The following is a selected excerpt from Game Design Complete (ISBN 1-933097-00-0) published by Paraglyph Press.
“Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century.”
In the clean and pure world of a game designer's head, the idea of selling advertising space within a game, or having the logos of sponsors cluttering up a perfectly designed GUI, is often a horrible thought. It's very easy to feel that you're “selling out” by having in-game advertising. But it's something that you need to address, and in the modern world, where it's starting to cost more and more money to develop games, it can often make sense to raise some money back in return with some advertising if done subtly and tastefully.
In this chapter, we'll start by looking at the challenges of advergaming and the gray line that exists between licensing and advertising. You'll learn how to use various techniques, from including brand names on your product packaging as a credibility enhancement to putting branded objects into your game. Throughout, I've tried to introduce a number of different approaches to stimulate you to come up with some of your own ideas. Advergaming is a fairly new field, and the opportunities and constraints are likely to evolve and change drastically over the next few years.
The Challenge of Advergaming
Just as with the movie business, the challenge is to take advantage of the opportunity of using advertising without going overboard. You've probably seen a few movies (a recent James Bond film comes to mind) in which the advertising has been overdone and the final result becomes a never-ending lineup of overt car and mobile phone brands. But for every film like this, there are countless more that have successfully achieved in-film advertising and branding, and few viewers are put off by it. The trick is to keep the advertising as subtle as possible. Even back in the older days of film, when a lead character performed an action such as jumping into a Lamborghini, the action helped advertise the Lamborghini brand despite there being no payment or connection between the companies at the time; the director just wanted a Lamborghini because it looked cool on film.
Another example involves characters in films having conversations in bars. If the actors have a particular brand of beer in their hand, it's not going to look odd unless there is an obvious close-up on the label. Yet many people will still subconsciously notice the brand. This kind of brand placement in games isn't going to ruin the experience if it's done carefully. In fact, in many ways, it can make a game feel more realistic and authentic. If you're being chased down a street in New York, wouldn't you rather see real store names as you pass by them rather than obviously fake ones? If your character has a PDA that you access to get new information, wouldn't it feel more realistic if the PDA was one that actually exists?
|Reality Check :
The argument for and against advertising in games is one that will continue on and on. I'd advise you not to take a position that you become completely against advergaming. Try to understand that in some cases advergaming can make a game feel more realistic, as well as help to pay for that awesome orchestral score you want to get written. The field for advergaming is relatively new, so there are many unique ways to incorporate advertising with games. This means that you can get very creative with how you work with sponsors and incorporate marketing messages into your games.
Selling Your Soul?
From my point of view, it's up to you as the game designer and person responsible for the “heart and soul” of a game to be careful about what kind of in-game advertising you allow into the product. As I just mentioned, I feel that it's a balancing act. You need to be careful that any advertisements you include don't tip too far in one direction. If people pay $40 for your game, they don't want to be bombarded by blatant product promotion. Don't sell your game's soul, but keep an open mind, and try and find the balance that is right for you.
A Gray Line: Licensing vs. Advertising
You might encounter a rather gray area when it comes to licensing. At one end of the scale, you'll likely need to pay to license any major brand for inclusion in your game, and at the other end, the brand holder will pay you to feature its brand in your title. This gray area usually depends on how much clout you have with your game or brand, the relative skills of your licensing team, and the attitude of the company involved. By and large, the distinction tends to be about who really benefits the most. The question becomes: Does the addition of the advertised brand significantly improve the quality and overall impression of the game, or does advertising the brand in the game mainly benefit the owner of the brand?
Let's look at an example. Assume that you're creating a racing game and you want to include a Ferrari. This brand of car is probably much more widely known than your game. It increases the attraction of your game to consumers, so it's clearly a great thing for you. It makes your game feel special, and players want to drive the best cars. But the benefit Ferrari receives for being in your game is much smaller. The folks at Ferrari might feel that being in your game isn't going to help them sell very many cars. In fact, the risk of being in your game (which from their point of view might not be very good) is probably much more important to them than the reward of seeing their cars in yet another video game. Because of these circumstances, you may well have to pay Ferrari a considerable sum to include its car in your game.
On the other hand, including Red Bull drink cans within your game environment is unlikely to add much to your game at all. In fact, you may feel that unless you also include Coke, Pepsi, and a host of other brands, having a specific brand may look like an obvious advertising ploy and therefore make your game weaker rather than stronger. However, the makers of Red Bull, providing that your game is a high-quality one, might view your game as reaching an important demographic that they can't easily reach using other advertising vehicles. The message of linking fun quality entertainment with their drink could be an important one. Clearly, in this case, you'd expect them to pay you to feature their brand in your game. I'm using Red Bull as an example only because it has been in a large number of games (hopefully this has been successful from the company's point of view), and I'm sure the company would agree with me that its product is very different than Ferrari's in terms of what kind of advertising deals it could command. Unfortunately, neither company is paying me to mention them! (I wonder if you can get in-book advertising deals?)
|Reality Check :
Most licensing calls are rarely very clear, so it's worth pushing the brand owners by explaining just how many copies of the game you expect to sell and highlighting your track record and the demographics of the people who will purchase the game. Even if you don't manage to get some money for in-game advertising, you may end up with a deal that doesn't cost you anything and benefits both parties greatly.
Advertising in Games
Let's take a look at a few real-life examples of how in-game advertising has been implemented very well and some in which I think it has been implemented badly.
Good Examples of Advertising in Games
I chose these games because the advertising is fairly subtle and, when they were released, the games broke new ground for using advertising. One important lesson to be learned here is that you can make your in-game advertising more palatable and effective if you find new and clever ways to incorporate it.
|Figure 11.1 Wipeout 2097|
The Wipeout series has always been at the cutting edge, with many new ideas. In-game advertising was one of them. Wipeout 2097 (see Figure 11.1) advertised companies like Red Bull on in-game billboards and was one of the first games to do so. What's more, because the game is about a futuristic racing championship, the advertisements seemed in keeping with the game, so they never felt out of place. Along with the great licensed music tracks, they made the game feel very cool.
Crazy Taxi (see Figure 11.2) was one of the very first games to really go to town with in-game advertising. It featured a whole load of national chain stores, such as Tower Records, KFC, Fila, and Pizza Hut. The advertising made the city feel realistic and definitely enhanced the gameplay. Again, the advertising was totally in keeping with the game, and because there was such a variety, it never really felt like you were watching an advertisement.
|Figure 11.2 Crazy Taxi|
Bad Examples of Advertising
In certain respects, advergaming gets such a bad rap simply because it has been done poorly in so many games. I would imagine that you have your own list of games in which the advertising really annoys you, and here are a few that I would also put on the list.
Zool 2 (see Figure 11.3) didn't just have a few advertisements or product placements for Chupa Chups sweets—the game was basically an entire advertisement for them. Whole levels of the game were based around the sweets, with signs, banners, and products everywhere. If there is a line that you shouldn't cross as a game designer when it comes to in-game advertising, Zool 2 not only crossed it, but flew across it with a rocket pack on. Frustratingly, it was also a great game, but the advertising ruined it for many people.
|Figure 11.3 Zool 2|
Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs. Death
Red Bull's Australian arm bought advertising within the game and then insisted on having a huge amount of presence. Not only are there big crates of Red Bull all over the place, but there are moments where an in-game character throws a can, which bounces and lands right in front of camera, filling the whole screen with the brand name. I suspect that the developers probably didn't have a choice in the matter and were forced to do this by the publishers. Oh dear!
War Story : How Far Will You Go?
After giving Judge Dredd such a hard time over its use of Red Bull in its game, I should even things up a little by pointing out that I also had a major soft drink in one of my games, with the main character even drinking it at one point. I'm ashamed of myself. But some of the things they wanted us to do went far beyond this. For example, they wanted the main character to mention the brand name and say how good the drink was. Hmm. Maybe not!