We all hate ads. Some of us hate them to the point that we install ad-blockers on our browsers so we don’t have to see them. As yet, however, nobody has made an ad-blocker for a game — but we may need one in the future.
A company called Simulmedia has been testing a new way to deliver ads to gamers via its playerWON (cleverly pronounced like “player one”) platform. playerWON allows developers to code ads into their games on consoles. Players can decide whether they want to watch a 15- or 30-second video ad, and if they do, they receive an in-game item as a reward.
Simulmedia has been testing the system of placing ads into games with Electronic Arts’ UFC titles for a year now and more recently with Hi-Rez Studios’ Smite. The first was met with near-universal scorn, due to the presence of ads in a $60 game, while Smite players have had a more positive — or at least, less negative — response.
Now the system is ready to be rolled out to a wider range of games. As Axios reports, the company plans to roll out its ad-viewing system in “roughly a dozen more games by the year’s end.” While no formal deals were part of the announcement, Simulmedia EVP, Gaming and OTT Dave Madden said:
“The acceleration of Free-to-play (F2P) games across Console and PC, like Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty Warzone, and Roblox, means that audiences and play time have seen explosive growth, yet the vast majority of players, over 90%, never spend money F2P games.”
That is, of course, the crux of it all: making money for the game developers. Ads that are inserted in this fashion will obviously be paid for by the advertisers, and Simulmedia determined that players who watched an ad in Smite and got a reward were twice as likely to spend money in the game than ones who didn’t. Twitch has sometimes offered a similar incentive, letting viewers watch an ad in exchange for bits they can use to cheer on a streamer.
Ads have always been a way to make money, but they come with the obvious price of annoying your customers. In the “old days,” ads between TV breaks generally meant that it was time to go to the bathroom or the kitchen — or, if you were watching a recording on a VCR or DVR, time to hit the fast-forward button. In more modern times, you have the aforementioned ad-blockers or the “Skip Ad” or “Close Window” buttons.
In none of those cases, though, were you rewarded for watching an ad. Simulmedia plans to change that, and if the Smite discussion is any indication, it won’t be viewed with abject hatred, provided it adheres to a few guidelines:
1) The ads must remain skippable. Making them mandatory will simply make people quit out of and/or uninstall the game. It should also be obvious (though, where advertising dollars are concerned, you never know) that the ads should only appear during breaks in the action, like on a menu screen, and not during the actual gameplay itself, even as just a small image in the corner of the screen.
2) The rewards need to be reasonable. I don’t mean to say that watching a 30-second ad should award you $10 in cash-shop currency, but it also shouldn’t be worth 10 coins if any significant item will cost you 10,000.
3) They must stay in free-to-play games. The UFC debacle should prove that players absolutely, positively, under no circumstances, want to see ads in a game they paid $60 (or even $10) for.
4) Speaking of the UFC situation, an EA rep said that “We realize that this should have been communicated with players ahead of time and that’s on us,” which is total BS. The ads were put into the game a month after it launched (so as to avoid bad review scores, most likely) as EA tried to “sneak” advertising into the game, hoping that its players wouldn’t notice. It had nothing to do with “poor communication”; the implementation was completely intentional. If you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, own up to it.
#3 is really my greatest fear. If this proves successful (and profitable) enough, I can’t see other companies not trying to implement them in their full-priced games. Yes, EA got hammered for what happened in UFC, but so did Oblivion horse armor, and we know what all that led to. If EA decided to put this into something like Madden, with its larger player base, how would the math work out? Would the negative press and player furor be offset by the advertising money from what would likely be a multi-million-dollar deal?
The Star Wars: Battlefront II situation blew up in EA’s face, but I think that was a combination of the loot boxes being pay-to-win and the major characters being locked behind those boxes. The gameplay of Madden wouldn’t be any different with this system in place (theoretically …), so it might not be quite as big of a disaster. Probably.
If a system like this stays in free-to-play games and offers decent rewards, I think I’m OK with it. It’s easy to think that it won’t, however, because advertisers are good at getting what they want and finding ways to insert themselves where they’re least wanted.
Would you be OK with advertising in free-to-play games, as long as it came with an in-game reward? If you’re a Smite player on consoles, has this been something you’ve noticed, and how have you reacted to it? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!