The folks over at ComputerAndVideoGames.com discovered an odd Sony patent filed last July that would enable an advertiser to display an advertisement while a video game is playing (allowing it to continue running in the background) and then rewind the game afterwards so the player could get back to business.
It’s thought that this sort of technology might enable the production of further free-to-play gaming on the PlayStation and other Sony products, but looking at what the advertising mechanic will do to players, it’s hard to say it might turn off more gamers than it brings in revenue.
To quote the article,
The patent, filed in July last year, explains that a warning message would be displayed to the player before suspending gameplay, displaying an advertisement, and then “rewinding” a portion of the game before resuming.
An example used in the patent application is “Best Brand Soda! You’ve got to try it!”
It’s been suggested that this controversial system could be used to fund free-to-play games on PlayStation platforms, which already boast titles such as Killzone 3 multiplayer and DC Universe Online for free, with Dust 514 on the way.
There’s an old adage from the video game developer community about the difference between dropping frames to maintain frame-rate and allowing a game to stutter: “A gamer will forgive you a few dropped frames and poor graphics; but they will never forgive you for freezing the screen or lagging.” As a result, this sort of patent suggests what I’d call a disruptive advertisement.
Nobody who has ever played a video game wants something disrupting their gameplay just to show them an advertisement.
Furthermore, as the examples from the article, DC Universe Online doesn’t need extra advertisements to keep on trucking, in fact, they use a cash shop and a different model than advertising to pay for their servers—revenue for DCUO went up 700% after they went free-to-play and they did it without ludus interruptus ads. Dust 514 is being released by CCP Studios who run EVE Online a notoriously well populated pay-to-play MMO that will probably only see an increase in interest and curiosity once the said first-person-shooter game is released.
How should companies like Sony and Microsoft handle advertisements for free games?
I have a novel idea where such an advertisement could go: the loading screen.
Even today, even free-to-play MMO games, can have numerous zone changes and interstitial screens when switching scenes. These display loading screens often with character artwork, some heroine wearing PVC and launching bullets across an exploding room or a superhero in some daunting pose. They last a few seconds as the game renders the new location and prepares the resources to display to the player. We run into these when jumping into a dungeon in World of Warcraft, moving into a police station in DC Universe Online, or going through a portal in Spiral Knights.
Show advertisements here that will take over the entire screen. It won’t interrupt gameplay and it won’t cause that much disruption to immersion either because the player is already outside the game waiting for it to load.
This still isn’t ideal because it’s frustrating having ads foisted upon you when you’re trying to play a game with friends; but it’s better than an advertisement that rolls down the window, jumps into the car, and starts blaring at you while you’re trying to drive (even if it does rewind the road 30 seconds later.)
With Microsoft having pulled the plug on Massive (another in-game advertising outfit) we’re probably going to be seeing different ideas on how to approach in-game ads in the future, especially for free-to-play games. It’s an ever-growing market with a lot of niches beginning to form with both social play and online gaming being bright corners of an otherwise dark financial landscape.