Is Product Placement and Advertising in Console Games Killing the Industry

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Kyle Smith

Publish Date:

29 Dec 2020

Believe it or not using Video Games to advertise a product you sell in the real world has been around since the days of Super Nintendo. Although, there is a distinct difference between how products and companies advertised them then, to what they do now. Back, way before the internet was a mainstream thing, companies like McDonalds® used to create entire video games to advertise their products. 7UP did this too with the classic ‘Cool Spot’ game, Pepsi did this a bit later with ‘Pepsi Man’ and there has been many more between this. The short and sweet of it, although these games are never really critically acclaimed titles, they are a staple in the video games industry much like ‘Movie Games’. They’re bad, but sometimes quite fun to reflect on. I don’t think this type of advertising has a negative impact on the games industry, because the game has been developed and sold like any other product out there. But what I want to get into, is the OTHER areas of advertising. Product Placement and Advertising within Video Games.

I remember playing Death Stranding, and yes, I am one of those fans that LOVED the game. Death Stranding features a heavy dosage of Monster Energy product placement. The game boasts about the drink as-if it is a miracle, that will ‘Unleash the Beast’ of those who drink it, selling the product as in a positive way, that bears no consequences for drinking. This is the one thing about Death Stranding that gets me annoyed and puts me upon my ‘high horse’. Monster Energy is such an unhealthy drink. It contains an obscene amount of sugar and caffeine and has a big problem for young teens here in the UK, being hooked on it, and the many other energy drinks like it. Most (not all) gamers are not exactly the biggest advocates for fitness either. I mean even for those who are advocates of fitness, this stuff is not good for (in my opinion). So, to advertise this so positively in the game, really sends the wrong message to its fans, and only enhances a problem that exists in the world. Which is ironic for a game focused on uniting people and helping the world, it’s a huge miss-match. As I said I love Death Stranding, but this is a real example of where commercial deals are struck without a though to the potential ‘bad’ impact that this could have on the consumer.

Although in Uncharted 4 we see Nathan Drake, the protagonist of the game, using a Sony Xperia Phone - I mean it appears in the game, but it equally is easy to miss. But with this product placement I see no issue regardless of what brand of phone was on the table. Nathan Drake does not boast about its good features, battery life or whatever. He simply just uses it time to time again to take photos and ring his friends. I am extremely comfortable with this type of product placement because it has no bearing on the game. I guess what I’m saying is, product placement is okay, as long as the product being ‘placed’ is considered by the developers and how you are going to ‘market’ it. Having a phone in your game is okay, and to be honest so is having an energy drink is too. But pushing the product in our faces, miss-representing that product as something its not, especially if it has addictive tendencies is something that developers and publishers need to be cracking down on. If Death Stranding let’s say, had added a feature to the Monster Energy that would give caffeine addiction or give Sam some of the real world issues of drinking a Energy Drink, such as sugar crashes, then this would paint a more real picture for fans, and represent the product in a true way. If Monster Energy did not like that, then it’s down to developers to consider the impact of this deal to their consumers – my advice, drop the deal and find another provider who would be happy with those terms.

Moving onto Advertising in games, this is easily one of the biggest areas of consumer dissatisfaction and there is so many aspects to this that we have to consider. The first aspect to consider is the ‘Free-to-play’ genre. Now in the business world, there is a consideration that you have to take into mind, and that is ‘EVERYTHING has a price tag, its just not always your money’. Normally when money isn’t the price, then you as a person are the currency. This concept is rife in Free-to-play games, and that’s because developers of these choose to use things such as your data to make money. For example, in most free-to-play mobile games you can buy ‘gems’, OR you can watch an advert to gain them. What the developer is doing, instead of having you pay for the gems, every time you watch an advert of someone’s product, the advertised company will give a small sum to the developer – rendering you ‘the product’. I will be honest; this is one of the biggest factors that is killing the industry to a degree. Concepts like this, have a nasty habit of being taken by the greedy and bleed into the mainstream. So, now we are starting to see very subtle ways that this is falling into premium games that we purchase, such as NBA 2K21 NBA, which added real world (un-skippable) adverts. Luckily consumers created uproar to publishers Take-Two, forcing them to remove these. But this shows the intention/interest of putting these into mainstream games and believe me they will find a way to do this. I mean, we have microtransactions littering our mainstream games now, right?

But what about where adverts in games has improved the game. Well believe it or not, this also is something I’ve witnessed. This example does draw on the line of Product Placement but go with me on this one. Back in the year 2000, a little gem of a game released called Crazy Taxi, which featured you playing as a crazy taxi driving maniac getting people to destinations of their choice within breakneck speeds. What is interesting is that in the original version of this game on the Dreamcast, it featured real world businesses. You could find places such as Pizza Hut, KFC Levi’s and Fila. This boarders into advertising though as you could find billboards with their product details on them. But the thing is, this supports the theme of the game. You are a taxi driver in the real world, and in the real world you see advertisements like this. It gives the game a sense of immersion and belief as its recognisable. Also, the ads do not lock you into looking at them, its all your choice as to whether you stop to read them. If you can get the ads to enhance your game as a developer, then be my guest just don’t shove it in my face and force me to look at it for 5 – 30 seconds!

In Summary, adverts in games are like anything else you put into a game, it must fit with the overall theme, and it can’t break player immersion. With the way that the industry is moving, I’m certain that adverts within games (as an invasive thing) is on its way and will be in premium priced games soon. To this effect, Yes, I do think that ads in games are ruining the industry. Although, I think that they can be achieved in a way that does not impact the consumer but equally pleases the companies being advertised and if this were achieved, I feel this would deliver a better solution for both consumer and commercial business. However, similar-to the gambling issues that are tied to loot boxes, I think that world governments need to consider what ads in games means to younger audiences. Simply put, I think that age ratings should also be tied to ads. So, if your game wants to advertise Budweiser Beer for example, then the game should be aged appropriately to that countries legal drinking age. This article is just a stipulation of food for thought, but we would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Let us know what you think in the comments sections on our social media pages.

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