Shoot This Billboard For More Information
September 01, 2006
I have a bad feeling about this. Specifically, the idea of Electronic Arts planting dynamic advertising into upcoming video games. You probably know the drill by now. While playing Battlefield 2142 or Need For Speed: Carbon you're going to come across billboards and signs in the game directing you to apply for a Visa card or drink Mountain Dew. The idea isn't exactly new, but I believe that we're about to see it go to a new extreme.
At first the billboards will appear in the war zone of Battlefield. Then EA will see that gamers enjoy blowing up the billboards, so the next revision of the game will turn the billboards into indestructible objects so that the ads always shine through. All the C4 in the world won't blast that pitch for Subway sandwiches to bits. Then EA will see that players are ignoring the billboards, so they'll try to entice us to seek them out. Power-ups and weapon upgrades will be located right in front of a giant poster for Pizza Hut, forcing players who want to remain competitive to spend time searching for ads. That won't be enough for the advertisers, however. "They can see our product, sure, but how can we get them to learn more about it?" Enter the soon-to-be-familiar pitch "Shoot this billboard for more information," then watch players shout in frustration as crossfire in the middle of an intense battle accidentally triggers a sales pitch, leaving the in-game character an immobile target as a web page appears over the action and asks for your e-mail address.
This is not a gaming environment that I am eager to inhabit. In-game advertising may well become a necessary evil in the next generation of gaming, but we must not allow it to spiral out of control. There's a solid difference between a little poster for Coca-Cola hanging on a brick wall in an alley somewhere and a game-halting pitch for Burger King's dollar menu. The moment the ads impede the gaming experience is the moment I turn the game off and find other activities on which to spend my time and money.