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Are Optional Ads Worth The Trouble? 245

azuredrake writes "NCSoft's City of Heroes has just announced that in-game ads are being added to the game, provided by an advertising firm Double Fusion. However, unlike in many games, the ads being brought to CoH have been defined as 'always optional'. The publishers see the ads as a purely additional revenue stream, not as something that will ever allow advertisers to affect game content. Commentary is available at Gamasutra. Is making advertisement volunteer-based a viable way to get around cynicism? The tone of these ads seems to be 'check them out to help the game'. Are there any sites or services in which you'd voluntarily look at ads to lend a hand? "
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Are Optional Ads Worth The Trouble?

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  • Of course! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PoeticExplosion ( 943918 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [noisolpxeciteop]> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:30AM (#22978000)
    If the ads are low-key, then they don't really bother me. So why shouldn't I help a company I like make a little extra money?
  • by Sterrance ( 1257342 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:38AM (#22978012)
    A game that has modern day cities in it can appropriately have advertisements on it, just like most racing games now a days. In someways it helps because it makes it feel like a real city. Now if I started seeing signs for Vitamin Water on World of Warcraft, that is when I get offended.
  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:39AM (#22978016)
    After all, in many games there are places where ads would be appropriate. For example if you have a TV, rather than just having the TV displaying some image loop, it could display ads. Wouldn't be that different from a real TV.

    To work though they have to be unobtrusive. They have to be something that is just a part of the environment, and in a natural way. If they get in the way, then it is not good. That's the real problem is that advertisers seem to think that ads need to be more in your face, stop you from what you are doing to work. Well that isn't acceptable. I will not play a game where I have to sit through an ad to log in.
  • Delusions.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fortunato ( 106228 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:39AM (#22978018)
    I think this is pretty easy to predict. Basically, a significant percentage of people will "opt-out". Enough so that they will eventually remove the opt-out choice. At which point, a critical mass of people will be miffed enough that they will just cancel membership. And their net revenue will be a significant percentage less than it is right now before they introduced this ridiculous scheme.

    I mean seriously. If they even have to consider alternate revenue streams that are so obviously risky, it pretty much is the writing on the wall for the game, is it not?

    But then again, I know people in marketing that are under the complete and utter idiotic delusion that people LIKE and WANT advertising. Self delusion never fails to amaze me.
  • by RenHoek ( 101570 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:41AM (#22978030) Homepage
    I've white listed a number of sites on adblock for a while that I felt like supporting. However it meant white listing well known ad servers, so that meant I was seeing them on other sites as well. I've tried surfing without any ad blocking for a while, but that's not a workable solution. I'd be reading some article on a site with a BLINK BLINK FLASH MOVE MOVE ad besides it. It doesn't make for an easy read.

    Never mind the sites that *shouts* SUDDENLY ADD SOUND to a page while you're quietly trying to read an article at work.

    In the end, I've gone back to just adblocking the hell out of everything, I've tried, and some sites are good with it, but the majority of other sites ruin it for those that try to play nice.

    We need, Google to start a competitor to Paypal, so I can donate some small amounts of money to the sites I like. (I don't use Paypal, because they're a bunch of crooks)
  • Helping realism! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by arthurh3535 ( 447288 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:42AM (#22978040)
    One of the things that some people have noted, that in a modern city setting having 'real advertisements' will actually improve immersion. As the developers have stated, it is an additional and optional revenue stream that will go to development.

    They actually had a recent costume/emote pack for Valentine's Day with wedding themed costumes. I bought it for me and a friend... and found out that all of those purchases later that it advanced the addition of the new Villain Epic Archetype by three or four months.

    So I'll be leaving this on and probably actually checking out the advertisements occasionally to help out NCSoft. I like my game being improved even faster.
  • No, I wouldn't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rix ( 54095 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:52AM (#22978072)
    But that's just me, I loathe advertising in any form. I'm never a good target for it.

    Optional advertising is a great idea; it filters out the people that will be offended by it (and who will attribute that offence both to the advertising venue and the advertiser). Everyone wins, the venue doesn't offend it's patrons, the advertiser only gets it's message out to receptive listeners, and people aren't offended.
  • Unless the process of inserting the ad capability into the game threatens to cost more than the ads will pay, I see it as something of a no-loss proposition for the games maker. If a player doesn't mind, then you've got an extra revenue stream ... and if they do then they can just turn it off. It's something kinda hard to knock from my (somewhat cynical) point of view.
  • by kemushi88 ( 1156073 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:01AM (#22978110) Homepage
    I think the parent makes an important point.

    The ads shouldn't ruin the atmosphere of the game. As long as they seem appropriate wherever they appear, then I believe it is acceptable. The placement of ads in games should mimic the placement of ads in the real world.
  • Re:Wikipedia (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dan541 ( 1032000 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:03AM (#22978114) Homepage
    The problem with ads is that they lead ot censorship, who is going to risk upsetting the people who pay a large portion of their running costs?

  • by Whuffo ( 1043790 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:09AM (#22978134) Homepage Journal
    After all these years of selling their games to retail customers for a healthy sum, game developers are no longer happy with the profit level. You can understand their problem; that CD and cardboard box (with some printed ads included) costs so much that there's just nothing left from that $40.

    So now they'll give in-game advertising a try. It's optional, you know - for now. If this proves to be something that brings in additional revenue the game developers will make it mandatory without a second thought.

    It's just a small step past selling their customer lists to marketing firms. You didn't think that registration was so they could send you a birthday card, did you?

  • Useful ads? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:13AM (#22978148) Homepage
    In general, if ads are useful, targeted, and reasonably unobtrusive, I welcome them as a source of information.

    For instance, if a site wants to advertise (based on a search for robotics-related documents) that they have a good deal on stepper motors, great. I might well click through and find something I'd like. Amazon does a great job with this as far as books go -- their recommendations of what else I'd like often come up with some really cool suggestions.

    What I don't want to see are ads for the general public (or even the general gamer public). Even if such a beast as a typical gamer exists, it ain't me. My taste in ads is somewhat like my taste in music -- I don't expect anyone else to like the exact mix I do (and most people's tastes will be pretty different. I admit I'm weird.)
  • by sssssss27 ( 1117705 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:17AM (#22978162)
    Someone else responded to this in a rather clear and efficient way:


    And isn't that why the ads are optional?? To me this is kind of like DVDs that don't force you to watch previews from other movies but gives you the option to under the Extras menu. You paid for the DVD so it shouldn't interfere with your movie experience but I see no harm is just having an option. If the ads are targeted well enough they might even be beneficial to you as well. Those previews of other movies on the DVD have led me to find other movies I've liked.
  • First step (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LS ( 57954 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:19AM (#22978174) Homepage
    New and unproven business models often start out as "free" or "optional". Then when the users get somewhat used to it, the "optional" aspect seems to disappear. This is a slippery slope folks.
  • Re:Of course! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RyuuzakiTetsuya ( 195424 ) <taiki AT cox DOT net> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:20AM (#22978176)
    because you're already paid for the client AND for a monthly subscription? I mean if it was something like Guild Wars, where it was free...
  • by barius ( 1224526 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:26AM (#22978204)

    Why would I want to 'help out' if the company is making money without extra 'help'?

    This would be an understandable addition to the game if it were a necessary revenue stream, but it isn't. I do not at all feel compelled to look at them if they detract from my game playing experience in even the slightest way.

    That said, if:

    • They are not an eyesore and blend in as though they were a part of the game world itself.
    • They do not add 'bloat' to the game in the form of lag while adverts load or cause extra overhead that impacts performance.
    • They do not incorporate any 'tracking' of my habits or behaviours.
    • They do not advert stuff I don't want my kid exposed too.
    Then: I'm ok with it. Unfortunately (fortunately?), I've never seen anyone succeed at all of the above requirements.
  • Never minded (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Vampyre_Dark ( 630787 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:36AM (#22978232)
    I've never minded subtle in-game advertising. A few of my favorite PS2 games have product placement all over them, or ads on the billboards in the city streets.

    They add to the realism of my surroundings, and I always love fake ads when they are plastered all over games like GTA. I usually litter my own 3d art with fake ads. If the Sprunk machines suddenly became Sprite machines, I wouldn't mind.

    Just don't start showing me 30 seconds spots, and use common sense that doesn't stray too far from the context of the game.

    If you want to advertise in a fantasy RPG, don't put your out of place products in there, sponsor some kind of cool event that takes place in the game. Then maybe your ad will get a positive vibe, instead of a bad stigma.

    Coke and Pepsi usually run promotions in the summer where you collect points to exchange for prizes. They could sponsor a new event inside WOW where participation would earn you some points, and maybe some unique gear that will only spawn for a limited time that players could earn for bragging rights.
  • Re:Of course! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kierthos ( 225954 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:40AM (#22978250) Homepage
    Buying the game and paying the monthly fee means you get to play the game. That's it. It doesn't give you anything beyond that. You don't own part of the company because you pay a monthly fee, you don't get to break the rules whenever you want because you pay a monthly fee, and you don't get to decide what the company does to bring in extra revenue because you pay a monthly fee.

    If you find it annoying, opt out.
  • Well, it depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @03:59AM (#22978306) Journal
    Well, it depends.

    COH happens in a modern day metropolis. Ads and billboards aren't out of place. You kinda expect them there.

    In fact, the game already _had_ billboards and posters from day 1, except they were mildly funny parodies instead of actual ads. For example stuff like ads for lawyers getting the villains out of jail after your superhero toon arrests them, or for some fictional in-game companies like Crey Industries, etc.

    Replacing an ad for Crey with an ad for Microsoft, wouldn't seem out of place at all. (And doubly so for a lot of us nerds, since the Crey are a major supervillain group in the game;)

    Or I wouldn't be even give it a second thought if there was a McDonald's in Galaxy City. I mean they already have fictional restaurants there, with funny names like "El Super Mexicano."

    The same can't be said for a lot of other settings and genres, though. E.g., it would feel awfully weird to have billboards for IBM and Coca Cola along the road to Darnassus in WOW.

    And that's really what I'm fearing. That it might re-sort genres and settings according to how fit they are for ads.

    Remember that we already _had_ such an effect. Adventure games were still popular games, and that market was actually _growing_ when everyone dropped them like a hot potato in the 90's. Why? Because making a simplistic FPS was _much_ cheaper. Even if you sold less copies than an adventure, you'd still make more profit.

    I can see "games fit for ads" vs "games where ads look out of place" repeating that history.

    Adventures eventually made a comeback, because, basically, people eventually came to expect the same level of scripting and animations in a FPS as in an adventure. So the price difference vanished.

    The same might never happen in the case of "games fit for ads" vs "games where ads look out of place." Already all else is equal. Only one of them can get more money. Short of advertisers pulling out, it stays that way.

    So I fear that we _might_ slide towards every game happening in a city, or a race-track, or along of big billboard-overdosed highway. And that doesn't sound too great.
  • Re:Of course! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kierthos ( 225954 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:12AM (#22978332) Homepage
    Yeah, but if I quit a MMORPG every time they did some little thing that annoyed me, I wouldn't have played WoW for three years. And that's what this is. A little thing. There are already billboards and signs in CoH/CoV. And honestly, unless you're going by specific areas repeatedly, or flying or super-leaping all the time, you're probably not going to notice most of the billboards and signs right now. And since the plans are to put real ads only where the billboards and signs currently exist, and not plaster them over every wall, it still won't be a huge deal. (mind you, I could see them expanding it a bit to have real movie posters outside the movie theaters...)
  • Re:Of course! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kierthos ( 225954 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:17AM (#22978354) Homepage
    And you're missing the point that the advertising in the game will be opt-out. And if it's like every other graphical setting in the game, it's going to be something you click once and you choose your viewing settings. We're hardly talking about some sort of burden requiring a notarized letter to the NCSoft headquarters indicating your desire to opt out of the advertising.

    And let's face it... NCSoft (and Cryptic before they sold their interest in the game to NCSoft) has dealt with the hordes of upset customers before, with the whole flak over ED and the GDN (if you don't know what those are, they were nerfs in the game that affected just about every character), and I'm willing to bet that they'll lose less customers over the advertising thing then they did over ED/GDN.

    I swear, people here are acting like putting real-life ads in the game requires squeezing blood out of babies or something.
  • by RandomU ( 1185807 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:19AM (#22978364)
    Many of you think that no one wants advertising. Good advertising will get a sizable number of players to keep the feature turned on.

    This can be done with

    1)Humor (Look at the number of people who go to YouTube and watch the from the super bowl). If there is a really good ad up and people are laughing and talking about it then other players may well activate the add feature.

    2) General Interest Ads that provide information that COH players by in large want (Ohhhh look, the new Batman Movie is coming out with special trailers at...)

    3) A diversion from the same 3 Year Old in game fake adds (Yea Ive seen that Crey Industries Billboard for the 15,345 time now for the love of god give me something new to look at.)

    4) Non advertising information on events that is available out of game, but this makes it more likely that I will remember to get the time off work for DOUBLE XP WEEKEND.

    Further more if the players see evidence that they receive benefits (More game features added faster) they will have even more incentive to keep them on.

    Keep in mind The Ads are Optional. Contrary to what some here are saying there is NO reason to assume they will become mandatory. As it is if the Adds dont work NC soft looses NOTHING. Why does anyone think a profitable company would risk loosing 20, 40 or even 60% of their player base so they can make a few extra bucks with MANDATORY ads?

  • Honestly? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Geminii ( 954348 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:39AM (#22978404)
    Are there any sites or services in which you'd voluntarily look at ads to lend a hand?

    No. Not a single one. In fact, I would (and do) take time, effort and money to configure my computer to specifically exclude such wastes of my paid-for bandwidth.

    I have at least three spam filters (ISP, home mail server, POP client) on my email.

    I have ISP and personal spam filters on my Usenet feed.

    I have multiple regex blocks applicable to my browsers, 99% targetted at in-page advertising.

    And hey, my bandwidth use has dropped into a cheaper bracket. So not only am I unperturbed by advertisements for crap on the other side of the world, I save money.

    To advertisers: I already follow fifty-seven news feeds, including multiple ones about new products in areas of personal interest. If I'm not buying your product, it's because either I don't want it, or I don't consider the product list of your particular industry niche to be worth my time. If I ever want to buy something in that niche, I will go do research on it at that time.

    And guess what - if there's an entire product niche that I don't know about, and have never even heard a whisper or hint about from family, friends or blogs, there's a fairly good chance that I don't freakin' need any product in that niche.

    If and when I get or build a PVR-alike, it will be set to delete or block ads. I already don't watch live TV any more. I prefer DVD players which can skip the pre-main-menu crap and any trailers/ads, too. I don't buy newspapers, and if there was a way to get the free local ones on paper with the ads removed, I'd be looking into it.

    "Pull" advertising I don't mind. If I go specifically looking for a product, then by all means try and sell it to me. But any form of "push" advertising irritates the hell out of me.

  • Re:Of course! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:46AM (#22978416)
    "Buying the game and paying the monthly fee means you get to play the game. That's it"

    The whole 'liscensing' and 'software as a service' is quite a scam anyway, if I'm paying for a product I don't want to see ads. I'd like to have some time and place where I do not have ads in my face. Games is one of the few mediums that ads have not yet penetrated. We see enough ads in our daily lives, on the way to/from wherever, etc, etc?

    If I'm voting for a product with my dollars and I am a customer they better damn well listen, I think the optional ads is a good thing in that those of us who don't want to have it shoved down our throat get to opt out of it but I know I'm not the only one tired of being haggled for cash 24/7.

  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @04:58AM (#22978444)
    We need, Google to start a competitor to Paypal, so I can donate some small amounts of money to the sites I like. (I don't use Paypal, because they're a bunch of crooks)

    Yes lets all suckle at the google teat until we're so dependant on them the microsoft monopoly will seem like a pathetic joke. Lets give them our documents, our email, lets let them gather every detail they can about our lives, lets let them take a picture of our house... oh I know... they should totally handle our money too!

    I agree paypal needs some decent competition, but suggesting it be handled by google is as stupid as suggesting it be handled by microsoft. Or maybe not, at least with microsoft I don't have to worry about my transaction history being added to one of the largest surveillance networks on the planet.

    Thanks, but no thanks.

  • Re:Wikipedia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Allicorn ( 175921 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @06:08AM (#22978598) Homepage
    The intended purpose of advertising is to influence the viewer's opinion, to create bias towards specific brands or products regardless of whether there be any basis in fact for such a bias.

    The intended purpose of Wikipedia is to inform without opinion, without bias. (hey, I DID say "intended"!). To expose facts alone, un-colored by opinion.

    To me it seems that this makes advertising on Wikipedia innappropriate.

  • Re:Of course! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by asuffield ( 111848 ) <> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @07:34AM (#22978880)

    I swear, people here are acting like putting real-life ads in the game requires squeezing blood out of babies or something.

    The thing is that even if half the players filter out the ads, even if no real game content is changed, even if it's just a few changed textures... the company is now beholden to two masters: the players and the advertisers. The advertising companies are going to be saying to them: "We want you to promote X, Y, and Z, and we're going to pull our advertising unless you agree with us on political point Q". We've seen it so many times before, because the advertisers have a much louder and more focussed message, so they usually get what they want. The company goes along with them because they don't really care about any of those things - they just want the money so they can focus on their game - and then you have one more voice supporting the big media companies, throwing their weight behind anti-user movements like Sonny Bono and the DMCA.

    Note that none of this is going to happen today. Putting the ads into the game is free. It's 12 months down the line, when all the noise has died down, that the advertising companies come back and say "Now... you've worked all that money into your budget, you depend on it... let's talk about what you're going to do for us". Keeping the ads is far from free.
  • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @07:53AM (#22978960) Homepage

    Replace all the fictional billboards and restaurants with real world ones, and away goes the funny.

    Unless we see small design/PR firms emerging, whose proposed service is to make custom ads that fit the game's world atmosphere.

    Say that McDonalds want to put an add into COH. Instead of copy pasting some (dull) real life add that won't work in the general atmosphere of the game, they hire such a design company which will create a humorous and twisted variation, that will make the player laugh. Thus fitting better in the global game atmosphere AND attracting more eyeballs to the add (because they are genuinely fun to watch).

    Same reflection could be done for fantasy oriented games. A copy-pasted Coke add will just suck. A redesigned message on a scroll, touting the virtue of "ye olde Coke's potion of +1 awakeness. (As of today with even less "-1 charisma" calories)" together with a painting of some troll posing in a similar way as the pretty models on the real-life ads, will sound funny.

    In fact during the era when sharewares where big in the 90s, there were a lot of companies pulling similar parodies of modern product into out-of place environment (fantasy, etc.), just for the fun of it. Now just imagine the money they could have earned if, instead of changing the name to avoid trademark infringements, they actually used the real names with the blessing of the companies parodied ?

  • Re:Except... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:50AM (#22979182) Homepage
    Presumably in-game ads like this aren't going to measure performance by click rates, since clicking would take you out of the game. They may measure it by camera focus time (ie, if the ad occupies at least 25% of the screen for 10 or more seconds).

    I echo the GP sentiment. If the game I enjoy is having financial trouble, my reading ads contributes to their ability to remain in business, which in turn contributes to my ability to continue to play. I would stay opted in for as long as the ads were not obnoxious. It would not take many annoying ads for me to opt out though, and if opting out was no longer an option, it would not take many annoying ads to make me cancel my subscription.
  • by EMeta ( 860558 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:52AM (#22979442)
    ...That every single drinks dispenser in the entire game world dispense only Coca-Cola.

    That's not realistic or unobtrusive at all.

    I take it you've never been to Atlanta?
  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:23AM (#22979616)
    How much are they going to pay me?
  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @05:43PM (#22982654) Journal
    If you want to advertise to me, you can pay me for my time. In gaming, this means that I might play games with advertising if they're free. If you charge me for the game, then forget it--I am not paying you to advertise to me.

System checkpoint complete.