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PC Games (Games)

Free 'Ad-Backed' Games the Future? 59

Posted by Zonk
from the i-think-signs-point-to-yes dept.
MacarooMac writes "EA Games recently announced they are to release a free online version of their PC game 'Battlefield Heroes', supported by in game adverts and micro payments. EA hopes the model of a free game as a download that is supported by advertising could be applied to other franchises it owns. For this particular title, no adverts will appear in the game itself due to incompatibility with the game's fictional world. Instead, adverts will appear on the website and the 'front-end' of the game. But many other titles can and do provide for product placement during game play itself. How long before improvements in video graphics, combined with dynamic, and perhaps even interactive in-game advertising, start to generate revenue increases that enable publishers to substantially reduce the price of their games?" Already a very common model for Eastern online titles, and being adapted here in the states by a number of companies.
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Free 'Ad-Backed' Games the Future?

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  • by TobyWong (168498) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:33PM (#22139836)
    Note that while BF:Heroes will be ad *supplemented* it will not be purely ad driven. They are also going with a microtransaction system where individuals can purchase perks or upgrades for their characters. They claim these will not be "competition breaking" but will be things like convenience perks (read: power levelling for your char) as well as vanity type upgrades for your chars.

    Check out these vid interviews for some more info: (site is not english but the vids are)

    http://www.pcgames.de/aid,629100/Interview/Ego-Shooter/Exklusives_Video-Interview_mit_den_Battlefield_Heroes-Entwicklern/ [pcgames.de]

    • by IdeaMan (216340)
      Anarchy Online [anarchy-online.com] has been doing this for quite a while. They have two playfields, Rubi-Ka (free + ads) and the Shadowlands (paid). When you subscribe you have the option to shut off billboards. A few months ago they introduced a place to buy perks for your paid characters. They included stuff like vanity vehicles and pets.
      The game is totally awesome and sucked me in for over a year.

      There are a couple of problems with the paid/non-paid system though:
      > Billboard system was very annoying and intrusive. T
    • I was under the impression from the article I read that the purchasable upgrades were merely cosmetic. That is, new gear that did nothing for your characters power in-game. In any event, it seems EA is prepared to make zero money off the consumer on this one.

      Hopefully, though, not all games steer in this direction. I prefer my games to be ad-free. It's not enough that every time I turn on the TV I am assaulted with the same stupid ads over and over again that I need to see all of them in games too? No than
  • by Mini-Geek (915324) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:33PM (#22139850) Homepage
    I downloaded the free, ad-supported version of Far Cry when it came out. The ads were very annoying and intrusive. It would pause loading to display a short video (only one video too, so it got very repetitive), play the video, then resume loading, which also made the loading times long.
    I hope that this doesn't have the ads done so intrusively.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by somersault (912633)
      At least they haven't been so crass as to inject them into the game itself. There are some games where real life ads could actually work well though, for example I wouldn't mind if Grand Theft Auto IV had real ads up on billboards, bus stops and on the radio for example, would make it all a bit more realistic. Wouldn't be as funny as the fake ads of course :/
      • Wouldn't be as funny as the fake ads of course

        Unless the advertisement contract contains language mandating satirical or self-deprecating advertisements. ;)

    • by donweel (304991)
      I believe that Shadowbane shows you ads when you are killed, that seems ok as you must accept this punishment when you allow your character to get killed. I can not verify this as that the free download is hosted by Fileplanet and the download queue requires activeX to download the Mac version?? So it's not going to happen.
  • by Nursie (632944) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:36PM (#22139914)
    Or at least those games.

    Traditional advertising routes are failing because people:

    1. Hate ads
    2. Stop noticing them after a while
    3. See them absolutely bloody everywhere.

    Just because I can tune them out doesn't mean I want to, and I'd rather pay for the game, thanks. Actually, I wouldn't mind paying for tv with no ads too. It's not like the advertisers get much "value" from my watching anyway. I drink english ale and I get excited about a new NAS, not the sort of thing you see on tv that much...
    • by phobos13013 (813040) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:22PM (#22140582)
      Actually, this is exactly my rationale for why I *would* play them!

      There is a statistic out there that the average person sees about 300 ads per day. In so doing, I would imagine (or at least I have...) most people have learned to tune the ads out. I can easily play a game and ignore the marketing. I do play online games where this occurs anyway already! So if marketing firms want to subsidize my ability to play full games for free. Sign me up, and don't be surprised if you don't get a bump in revenue because of it!
      • most people have learned to tune the ads out.

        The thing is that advertisers wont sit back and accept that - if people aren't looking then they will try and force more obtrusive advertising. It is easier to reject the model now than rely on distributors/developers integrity in the future.

        Remember some of the lengths advertisers have tried to go to: Tivo banner ads [engadget.com] that show when fast forwarding and unskippable ad patent [digitalspy.co.uk] for example.

      • Well, I can't.

        See, I don't have a TV (I hate the ads in it - aimed at the lowest common denominator, i.e. idiots). For the same reason I do not have a radio.
        My browser is fitted with a very nice ad-blocker.
        I've stopped going to the movies, because not only do I pay quite a bit of money, I'm also treated to up to 50 minutes of ads before the film starts.

        You put ads in your game? I'm not even going to copy it, let alone buy it.
        Plenty of (free, or cheap independent) games without ads around, this would make fo
    • by Mercano (826132)

      Actually, I wouldn't mind paying for tv with no ads too.
      Well, thats what iTunes and the like, along with DVDs, are for. I read on wikipedia that they release "vanilla" Doctor Who DVDs in the UK as soon as they get enough episodes to fill a disc. No bonus features, but you also don't have to wait almost a year for the discs to come out.
    • by llZENll (545605)
      "That'll be the day I stop playing games"

      and no one will care and the world will go on as usual. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but advertisers could care less about you, and probably most people on this site. They care about people who spend money on trivial stupid things, 10 to 25 years old, with rich mommies and daddies. The reason advertising like this works is these morons spend their money before they even have it and must use credit cards and payment plans to get anything.
      • On the one hand, I'd like to have a bunch of rich kids sponsoring my family's entertainment... on the other hand, I don't want a bunch of poor kids with access to credit going into debt to sponsor my family's entertainment. I guess I'm a little torn on this issue.

        But have you noticed that it seems most people, even some as young as 24, seem to consider video games to be children's toys? I get the feeling the in-game ads will be limited to fast food and "other toys." We might see a few Nigerian Scams... bu

      • by Nursie (632944)
        I'm not asking anyone to care. What gave you that impression?

        I didn't say "that'll be the day I stop playing games and the industry will crumble", I voiced my opposition to the pervasive advertising society we live in and said I'd stop playing games. That's that.

        I'm not going on a crusade, I'm stopping doing something I no longer enjoy. There's a difference.

        I learnt long ago that humanity doesn't conform to common sense, and nobody cares either about my opinion, rationality, truth, evidence or any other suc
    • Super Blow ads are fun we need to have more like them.

      Also don't show the same ad over and over again
  • Thankfully... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Leonard Fedorov (1139357) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:37PM (#22139922)
    "For this particular title, no adverts will appear in the game itself due to incompatibility with the game's fictional world." I am very glad that someone realised this. Seeing adverts for Pandora Tommorow in Chaos Theory completely broke the immersion.
    • Maybe it just depends on the game. I thought the adds in Rainbow Six: Vegas fit right in, and they added a nice sense of realism. You would be wandering through a casino and you would run into a free-standing, lighted sign for a movie that is coming out soon (etc). The structure supporting the sign can even be used for cover.
      • I can see what your saying, but my main point was that I was playing as a super-secret agent.. and I saw a TV in plain sight which had my face on an ad.
  • Free games, sure. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Reapy (688651) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:38PM (#22139930)
    Done right, sure. They can whore themselves out as much as they want, so long as the game play is fun. I don't really care if when I need health instead of drinking soda pop X, I get mountain dew. Whatever. Hell, what if in a level I got into a firefight inside a mcdonalds with huge mcdonalds advertisements all over the store. Cool.

    Just don't do stuff like they did with fight night 3, like having the BK guy in my ring corner, or a dodge mini van as the sponsor for a boxing game. I thought it was cool with the under armor ads all over, sweet, fits the genera, but, no bk please.

    So, target the ads, it'll make me like the product, instead of hating it. This would be good for game makers and advertisers.

    The other thing to watch for is the "micropayment" items. As long as the micro item doesn't offer a crippling advantage to other players, i'm all for it, esp if the game is free. I really enjoyed sierra's freestyle basketball game they grabbed from a korean game maker, and the free game + micro payments for little stat boosts worked fine. I had no problem buying the game and a few items (about 25 bucks all together) after I had clocked like 30 hours in the thing as is without paying a cent.

    So, bring on the free games :)
  • Development costs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ddrichardson (869910) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:39PM (#22139944) Homepage

    Personally I think this is a terrible model for games to develop as a medium, yet it does not surprise me the EA would promote it. Having worked in game retail in the past, it's not a secret that (in the UK at least) EA's backbone is in the sportsgames with annual updates.

    Advertisers are more likely to but space in, say Fifa '09 which will have much lower development costs than a new concept and such a model may even off set the development cost.

  • by provigilman (1044114) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:44PM (#22140004) Homepage Journal
    Marine: "Sir, we have to stop the invading aliens, but our weapons do nothing!"

    Sergeant: "Son, no one can resist the great, refreshing taste of Coca-Cola classic...not even invading cyborgs from the planet Nix."

    Marine: "You were right sir! They can't resist the cool flavor and excellent value of the #1 Cola in the US! They've stopped attacking now."

    Sergeant: "Hurry, while they're destracted we can use the Dodge Particle Cannon that comes standard on all new 2113 Dodge Ram Pickups. Only the superior technology of Dodge trucks can hope to defeat them."

    Marine: "They've been defeated sir! Earth has been saved by the combined might of Coca-Cola and Dodge Trucks! You can't get any more American than that...I might just go buy some now!!!"

    • by Guppy06 (410832)
      "Son, no one can resist the great, refreshing taste of Coca-Cola classic"

      You forgot "Hostess Fruit Pies."

      "Hurry, while they're destracted we can use the Dodge Particle Cannon"

      I don't remember Chrysler off the top of my head, but I know BattleTech has GM (not to mention Nissan and Mitsubishi) making weapons and battlemechs in the 31st century.
      • don't remember Chrysler off the top of my head, but I know BattleTech has GM (not to mention Nissan and Mitsubishi) making weapons and battlemechs in the 31st century.

        That's not so far from reality now. Some of the big auto makers also produce military vehicles like APCs. It's not much of a stretch to see them producing hi-tech motorised battlegear far in the future.

  • by binaryspiral (784263) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:45PM (#22140022)
    So when you introduce games with optional micropayments you do two things:

    1. You make it an exclusive for people willing to pay for improvements or perks.
    2. You drive your fodder base away.

    People who would just like to play once in a while, but are getting p0wned by folks who've dumped a lot of cash for all the greatest stuff. With no fodder or incentive for newbies to stick around and get good (or pay to get there) - the player pool dries up, and we're off to another game.
  • Madden (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    By this token, shouldn't Madden already be free? Isn't it just one large advertisement?
  • Mistakes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekboxjockey (745169) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:48PM (#22140072)
    Seems they decided to go with characters that look like clear ripoffs of TF2's new look.... See the picture at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/21/technology/21game.html?ref=technology [nytimes.com].

    EA is taking 2 steps that I completely disagree with:

    -Ripping off other games and making weaker versions of something that has already been successful for another company. Great, you go make a buck, let other companies steer the course of gaming and out(last/earn) you...

    -Taking a problematic issue with current games such as MMORPGs, and making it a new feature. That is, if you aren't good enough you spend money and then you are at least a little better in some respects. (Gold farming in WoW etc..) Forget a game that pits raw skill vs skill, let people pay if they suck, no thank you... I prefer games where being good counts for something. Sure it will be fun to knock around the idiots who spent $100... It's not a true skill based competition, which is the fundamental root of any good multi-player game.
    • by MaineCoon (12585)
      I'm more reminded of the Disney Hercules animated movie from 1997 than TF2...

      TF2 wasn't the first to do non-realistic cartoony graphics. Only the most recent and successful.
    • EA is taking 2 steps that I completely disagree with:
      -Ripping off other games and making weaker versions of something that has already been successful for another company.
      I dont think thats a step in another direction for EA as much as it's their entire business model.

    • The popularity of gold farming is nothing to do with skill and everything to do with people not wanting to invest x hours per week grinding. What does skill have to do with sitting there clicking on mobs for hours on end?
      • Sorry for not clarifying:

        Paying a gold farmer $50 to get enough gold to buy all the epic items you can fit on your character is loosely equivalent to paying EA for better weapons etc.

        The people who have played longer may still have the chance to defeat the people who bought every "upgrade" for real $$ don't get me wrong... But it's very similar to cheating, except EA is making it part of the game. Instead of making cheating "against the game rules", they will just have people pay for an abstracted form of i
  • Get used to it. we are going to reach the point where we will wonder how game makers even made money before the advent of advertisement. Too few of us can look back on cable in the US as a promise of content that we paid for, and therefore didn't need to be sbujected to ads. That didn't last too long. First it was an ad after a movie, no big deal, right? then they would put an add before each hour long show. Now cable is basically broadcast TV you pay for. The same thing is happening in movies. Reme
    • With due respect, don't get used to it - vote with your wallet. Invasive advertising irritates me so I won't but into it. Now is the time for such action. If people reject it when developers are testing the water then they might think twice of investing in it in the future.

      • by Protonk (599901)
        I do vote with my wallet. I don't own a TV. I don't get cable. I don't go to sites that jam advertising down my throat. I buy DVD's of shows I like and watch. However, that doesn't stop media companies from developing for the large percentage of people who are insensitive to those sorts of things.
  • by d3ac0n (715594) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:00PM (#22140242)
    I can't believe that the myth of "free" ad-backed games is still out there. It seems there are plenty of people who would be ok with having ads "If the game is price-reduced or free".

    However, I think we, as gamers need to take a hard look at the reality of the situation and realize that there is no way on earth that any self-respecting game company is going to allow a revenue stream to pass them by. Yes, there will be ads in the games, but you will still pay full-price. Don't believe me?

    Case in point, SOE's "Planetside":

    SOE introduced ads into that game on special billboards that were posted around the game world inside buildings. Usually right near spawn-points so that every time you respawned, you saw the ads. They were inside every building, in multiple places. You could not miss them.

    SOE's explanation was that the ads were a "Pilot program to find ways to offset the subscription costs so that subscriptions can be made cheaper." So, did the price for the game sub go down? NO. Did the price for the game sub go up? YES. So not only do the players have to pay MORE for the sub than they used to, but now they pay for the "privilege" of viewing ads!

    Keep in mind that many of the ads were ANIMATED, WITH SOUND! Incredibly distracting, particularly for an MMOFPS. Even after a massive protest by the community and loss of a big chunk of the playerbase, SOE kept the ads in(although they did restrict the animated ads to only the "sanctuaries" where there was no PVP).

    While SOE does get a well-deserved rap for being one of the worst gaming companies out there, I see them, not as an anomaly, but as the bellwether of the gaming world. What SOE has done, other companies will do. This is what EA is trying now, just in a less in-your-face manner. They are taking the "Incremental" approach, like the "frog in boiling water" analogy. They know if they slam us with ads in every game, gamers will revolt. but if they slowly introduce us to the concept of ads in games, ANY game, They believe that we will become desensitized to it. Then before you know it you will be seeing billboards with animated ads in every game. Then it will be too late.

    The time to stand up against this is now. Don't buy games with ads, and don't play supposed "free" games that are ad-supported. Make game ads and non-starter and a money loser, and we will be able to keep our ad-free experience. But if you let the in-game-ad camel's nose under the tent, don't complain when your end up stepping in Camel Dung down the line.
    • by Dutch Gun (899105)

      However, I think we, as gamers need to take a hard look at the reality of the situation and realize that there is no way on earth that any self-respecting game company is going to allow a revenue stream to pass them by.

      I'd like to think that a game company with self-respect would NOT engage in a practice if they felt the gaming experience would be harmed by it.

      That being said, I have no problem with adverts in game when they make sense. To me, those are games in contemporary settings in which it would be strange NOT to see adverts (sports games are an oft-cited example), and which are NOT intrusive to the game playing experience. The way I figure it, why shouldn't game developers be allowed to leverage some work that's

  • More likely (Score:2, Insightful)

    by winmine (934311)
    Free ad-laden games in the future? No. Expensive ad-laden games more likely. Macropayments divy the game into 20 $5 chunks instead of a single $60 buy.

    Imagine: "Level complete! Use 500 points for level 2?" "This level brought to you by Mountain Dew"
  • A good example of this practice done right is Funcom. Anarchy Online (which was created in 2001) still has a large and active player base thanks in part to Funcom partnering with Massive to supply free ad sponsored accounts. These free accounts have limited access to expansion content and have in game ads to sponsor the free play. A large number of free accounts end up converting to pay accounts after playing for a while. This model has managed to keep this game viable for 7 years well past the point ma
  • A company called Bezerk had a bunch of ad-supported games about 8 - 10 years ago, I believe they did You Don't Know Jack. [youdontknowjack.com] My favourite was called Acrophobia. [gryphonllc.com]

    The games took over the entire screen (as usual) and in between every other round (rounds lasted several minutes) you'd get an ad for a minute. It was really well done and fitted into the whole "game show" type feel to the games. The ads were reasonably enjoyable although there were only a few in rotation so it got boring once you'd seen them all a few
  • Does that mean they'll be removing the (usually unskippable) ads from pay games?

    No, of course not.
  • Aside from the idiocy of thinking that ad revenue will mean cheaper games and cheaper subscriptions fees - as has been noted, it's not going to happen - aside from that, there is an unavoidable consequence?

    If the ads interrupt or distract from the game, the whole idea will fail. A fantasy game where your sword is sponsored by Ford or IBM will crash and burn, very quickly. The ads have to look and act like they're part of the game world. And that seriously limits the kinds of games these companies will be wi
    • by hurfy (735314)
      There is nothing stopping Buck knives or Fantasyswords.com from advertising in your RPG tho is there?

      I assume this will be in addition the the nvidia logo that seems to be standard startup fare in half my games :(

      No thanks, just produce a game worth buying please.

      I already don't go to theaters to watch ads and buy/rent few new movies with a zillions ads and monster animated logos. Thankfully most TV shows on DVD avoid this (for now). Don't reduce me to only buying BBC dvds , they are on the spendy side ;(
  • First we'll just have a few ads at the beginning and the end. Then they'll sneak one in the middle as part of a video clip. Next thing we know they'll have them spaced throughout the game at save points every ten minutes. In the worst case scenario they'll start deleting content from old games to insert more ads in its place, the way reruns of old shows are trimmed to fit the shorter time slot. I honestly wouldn't object to a few-second ad right up front if that was it, but I don't believe for a second th
  • Good luck (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Skuldo (849919)
    How long is it gonna take for us to strip them out of the game, seriously. TexMod?
    • EA: HACK ATTEMPT DETECTED!!! all EA games on your computer have now been rendered inactive. Please pay a one time $40 "im sorry" fee to re-enable the content.

      (steam can already do this, albeit with no fee to reactivate)

  • Crackdown (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Turn-X Alphonse (789240) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:51PM (#22142194) Journal
    People are over reacting to advertisements in game. I recently picked up Crackdown and only noticed the adverts were real things once I had been playing a good 10 hours. I didn't think "oh wow I need to see that movie" I just kept playing as if they were fictional. They didn't ruin my game or do any harm what so ever, the worst that can be said is they wasted space of something comedic like GTA has.
  • I work in interactive in advertising in New York and have spent many years in meetings with clients who ask about advergaming. Advergaming is DOA.

    First, it costs far too much to produce a branded game anyone would actually play, even if you try to license an engine of some kind. Clients won't spend that kind of money (the benchmark is approx. $25K--if it costs more than that, it's too expensive).

    Second, writing products into games in development doesn't work from a production standpoint. It's difficult,
    • you'd be hard-pressed to insert an ad for Maybelline into WoW without breaking the experience and causing a backlash.

      Oh. I don't know. Maybelline would probably work quite well in the Blood Elf areas. I suspect both the male and female Belfs would be interested.

  • Now presenting the wonderfully wonderous world of World of Warcraft 2, the next-generation, mind-blowing (M)MMORPG. Lucious green rolling hills and sharp cliffs of frozen mountains covered in realistic trees with fully DirectX 12 rendered foilage. Oh and the deserts, you've never seen such sand, just looking at it makes your teeth crunch!

    Odd villages and cities sprinkle the landscape, otherwise inhabited by vicious monstrosities that spawn gracefully out of quasi-natural burrows instead of simply popping up
  • ...I was instantly skeptical of this offering from EA, on a number of issues. 1) Viable game experience? Despite a massive userbase for BF2142, three major patches and the Northern Strike addon, there are still some major play issues with the game. One of the more irritating heavy handed (and incorrect) solutions for people abusing the game is podsurfing. For the unitiated, you can launch out of several vehicles in a drop pod that has limited maneuverability but that can, with some alterations of game set
  • "start to generate revenue increases that enable publishers to substantially reduce the price of their games?"
    This statement is SO 20th century....in the 21st increased revenue means increased profit and larger exec bonuses....not lower consumer prices!

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