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Video Game Industry and In-Game Advertising: Is There a Happy Medium?

I can respect the gaming purists out there who believe that in-game advertising is ruining some games with their injection directly inside the games themselves. With forecasts for in-game advertising expenditures as high as $1 billion by 2010, it appears the gaming industry has little choice but to accept its fate same as most other digital content creation and delivery means whose continuing existence can be owed to being ad-supported. Some of Sony’s comments by its Gaming division’s highest executives and its Group CEO points to the split within its own ranks. At the World Economic Forum, Sony Group CEO Howard Stringer stated he didn’t believe that In-Game advertising is the solution to heavy gaming development costs. While he acknowledged that most everything in the digital space is ad-supported, he also stated that there are limits to the amount of adverting monies available for all digital products out there. This is contrast with a Sony Gaming senior vice president stating that the PS3 platform is primed to leverage the advertising dollars that will flow to the gaming developer community, and that ads that are “organic” to the environment benefit both developers and advertisers, and create a richer experience for gamers.

Gaming purists believe the gaming sector has sold out. They cite game examples from Guitar Hero and the Tony Hawk franchise that display banners and drop names of products through advertisements that, while most times are subtle, other times are overbearing. It’s interesting to me that there may actually be a small generation gap between more mature (and I mean age) gamers and the younger up-and-coming gamer generation. My 16 year old son and his online buddies don’t even notice the advertising, and may view it as no different than the real world advertising saturation around them. My argument for in-game advertising as being a reality that the gaming community might as well accept is, do any of the gamers watch sports on TV, and not only watch (okay, maybe skip) ads during breaks, but recognize all the promotional banners and other advertisements “tattooed” on everything from uniforms, hats, walls, tables, cars (think NASCAR, X Games, Rodeo competitions)? Welcome to the real world of what often pays the bills.

The gaming blogosphere was buzzing in late 2008 when an Xbox live gamer posted billboard screen shots for then presidential candidate Barack Obama in the race game “Burnout Paradise”. Electronic Arts (EA) neither confirmed or denied at the time whether the ad was actually a paid media spot or just a clever ruse by gamers themselves. This is what I like about gaming – everyone involved has a creative bent.

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