“Friends, gamers, netizens, lend me your eyes,” or so say the multitude of games, blogs, and online communities that are trying to make a buck out there. The money-making portions of the Internet (as well as the entirety of traditional media) are in hot competition for your eyeballs. It’s not the content they need you to see, but the ads of their sponsors. Hey, something’s got to pay the virtual rent. Unfortunately, this generally means your favourite content is interrupted because someone stuffed a bunch of obnoxious advertisements all over their website.
Thankfully, someone has realized that “hey, people hate annoying ads,” and they’ve come up with a better solution. I’m a fan of Artix Entertainment’s Adventure Quest Worlds, an MMORPG that’s somewhere between Maple Story and the old Quest for Glory games.* It’s free to play, although there is an upper tier for subscribers. They use in-game ads, but they do so in a rather clever way: lampshading. In the main town square, there is a character you can talk to who asks if you’d like to see an ad. If you agree, you’re taken to a “theatre” area, where you view the ad for three seconds, in exchange for some in-game currency. I like this method a lot.
Firstly, they are so kind as to ask your permission, rather than shoving an ad in your face. Secondly, they make it part of the game. Nothing destroys one’s psychological immersion in a game like all of a sudden being told to GO TO THIS POKER WEBSITE RIGHT NOW. I much prefer the idea that you are still your character and it’s an in-game exchange. Finally, they give you something for it. I see that as a win-win situation, since you get something out of the deal and it doesn’t cost Artix any real-world money.**
Now, the amount of gold you get is relatively small. You could kill a couple of monsters and very quickly earn the same amount. However, when I logged in yesterday, I saw a new offer in addition to the old one. View an ad for about ten seconds, and you get a potion that’s a bit harder to come by. I admit, ever since I leveled up enough to easily get a bunch of gold by skewering a few Undead Pirates, I haven’t bothered going to the ad theatre. However, a rare potion appeals to me enough that I’ll sit through the ad. I like where this is going, and so long as it’s not taken to an extreme, I think this is a great arrangement for gamers and game makers alike.
I’ve played a number of RPGs and shooter games where you can pay them real money in exchange for in-game currency. That’s not something I’d ever open my wallet for, and I don’t understand people who’d take them up on it. I mean, pretend money is nice and everything, but I’d rather have real money. This new arrangement of attention-for-pretend-money works a lot better. It doesn’t cost anyone anything and the sponsors are appeased enough to keep the gravy train running.
Speaking of sponsors, I noticed an interesting pattern when it comes to AQW’s ads. There are some ads that you have to look at. When you die, there’s a ten-second countdown until you can respawn, and for that time, they show you an ad for another product from that same company. The ads in the theatre are not for Artix products, but they are generally related to gaming. Then there’s the ad from yesterday’s potion trade, and that was for a fast food company. It seems the further out the sponsor is from the core of the game, the nicer they try to be about it. This makes sense to me, because an ad only redeems itself as much as the viewer doesn’t mind seeing it. If they’re already using a product, seeing an ad for it doesn’t seem as intrusive and “foreign.”
I’m interested to see how this will develop. How might this apply to non-game situations? As everything from writing to grocery shopping becomes gamified, are there going to be more opportunities for ads? Just to be clear, I don’t take issue with ads themselves. If the company whose product I’m using can make money from sponsors instead of charging me higher prices, then great. I only hate ads when they’re sneaky and misleading or relentless and annoying… which is often. However, if they can be worked into daily life smoothly, being totally honest that, yep, they’re ads, then that’s much better compared to how it’s done now. If they ask your permission first and give you a useful token of appreciation after, then all the better. Ads will never go away. That’s why I’m interested in seeing them become more consumer-friendly.
*No, this is not a sneaky ad for Adventure Quest Worlds, but Artix, if you want to pay me, please do.
**Hint, hint, progeeks who are trying to launch something but have absolutely no budget.