Over the past few weeks, a number of articles on World of Warcraft have appeared, spawned by the beta and by the people lucky enough to be in the beta. Buried amongst the gripes about underpowered mages, Blizzard Guardians, and the sporadic inability to stand up after sitting, I spotted something small that got me wondering…
It seems that among the ways to regenerate health and mana in World of Warcraft (at least for the Alliance races) is to have someone (mage?) conjure up a nice hunk of bread and a lovely glass of refreshing water. Nothing really new there, bread and water have been standard dining for game characters since the days of ASCII dungeon crawls. Toss in a hunk of cheese, and you have the staple diet of half the fantasy heroes in modern literature. The question is, though, who made the bread?
I saw an article some time ago stating that television is losing viewers in the coveted young adult age bracket in the critical evening hours to computer and console gaming. A lot of people would rather play Madden and Quake than watch the latest round of stuff the TV producers have dreamt up. Understandably, advertisers are somewhat worried about this trend. If game makers keep making better games, and television producers cannot be innovative and creative enough to keep pace, then a huge sector of the people advertisers love to target might not be watching TV much at all anymore! That means… advertisers will have to find a way to target those people where they are… in front of a computer screen. And one day, one day soon perhaps, corporate advertising will appear in games.
And the most logical genre of game for advertising to make an in game splash? Massively multiplayer online role playing games. These games are, for the time being anyway, fee driven. Gamers pay a monthly fee to have access to the game worlds and to be able to play. Suppose company X, though, cuts three or four advertising deals and uses the revenues from those deals to eliminate the need for monthly fees. Suddenly, there would be fee-free MMORPG on the market notable not only for being free of fees, but for having the ability to conjure Wonderbread and Aquafina bottled water. Instead of heading back to the Feathered Chicken Inn for the night, the character would relax in the Feathered Chicken by Sheraton. High speed wagon travel between cities in the game world would be brought to you by UPS, complete with the drivers sporting spiffy brown shorts.
Believe it or not, I am in favor of this type of melding of game and advertising. Something has to happen to drive down the cost of games, and of MMORPGs in particular. Advertisers will not stop until they have a way to market to gamers in the game. This could be disastrous is not handled well. Suppose that, instead of using branded names and graphics for in game elements that are necessary to gameplay, a gaming house allows an advertiser to by the bottom inch of your screen for banner ads. Or perhaps some studio desperate for money allows for commercial breaks during the game (after all, we are supposed to take ten minute break every hour anyway, right?). In other words, imagine advertisers having a free hand to make the same mess of gaming that they have made of the internet.
Or, gaming houses can take control of the process before it starts. There would be no negative impact on gameplay if that mage in World of Warcraft conjured a loaf of bread with colored spots on it. There would be no negative impact on gameplay if water came in a leather flask with a distinctive label on the side. The game would be the same, only it would likely be cheaper. That said, Blizzard is the last company I would expect to ever do such a thing. Any advertising allowed into any Blizzard world would likely be met with rioting mobs. But Blizzard is unique in the sheer volume and passion of its fan base. There are a number of other companies that could make such a move, and with little trouble. In particular, there are countless games that have not yet been released that could make use of in game advertising in the form of game element branding. And it is certainly only a matter of time before serious efforts are made to include third party advertisements in games.
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