RMT Sucks! (This Blog Brought To You By Gold Farmers United)

There’s a couple of threads going on at Quarter to Three discussing Battlefield 2142, and specifically its alliance with IGA Advertising, and thus the ability to enjoy tasty Fanta ads while defending Earth from Zur and the Ko-Dan Armada or whatever.

In-game advertising is not a trend I’m particularly happy with. Specifically, when it’s used not as a means of defraying expenses, but as an additional revenue stream. With most games that have this “product placement”, the game itself isn’t any less expensive.

Anarchy Online, and now Planetside are both notable exceptions, having free-to-play modes and in-game advertising. In Anarchy Online’s case, paying subscribers aren’t displayed these ads, so there actually is something of a quid pro quo; an advertiser-supported version of the game without subscription fees. Planetside, on the other hand displays in-game ads to both paying and non-paying subscribers. And in both, the ads are sometimes wildly, wildly out of sync with their respective game worlds:

Now, I know that fighting for the suspension of disbelief is a dying creed in an online world where people argue about whether or not it’s worth going for a critical hit chance of 9% in lieu of a 10% chance to avoid stuns. But still, this bothers me on a very fundamental level, for two seperate yet somewhat related reasons.

The first reason, as I mentioned, is storytelling. Basically, once you have Motely Crue rocking your world, you’ve pretty much given up on any pretense of having your own story. You’ve sold it for a mess of pottage (and Motley Crue’s pottage? Pretty damned messy). You no longer care about a coherent user experience; you’ve sublet it out to a “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” ad campaign.

The second, and more important to my mind, is in service. People are paying for a game. They should not then become mineable revenue streams – they are customers who have paid for a service. They should not become commodities. Yet in selling out ad space within our games, we as game creators are commodifying our customers. We are saying that their worth is such that we’re willing to plop in an ad and make a few microcents more every time they log in. In so many words, we’re saying: Hey, we’re really greedy.

And it’s not just games. My XM radio (that I pay a subscription for) plays Cialis ads on supposedly ad-free stations. When I go see a movie, I have to sit through an ad I don’t want to see (for Coke or something similarly unrelated) before seeing the ads I do want to see (the “Coming Attractions” reel). We are becoming a commodified society. Every blank space is virgin territory for the marketers to move in and paint with an appeal for auto insurance quotes.

Which, ironically enough, is a large part of what I’m trying to take a vacation from by playing games. Go figure.