contemporary setting, in an urban environment, even — in short — in locations where adverts weren’t horrendously out of place, they still looked… well, out of place. One of the big problems in that case was the fact that (surprise, surprise) the advertisers got greedy, and started hogging wall space in each map with more and more posters for the new episode of this, or the latest deodorant, or car. It ended up looking ridiculous and making a mockery out of the gritty atmosphere of the game. Here’s an example from SimHQ:
Of course, it turned out that SWAT 4’s adverts were actually doing a lot more than just pimping whatever new TV show happened to be airing that week. They were also tracking which ads players looked at, and for how long, and they were sending that data back to the advertiser’s server. This is not on. As the Inquirer put it back in 2005:
“Gamers are therefore providing huge amounts of free market research into what is and is not working – something which advertisers usually pay millions of dollars to do in often times less than precise ways – in a videogame which they have paid the full price for.”
Maybe Google can do in-game advertising better — maybe they really can “do no evil” and serve a realistic number of ads which don’t impact negatively on the gamer’s experience. I doubt it.