About In-Game Advertising (and advertising in general)

It’s always troubled me how willing people are to accept in-game advertising. Advertising in general bothers me deeply, but whenever I try to explain the problem, I never feel satisfied with my explanation.

Perhaps a little bit of ranting makes all the difference. This week on their podcast, Jeff Roberts and Casey Muratori explained the situation very well. (Both Jeff and Casey are in the credits for Braid, for those looking for a Braid connection here).

If you are interested in the future of games, and for some reason you don’t think advertising is bad, please listen to the following excerpt:

(Yes, David Perry, you too.)

Here’s a direct-download link if you want to save the mp3.

Early in this discussion, Casey refers to Sut Jhally’s lecture “How TV Exploits its Audience”, which is available for a small fee at this link. Or, here is a Sut Jhally web site with some free clips.

If you liked this discussion, you may wish to visit: The main page for The Jeff and Casey Show, where you can download any of the episodes (28 so far!).

As a special bonus, as mentioned in the excerpt, here’s David Lynch’s opinion on the matter:


114 Responses to “About In-Game Advertising (and advertising in general)”

  1. erico316 Says:

    i myself hate in game ads depending on how its use.i loved how in mgs4 they put the ipod in the game to play music that was a great way of doing in game ads because it added something to the game and it really did feel like an ipod.
    i hate in game ad if it use in a meanless way!

  2. Manveer Heir Says:

    That was hilarious and poignant. I wish developers were in more control of this. I feel like this, much like copy protection, comes from the publisher often times.

    David Lynch’s response reminds me why I love him so much. Let’s all go watch Mulholland Dr or Lost Highway

  3. Evan Says:

    Fascinating. I think more game developers should think like this. Cuz really, i’d say gaming is still trying to figure itself out as well, and the last thing we need is something tainting the medium of game design. thanks for sharing that!

  4. John Burnett Says:

    I wonder if it’s wrong that I just watched that on my iphone.

    Let’s ask David!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKiIroiCvZ0

    (I think the fact that that’s a parody of an ad means something.)

  5. BigD Says:

    I find the quote, “which is available for a small fee at this link”, pretty funny considering that the blog is being used as a form of advertisement for Sut’s article.

    Braid also used many forms of advertising. Without advertising, Braid would have been a financial failure, no doubt. The quote, “Advertising in general bothers me deeply”, is ironic. Without getting into detail, we need to accept advertising, that does not wholly affect of privacy and liberties.

  6. WarpZone Says:

    A *complete* rejection of in-game advertising could prevent the designer from exploring or enhancing certain ideas they want to express, although this would be extremely rare — Pikmin 2′s use of product placement for dramatic irony is the only example I can think of.

  7. Karl Says:

    >>we need to accept advertising

    I think we don’t. My prediction: Consumers will develop a more conscious behavior when buying goods. E.g.: There will be websites,etc. which will provide information on products as alternative to the mass-manipulation that is advertisement (and it’s nothing else).

  8. Casey Muratori Says:

    In regards to BigD and WarpZone’s comments:

    Today there is a conflation of publicity, which is the act of making an audience aware of a product’s existence, with psychological manipulation, which is the act of making people want to purchase a product even if they were previously aware of it and didn’t decide to purchase it prior to coercion.

    The word “advertising”, then, is perhaps too all-encompassing. Certainly it would not be possible for an individual to find all the games they might want to play if there was no such thing as publicity of any kind (no reviews, no word of mouth, no print ads, no web ads). It would simply be a stroke of luck if they happened upon it.

    But on the flip side, publicity is patently not the goal of a product placement where James Bond rolls up to the casino in his BMW. Everyone already knows that BMW makes cars, and you can go to a dealership and find out about them, or visit their website. The goal here is to convince someone who might not otherwise buy a BMW that they should buy one because James Bond drives one.

    Furthermore, there is no longer any clear distinction between content that controls its advertising (a site is popular so people want to put ads on it) and advertising that controls its content (a site finds that it gets more ad revenue when they run articles about how awesome Jesus is, so they run more articles featuring an awesome Jesus). It is a very blurry continuum.

    Fortunately, right now games are mostly in good stead on both counts. We don’t try to peddle a lot of influence with players on behalf of corporate sponsors, and we don’t have our game content influenced by those sponsors either. And the reason is simple: we don’t have sponsors!

    But it is very clear that this is changing, perhaps dramatically, for the worse.

    I for one would like to see this trend reverse, but I don’t have high hopes for that happening. I can understand why people are defensive about their participation in this dirty business, because nobody wants to feel like they’re a net negative for culture or society. But I’m sorry, it’s time to look in the mirror.

    Pointing to the fact that Braid might have benefited from some publicity at some point as an argument that advertising in games is good is a laughable argument at best. Of course publicity is good. Of course advertising can be good for the world. Prior to the 1950s, maybe it mostly was. But we all know that the goal nowadays is not to let people know about things they might enjoy, and let them make their own decisions. It’s to convince people to buy your product period, regardless of whether it makes their life better, and it is specifically these unscrupulous profiteers that the industry proposes to get in bed with going forward.

    And I don’t know about you, but I try not to get in bed with unscrupulous people, no matter how much they offer to pay me.

  9. Krystian Majewski Says:

    By the way, although that video is funny, for me David Lynch lost all credibility with this “Invincible Germany” Sect. Something went seriously wrong with this guy. I mean SERIOUSLY. I couldn’t believe it myself until he gave another speech in Cologne:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k357ErdUQyk

  10. Karl Says:

    About the podcast:
    The content is good.
    But it’d be more pleasant to listen to if the one guy would shriek less.

  11. Paul Visschers Says:

    I had an internal discussion about advertising a bit myself several years ago and came to the conclusion that I hated it with every fiber of my being. And I still do. It can’t be trusted, as every ad says their product is the best. On tv, it takes a lot of time, since it’s basically a third of the current programming. Imagine saving 20 minutes on every hour of tv you watch. Also it is everywhere, if you walk around in the city, it never happens that you don’t see an advertisement.

    This duality is very annoying to me. On the one hand, advertisements have no effect on me (I’ve conditioned myself to ignore anything that even remotely looks like an ad) or an averse effect (I assume the claims are bogus, and that a product needing these kinds of tactics to sell isn’t worth anything). On the other hand it does seem to work for the majority of the people, or it wouldn’t be so pervasive. And because it works, I have to suffer it as well.

    Having said that, I don’t really have a problem with seeing brand names on items in movies, tv shows or games, just like I don’t mind that in real-life (it’s when the brand names are on something other than the items that I hate). I do have one criterium: it has to be natural or life-like. When I’m drinking a can of soda in real life, I don’t focus my attention on showing the label to everyone, nor do I get paid for that. I also don’t actively hide it though, which seems to happen on tv and in games though (as long as there is no payment involved). I think a good indication of product placement being bad is that someone on the creative team thought about it consciencely. If they only focused on their story, the direction and artistic merits, any amount of products on screen won’t be a problem.

    Of course I don’t trust the corporate world to get it right, and they will do whatever they need to do to peddle their wares. As long as the majority of people respond to this with compulsive shopping instead of disgust, it just won’t change. Until it does, I’ll just rely on my built in ad filters.

    And now I’m going to listen to the podcast. I like to reiterate my own opinion before ingesting those of others, that makes it easier to see the merits and flaws in both. And since I’ve done this, I might as well share.

  12. coco Says:

    Bullshit.

    The arguments presented there essentially the arguments against advertising. And you know what? Fuck that, free trade and open markets are the answer.

    How else are you going to monetise markets where copyright and intellectual property are treated with absolutely no respect? There’s nothing wrong with making more money, you don’t have to sacrifice creative control in order to do so. Some developers might, that’s their call, others won’t.

    Neo-con as it sounds – economic growth is a good thing.

    —-

    erico316: No, the MGS4 product placements were absolute bullshit, the reason you’ve accepted them is because you’re a fucking apologist. The adverts are so incredibly in your face and lazy, the ipod does not fit into the fictional world of MGS at all. But Kojima can get away with it by pretending to be all post-modern and ironic, his diehards will absolutely lap it up, no one else will. He could have popup adverts for feces in there and you’d eat it.

  13. Peter Says:

    Anyone remember the Airwaves blimp in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory? Okay, it was ridiculous, but also… kinda funny.

    The guy made an interesting point about how people ‘pay’ for advertising by the fact that it has an influence on purchasing. That’s a neat way of looking at it, but it would be more accurate to say that advertising is influential on -average-. Advertising doesn’t have the same effect on everyone, it’s targeted of course. If none of the ads in the game happen to reach me (because maybe I don’t like gum, or I don’t drive) then I get away with it for free on that occasion. So the influential power of advertising is a little more complex than he makes out.

    On the other hand I completely agree that where product placement interferes with creativity it can only ever be a corrupting force, and I agree that putting power into the hands of the advertisers is a bad idea.

    But here’s the thing. There are films chock full of product placement that are just mediocre entertainment. There are and will be games like that too. But as long as there are artists out there who have the will to make something great, it will happen. Those people who genuinely care about good design and finding new ways to communicate through the medium are not going to disappear just because Coke wants to make sure that Generic FPS 2050 is as mainstream as possible. And there will be space for these types of people across the spectrum – just as there are still great mainstream movies that shine out amount the rubbish and great small, indie ones too, the same will be true of games as long as there are people with that will.

  14. Count of Flanders Says:

    Two words … Burnout Paradise

  15. Norm Says:

    I think some of the comparisons with the film industry are missing the point.

    Yes, product placement in any art form cheapens the experience. Advertising is invasive, insidious and and I’m not a fan. However, indicting the entire game industry over the actions of a corporate mainstream is about the same as saying View Askew is responsible for Paramount’s transgressions. There is a vast gulf between the goals and desires of different movie studios just as there are between different game studios and, to a lesser extent perhaps, publishers.

    There are people who make games because they want to create works of art. There are people who make games because they want to make money. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it’s not particularly difficult to be one or the other of these people. The starving artist route is something that a lot of indie developers take and, frankly, most independent studios not named Valve or Epic aren’t making much money either. Likewise, there are publishers and studios who shovel out licensed Barbie games and movie tie-ins by the truckload with no real thoughts about the quality of their work. They’re making a shitload of money but they’re not making art.

    The really interesting folks are the ones who manage to do both. Sometimes it’s by accident but more often than not it’s the result of someone with the unusual ability to combine artistic vision with pragmatic business sense. To say that seeking financial success inherently cheapens a game is not significantly different, in my opinion, than saying that making money should be the only goal. Both roads shrink from the real challenge and attempt to console themselves by imagining that the other camp is populated by gibbering buffoons.

  16. PHeMoX Says:

    By the time you’re remembering ads from games, they are working … Ads are evil, avoid at all costs!

  17. Jonathan Blow Says:

    Norm: “Financial success” does not require making money from advertising. You try to conflate the two in your comment, and as a result I I don’t see any kind of clear point being made.

    Braid appears to be financially successful (we’ll know for sure when the PC version is released), and yet has nothing to do with advertising.

    I am of the opinion that there is, in the long-term development of a medium, no way to include advertising without compromising artistic sense.

    So, I am not saying that seeking success cheapens a game (though really, even that might be true). But seeking success *through advertising* definitely cheapens a game. No question.

  18. Jonathan Blow Says:

    (And there are some games that I like that are ad-supported, like PixelJam’s Dino Run. But these games would all be better without ads.)

  19. Ben Says:

    I think the problem is when product placement drives design decisions rather than the opposite. Well, okay, that seems self-evident, but what about a game like Gran Turismo? Without the product placement, it would lose out on a great deal of the realism that makes it a hit. In that case, product placement made a game stronger because its inclusion was driven by a design decision. Similar things happen in film as well, such as the Reese’s Pieces placement in ET. I think what needs to happen is for the game/film/whatever to be basically completely designed before they try to sell any advertising, and to know EXACTLY what can fit in without breaking the aesthetic and message.

    In response to the podcast, I think that rather than just selling ads to cheaper and cheaper brands companies usually just sell the ad space to themselves to promote their new games. That’s what Blizzard seems to do with their old bnet ads on Starcraft and such anyway.

  20. Travis Says:

    Speaking of advertising, this is a terrible advertisement for the The Jeff and Casey Show, because I don’t know which of Jeff or Casey is the one screaming at the top of his lungs but I’d pay to never have to listen to him again.

  21. PHeMoX Says:

    [i]I am of the opinion that there is, in the long-term development of a medium, no way to include advertising without compromising artistic sense.[/i]

    Yeah, I definitely think so as well. Every moment of time that’s being spent on getting a brand to look right in a game, is often very much wasted time as far as the actual games go.

    I definitely like games without ingame ads a lot more, as they usually did not suffer too much from the implementation of the ads. Still … everyone that advertises in games, usually also has a say in where the development of the game goes… which is definitely a bad thing.

  22. Jonathan Stokes Says:

    The key word here is consciousness.

    A large part of Americans are unconscious consumers. We buy products that multi-million dollar ad campaigns convince us to buy. But we also buy products that our friends buy, and products that are well received by “professional” critics, and for more innumerable reasons. And special interests interweave all of these. We cannot quantify the forces that bring us to an ultimate purchase.

    Paul, although I applaud your efforts to disregard advertising, I think it is impossible for you to be completely unmoved by it. It affects us on a subconscious level that I believe we can’t fully understand.

    So we must look at ourselves. Look at our level of consciousness as consumers. Ask yourself why you are about to buy that iPhone. Choose to seek facts about a product, not opinions. The more we promote conscious decision making as consumers, the more we suppress the unconsciousness that advertising has come to thrive on.

  23. Matthew Fraley Says:

    It’s a waste of breath or keystrokes to complain about this kind of thing, unless you’re advocating government regulation of all mass-media. I guess I just don’t understand how shouting DON’T BE GREEDY GUYS accomplishes anything.

  24. Seth Says:

    Oh crap. I just had a vision of the future. Meta-ads. Imagine an ad for an adver-game subtly portrayed in the background of a Superbowl ad for shoes that advertise an energy drink.

    We’ll be rich.

  25. Jonathan Blow Says:

    Matthew, it’s not a waste of breath at all. It is possible to build a culture of game development that respects the audience and the influence we have over that audience, and that wishes to maintain an intact artistic process.

    Sure, there will always be people willing to make Yaris Racing or the James Bond F-150 game. But the question yet to be decided is whether those games are the primary output of our industry.

    Talking to other developers is useful because, hey, we listen to each other. We exchange ideas about what we should be doing, all the time. If you’re not a developer this might seem strange; you might have some vision of games being produced by an inflexible machine steered by no one, the course of which is unalterable.

    In truth, every game is made the way it is because actual human people made it that way, based on ideas they had over the course of development. Exchanging new ideas with a developer results in a change in what they produce. It’s that simple.

  26. Norm Says:

    Jonathan: “But seeking success *through advertising* definitely cheapens a game. No question.” I agree with you, in spirit, but I’m not convinced that there’s no question.

    Here’s an example I’ll use: was I Love Bees (aka The Haunted Apiary) cheapened by the fact that its entire purpose was to advertise for another game? I personally thought that the “radio drama” portion of the story was excellent and that the initial stages of the game were engaging, exciting and intriguing (though it certainly fell flat towards the end). The “product placement” aspect was, of course, any reference to the Halo universe – something they purposefully avoided initially and allowed to creep in slow, measured amounts.

    Understand that I’m with you when it comes to my disdain for advertising. I’ve read No Logo. But I’m not confident enough in my own creative powers to simply say, carte blanche, that there is no way to meld the two without insulting your audience. I’ll grant that there aren’t any mainstream examples that I can think of where this melding worked but, as you say, we’re a young medium and modern advertising itself is young as well. I’m content to see how things play out while decrying the obviously facile examples when they present themselves.

    One last thing: you say that Dino Run would be a better game without ads. And you would be right. But would it have made any money without them? That is to say, could it exist at all?

  27. Jam Torkberg Says:

    As has been mentioned before, I think we need to make clearer the distinction between advertising and press. In advertising, a company that wants to increase awareness of a product or service (the vast majority of these companies are selling said product or service, but some, such as non-profits, are just trying to get the word on the street) will pay a form of media to display that product or service in some way, be it though a fifteen-second spot between acts of a television show, having characters in a movie use and/or talk about the product or service, and so on.

    Press, on the other hand, is simply a form of media talking about a product or service. The two major distinctions being that one, in advertising, money has changed hands, and press is done almost totally at the behest of the media itself, and two, press does not always have good things to say (thought it will, of course, still increase awareness).

    I may have some or all of that wrong, and feel free to correct me. Anywho, with that out of the way, he’s my contribution to the discussion…

    There is a subset of product placement that I like to call product insertion. That is, rather than a company paying a game developer to place a product in their game, and developer will insert a product on their own because it is motivated by the design, such as Captain Olimar digging batteries and bottle caps out of the ground. Money may still change hands, but the difference is the intention of the developer.

    Someone mentioned ET. Many of you may know the story that Spielberg originally wanted to use M&Ms, but Mars did not want their candy associated with a film they felt was going to be a flop. So Reese’s snatched up that opportunity and the rest is history. The point is that it was written in the script that Elliot had to lead ET on with some kind of candy. Thus, a product was inserted into the film, and Amblin may have received a big fat check to help out with production costs.

    SO! How should we feel about cases like this? Yes, a product has found its way into a movie or game, and yes, money may have changed hands, but the motivations were sound. Well, at least I feel they were sound. Maybe I am wrong? How do you guys feel about it?

  28. Jonathan Blow Says:

    I think there may always be cases where one creator is exceedingly talented and manages to incorporate some kind of advertising into his work without diluting or damaging the work. I’m not aware of any such cases off the top of my head, but neither am I trying to argue that it’s impossible. But what is possible on a very limited, case-by-case exceptional basis, is not really what you get when you look at th emergent behavior of the medium as a whole.

    Dino Run absolutely could exist without ads — if we choose to build a culture with a proper level of mistrust of advertising, which has accordingly done a good job of laying the infrastructure for honest and straightforward ways of paying for things. That’s not what we have now.

  29. PHeMoX Says:

    *“But seeking success *through advertising* definitely cheapens a game. No question.” *

    Except for the few games I know of that where made available completely for free (not a construction like Battlefield Heroes where you’ll still be paying for ingame stuff) because ads where implemented (and these were old budget titles already), I don’t see many developers that actually give the financial benefit to their customers.

    Instead, most developers look at ads as ‘extra bonus’. I think it’s valid criticism to say ‘don’t be greedy’ to them.

    Basically companies are still experimenting with free games and I’m sure Ubisoft shareholders aren’t too happy about the ‘free-games-for-everyone’ move, as most of them do not directly benefit from this at all.

    As long as money does the talking in this industry, it’s going to be difficult for the bigger developers to even avoid ingame-ads. Which in itself is something I’m a bit fearful about.

    We’re getting too much ads on television and other parts of rl already, I hate to see them in games.

  30. PHeMoX Says:

    Also, as a gamer, I still would rather pay 5 bucks for Prince of Persia Sands of Time, than to be confronted with ads and get the game for free.

  31. Jason Says:

    The real question is, has David Lynch ever apologized for taking a great, complex novel like Dune, a novel which explored a wide variety of political, social, economic, religious and ecological issues, and turned it into…well, a third rate messiah story?

  32. Jonathan Blow Says:

    If you read his book “Catching the Big Fish” he mentions that he regrets a lot of things about Dune, but also says that part of it was out of his control (he didn’t have final cut over the film).

    He lists his “Selected Filmography” — i.e. the films he is proud of — and Dune isn’t on the list.

  33. MattP Says:

    I think some product placement/advertising could naturally fit into a game world, at least for games that pretend to be something like reality such as a FPS that takes place in a contemporary world. If the character ends up in Times Square, they’ll be seeing several billboards – why not sell the space to real companies with an agreement that the art style of the ads will fit into the setting into which they’ll be placed? Need to buy a soda from a vending machine to up your health? Why not sell the front of that machine to Coke or Pepsi?

    Dropping an ad for PowerAde into Braid would be lame, but for games that feature elements of the real world already, using branded forms of those elements doesn’t necessarily have to dilute the artistic presentation of the game.

  34. Jeremy Says:

    I shut that shit off after they started say that kids watching TV is against Labour Laws, because they are giving them money to do work.

    A) The kids Don’t get ANY money. Equating enjoying a TV show to a monetary reward is preposterous and moronic.

    B) This also assumes that watching the AD is the “work” they are doing. That also, is absurd. Just watching an AD doesn’t make their advertisers money, it makes the network money. Money they use to produce they show that you are enjoying. Would you rather pay cash to watch it?

    Now, I’m not pro advertising, and I don’t want to get on a rant about all of things I DON’T like about it(its mostly political, and This isn’t the place for it), but I’ll equate it like this :

    In gamer advertising is an excellent way to producing money for games that are designed strictly for the gameplay, and not any real artistic expression. On-line FPS games are perfect for it. Think about you, you don’t complain about the Green Screen AD’s when you watch a baseball game. That’s not a perfect analogy, I know, but it gets my point across. It works in Sports games as well.

    Then you have games that try in immerse you in a world. That’s when In game ad’s destroy a game. Braid would be terrible with in game ads. It also fucks up movies and TV shows. Some episodes of 30rock and The Office have these terrible scenes that make you want to stop watching because of it.

    Video games are a very interesting media. Part the origin of video games comes from other types of games (board games, sports), and part it comes from artistic medias (Painting, animation, music, writing). To ignore either half of the equation when discussing games devalues your argument.

  35. pointmaker Says:

    > I shut that shit off after they started say
    > that kids watching TV is against Labour
    > Laws, because they are giving them
    > money to do work.

    Dude, you _so_ completely missed the point.

    It doesn’t matter that the kids don’t get paid physical cash. It matters that the *networks* get paid by the number of kids that were watching the show.

    That means the networks essentially employ a certain number of children to watch TV so that the network makes money, right? So, how do they pay those children? By showing them something fun to watch. It’s a transaction – don’t kid yourself that there is nothing changins hands there.

    It doesn’t matter that the children *want* to watch the TV – it’s still a transaction. I know a lot of game players would probably be willing to work at a game company for free – just for the entertainment. But there are tons of labor laws that control the possibility of misusing such an eager workforce.

    It’s not that different from employing children at 5 cents an hour to make T-shirts that you resell for $10. In fact, it’s a bargin to employ the TV watchers, because it’s *less* expensive than the sweat shop children.

    So, would you allow the sweatshop children, if the owners somehow made sewing a T shirt so much fun, that they had volunteers? This is the whole reason we have labor laws is to prevent this kind of spin.

    The TV industry just hasn’t paid the piper yet, but they will. Eventually, we’ll realize that we’ve created an entire generation of nothing but consumers, and there will be a backlash.

  36. vince Says:

    I think advertising is a problem, but we have larger problems on our hands today. You’re right, advertising is not inherently related to the quality of the products, which is illogical from the start.

    But advertising, along with 90% of all our problems, stems from money.

  37. Casey Muratori Says:

    Re: pointmaker, that was a perfect response… brilliantly stated! My hat is off to you.

  38. Karl Says:

    A little puzzle
    for all people who are pro-ads in games:
    Which ads would you place in Zelda?

  39. Zaphos Says:

    I just wanted to say that “In gamer advertising” is brilliant typo.

  40. Jeremy Says:

    “It’s not that different from employing children at 5 cents an hour to make T-shirts that you resell for $10. In fact, it’s a bargin to employ the TV watchers, because it’s *less* expensive than the sweat shop children.

    So, would you allow the sweatshop children, if the owners somehow made sewing a T shirt so much fun, that they had volunteers? This is the whole reason we have labor laws is to prevent this kind of spin.”

    Get real. You are comparing advertising to a sweatshop. Really think about that. Half-way decent parenting can undo any damage advertising does to children. Working in a sweatshop can kill a kid.

    “The TV industry just hasn’t paid the piper yet, but they will. Eventually, we’ll realize that we’ve created an entire generation of nothing but consumers”

    We’ve been nothing but consumers since the 50′s. Thats why we have gigantic trade and budget deficits. It’s why global warming

  41. Jeremy Says:

    It’s why global warming is such a problem.

  42. Jeremy Says:

    “That means the networks essentially employ a certain number of children to watch TV so that the network makes money, right? So, how do they pay those children? By showing them something fun to watch. It’s a transaction – don’t kid yourself that there is nothing changins hands there.”

    A transaction isn’t employment, it’s trade. If you go by what you say, every time you buy something, you are working for whom ever sold it to you. Or, every time you read a newspaper, you are working for the newspaper when you see one of their adds.

  43. pointmaker Says:

    > You are comparing advertising to a sweatshop.
    > Working in a sweatshop can kill a kid.

    But labor laws should apply to both – that’s the whole point! You are *paying* children for a service by giving them entertainment. By your argument, it’s only the degree of danger that causes labor laws to apply – that doesn’t make any sense – they are called LABOR laws. Child actors can only work a certain number of hours, and not because acting is particularly dangerous.

    > Half-way decent parenting can undo any
    > damage advertising does to children.

    Really? You have kids? You’ve had to handle a kid that wants something that you can’t afford? You’ve read studies on pervasive advertising? You’d have to do a much better job of arguing to get me to accept that even fully-decent parenting can completely counteract subtle advertising effects.

  44. Jeremy Says:

    “But labor laws should apply to both – that’s the whole point! You are *paying* children for a service by giving them entertainment. By your argument, it’s only the degree of danger that causes labor laws to apply – that doesn’t make any sense – they are called LABOR laws. Child actors can only work a certain number of hours, and not because acting is particularly dangerous.”

    I don’t know how to explain this to you any other way, so I might be a bit rude.

    WATCHING TV IS NOT A FUCKING JOB.

    http://www.answers.com/labor&r=67

    http://www.answers.com/trade&r=67

    If you can’t tell the difference between labor and trade, you need to stop talking about them.

    “Really? You have kids? You’ve had to handle a kid that wants something that you can’t afford? You’ve read studies on pervasive advertising? You’d have to do a much better job of arguing to get me to accept that even fully-decent parenting can completely counteract subtle advertising effects.”

    I can’t get into this without getting into the deeper problems with advertising.

  45. Bernie Schulenburg Says:

    Here’s a quite thought provoking little film on our consumer society. I think it is simplistic and populistic, but it does have some truth in it.

    http://www.storyofstuff.com/

  46. Jeremy Says:

    I’m about half-way through that video, and so far its pretty decent. Then again, I tend to be very populistic.

  47. Bernie Schulenburg Says:

    (Jeremy) > “If you go by what you say, every time you buy something, you are working for whom ever sold it to you.”

    Exactly. The video argues, it’s not the consumer who pays (entirely) for what he buys. According to the video, the consumer often doesn’t cover the cost of production. The trick is to see the real cost of a good: As an example, if resources from a rain forest area are used in the product, then native people might have to pay in the way that they lose their ancestral land to a company. So in fact they pay for our product. This all might seem a little off topic, but really it belongs to the big picture, if we’re talking about the society of consumption.

  48. Jeff Weber Says:

    I thought this was absurd.

    Is there really a difference in someone paying for a game with money vs. paying for a game with their time and attention (watching an ad?)

    A kid watches tv (does work?) and a company makes money off of it.

    A kid begs his mom for 3 days (does work) to buy him a 20 dollar game and someone makes money off of it.

    I’m pretty sure Braid is making a fair amount of money from the labor that some kids exerted to convince their parents to buy them the game.

    I don’t have a problem with either form of payment. But to say one is inherently better than the other . . . I don’t think so.

    -Jeff Weber

  49. Bernie Schulenburg Says:

    So, I think, maybe the issue is: advertising for exploitation-based products is not okay, while advertising for sustainable products is okay.

  50. Seth Says:

    Completely off-topic, but have you seen the Zero Punctuation review of Braid that came out yesterday? Pretty funny and not as scathing as most, so I think that means he liked it. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/203-Braid

  51. Bernie Schulenburg Says:

    I invited Martina Zavagno from Adverblog (http://www.adverblog.com/about.htm) to participate in this discussion. It would be interesting to hear her opinion, I think. She seems pretty pro-advertisement on the about-page of her blog and she’s a specialist on the topic of advertisement, it seems. Hopefully, she follows the invitation.

  52. Matthew Says:

    Advertising, in my opinon, is a sort of necessary evil. At least with regards to the Internet.

    I mean, what supports Google? ADS! Ad space, for better or worse, make the Interne go round.

    As for ads and video game…I’m neutral. Is it an advertisment to reference things that you personally enjoy?

  53. skateborden Says:

    David Lynch might think that product placement in films is bullshit, but considering how many television commercials he has directed (http://www.lynchnet.com/ads/) it would be hard to argue that he is against advertisement in general.

    I’m certainly not a fan of advertising, and I find most television commercials obnoxious. I pretty much exclusively watch television shows on DVD these days (if at all). The problem with product placement in my mind is that the advertisements are not explicit, and they are an attempt to advertise to you in a way that you are not consciously aware of. This seems sneaky and deceitful to me. In my mind this kind of advertisement can backfire because critical viewers who do become consciously aware of these attempts at subconscious advertising (to be honest they are generally pretty blatant) are often quite annoyed or enraged by such product placement.

    However, I can honestly say that I have benefited from free services from ad supported business that use advertising tastefully, such as google or NPR. These are both interesting cases. Google could probably not exist on any other business model, because it’s doubtful people would pay to use a search engine. Many of google’s services do not generate any sort of revenue, but exist mostly to lure you to use google’s other services that do have advertisement. NPR is publicly supported by donations from the community, however they still run short tasteful advertisements from businesses. This may be an indication that they do not receive enough support from donations and must supplement donations funding with ad funding.

    So, although I definitely don’t want to see product placement in games, I can accept and appreciate the fact that I am able to play games like Dino Run or Desktop Tower Defense for free thanks to ads on their respective web pages. Although I probably wont see the ads because I use Adblock Plus. Which brings up another question… If I am using technology to hide ads on these web pages does that put me in the same category as people who “steal” games by pirating them, because I am subverting the revenue stream that supports these games?

    Also, although Braid certainly didn’t run magazine or television ads, Microsoft definitely did some advertising for the game. Banners for Braid appeared on parts of the xbox 360 dashboard and on the xbox website. It was part of Microsoft’s “Summer of Games” promotion, the point of which was entirely to advertise the release of games, Braid included.

    Then there is the gray area of things like review copies you and/or microsoft sent out or presented to blogs and publishers for previews and reviews, conferences and contests like the IGF that generated buzz for the game, etc. All served as an advertisement for Braid, despite the fact that their wasn’t an explicit exchange of money for this advertisement.

  54. Aaron Says:

    This is the greatest podcast I’ve ever heard.
    When I was at EA, a personal friend and mentor of mine was tasked with creating in-game ads for NBA Street Homecourt.
    He was completely humiliated by it. He wouldn’t even look at anyone when he talked about it, and openly admitted to having sold his soul.

    For someone who’s opted to bike to work because he’s sick of the bombardment of advertisements on the bus (and other reasons too), I’m glad that there’s some real discussion on this matter happening. I just wish it was happening more with the ‘big players’.

  55. Eli Says:

    While radical, overbearing, and missing any real examples; this podcast does present an interesting view of the near-future of games. The only real power we as developers have is what deals we allow ourselves to take. As for the customers: the choice is wholly within their hands. If they feel their experience in interactive entertainment is cheapened by advertisements; then don’t purchase or promote the games featuring said advertisements. You can guess (within reasonable limits) what will happen. Games featuring products and games made for products will die out.

    I find it intriguing that no one here has yet pointed out the vastly popular (and large, by most accounts) Lego brand games. (I will say that I myself have very limited experience with them) These games themselves are giant interactive ads, no? Do the people who play them rush out and mass purchase Lego bricks? (I hope so…) Even if they did; would this be such a horrid occurrence? My affinity for Legos aside, I wonder if the real issue at stake here is the very nature of the content of the adds.

    (I hope I’ve not veered too horribly off topic)

  56. pointmaker Says:

    > WATCHING TV IS NOT A FUCKING JOB.

    Why do you think this? Explain to me how it isn’t, if the children are being compensated? It’s a simple question that you have no answer for. You just keep insisting is different somehow without giving any reason.

    The *entire* point is that networks don’t sell shows. They sell your children attention. Your children therefore are employees or contractors. The networks pay these employees/contractors with the programming that they create.

    It’s very simple. You can groan that the work for hire it isn’t that difficult (but I sit in front of a computer all day, and it’s not that different) – but it is still a transaction that is occurring.

    I don’t see what your are trying to say with the difference between labor and trade? The children are the labor force, and the networks and advertisers are engaged in trading. So, what? I’m talking about the networks reselling our children’s services – what happens between the network and the advertisers is fine, that’s just business.

    And, btw, it wasn’t the podcast that invented this notion – it’s been around for a long time. There are books about this if you’d like to think about it, before rejecting it out of hand, just because you think a child’s attention is valueless.

    > I can’t get into this without getting into
    > the deeper problems with advertising.

    OK, then you’re just making the half-way decent parenting thing up? And if there are deeper problems with advertising, why are we experimenting with our kids at all? Why not just kill all children’s show advertising?

  57. pointmaker Says:

    > Is there really a difference in someone
    > paying for a game with money vs. paying
    > for a game with their time and attention
    > (watching an ad?)

    No, there’s not. It’s exactly the same thing. Again, that’s the point. Advertising is presented as this “free” thing – it’s not. When you accept advertising in your game, someone is still *paying* for it – and that ain’t the advertisers, that’s the players. You know, those people that are supposed your customers?

    And, there are tons of reasons why this is bad:

    1) Most developers see this as free money for them, which means they charged you for the game, and then sold your attention on top of it. Hey, way to bend your customers over.

    2) It’s a shitty business decision for the developer. Once you decide that your customer is now the advertiser and not the player, it’s just a matter of time before they flex their muscles. And if most developers can’t handle the games that a publisher plays, wait until they tangle with companies that are even less invested in your company, your games, and your industry.

    3) It will affect the creative decisions in the game. It will. Everyone who goes down this road will tell you that it did eventually affect the media.

    4) Maybe you are so awesome that are able to mitigate the corrosive effect. But that’s missing the bigger picture – if you are that awesome, you could have spent that same energy making something else in the game. We all have finite resources.

    5) Rejecting advertising in games doesn’t mean you are rejecting realism. If you want a coke machine in the game, go for it. Just don’t accept money for it. It’s accepting money for it – that means you are now indebted to them. There’s no way around that, and once they know you can be bought…

  58. Jeff Weber Says:

    >> Is there really a difference in someone
    >> paying for a game with money vs. paying
    >> for a game with their time and attention
    >> (watching an ad?)

    >No, there’s not. It’s exactly the same thing. Again, that’s the point.

    My example about paying with money vs. paying with attention was directed at the podcasters comment that ALL advertising is bad and kids are essentially “working” for the advertisers.

    If that’s the case then any game that gets money from kids or their parents are also getting money from “child labor”.

    I don’t think child labor should be so loosely defined. If you put little Billy who watches Blues Clues in the same category as a child working in a true sweatshop in indonesia (or wherever) then you are doing a HUGE disservice to the child in the true sweatshop and to everyone fighting that cause. They simply are not even close to the same thing.

    I disagree with the whole premise that kids who watch tv are working for anyone. I think the only way you can believe this and not be a hypocrite is to also belive that all games should be given away for free and you never take a penny for your work.

    As for actual product placement in games. I say let the market and the players decide. If they want to pay for a game with ads in it so be it. If they are REALLY so terrible than the games without in-game advertising will win the day in the end.

    Jeff Weber

  59. Jeff Weber Says:

    >So, I am not saying that seeking success cheapens a game (though >really, even that might be true). But seeking success *through >advertising* definitely cheapens a game. No question.

    Really?

    This: http://braid-game.com/

    looks an awful lot like an ad to me. I don’t have a problem with it but lets call it what it is.

  60. Jeremy Says:

    “Why do you think this? Explain to me how it isn’t, if the children are being compensated? It’s a simple question that you have no answer for. You just keep insisting is different somehow without giving any reason.”

    God damnit I wish I was a better writer.

    Labor is defined as “work for wages”. Under your argument, watching TV is a form of “work”, and “entertainment” is a form of a wage. I see as watching TV as a form of consumption, not labor, and I think every textbook definition would agree with me.

    No one will listen to an argument that defines watching TV as work. Plain and simple. Sorry to burst your bubble. Hell, I’ll barely even listen to it and we are mostly likely on the same side.

  61. Jonathan Blow Says:

    Jeff Weber: Wait, now you are taking my words out of context and changing the subject. We were talking about games (and other media) that derive revenue via ad placement rather than honest straightforward paying-for-content. The page at braid-game.com has nothing to do with that, at all.

  62. Merus Says:

    Jeremy, what would being a professional eater be, then: work, or consumption?

    The correct answer, as with so many dilemmas, is “both”. Television watching is the same thing: you are consuming something, and you are getting paid for it in the form of something appealing that you like to watch that incidentally has a specific dollar value.

    Getting paid in the form of things that you like (like computers or candy) is a time-honoured way for a company to dodge tax laws, and it’s not particularly different to imagine what it’d be like if one was paid in TV shows instead of computers. (For one thing, we’d still starve.)

  63. Jeremy Says:

    “Jeremy, what would being a professional eater be, then: work, or consumption?”

    It’s work. You are getting paid a wage (as far as I know) to eat something, for someone else’s entertainment.

    “Television watching is the same thing: you are consuming something, and you are getting paid for it in the form of something appealing that you like to watch that incidentally has a specific dollar value.”

    The problem here is your ‘wage’ for ‘watching TV’ is getting to ‘watch TV’. That doesn’t really make any sense.

    Alternate example of your logic :
    “Hey, I just got this great job breathing!”
    “Awesome, what are they paying you?”
    “I get to breath!”

    “Getting paid in the form of things that you like (like computers or candy) is a time-honoured way for a company to dodge tax laws”

    That’s true, but irrelevant. At those jobs, TYPICALLY, the people getting paid with a computer preform a job other than ‘getting a computer’, so it isn’t really an analogy at all.

  64. Jonathan Blow Says:

    But you’re missing the point made clearly in the podcast that these companies (TV stations, ad agencies and whoever) have internal accounting that tells them exactly how much watching TV is worth. Every minute of TV-watching time has a clear monetary value associated with it.

    The TV stations and advertisers all understand, very clearly, that they are paying out that amount of money to the viewers, because they know they have to recoup in excess of that amount, from the viewers, in order to make a profit.

  65. Jeremy Says:

    I’m not missing anything, I’m saying the point isn’t valid or worthwhile. In order to come the conclusion that we need child labor laws to protect children from TV networks/Advertisers, you have to follow down a logic the concedes that watching TV is a job. That has absolutely nothing to do with reality. Thats an argument can’t carry any traction. I’m just using common sense.

    I agree that there are problems with advertising. There are a ton that should be addressed. But trying to take a basic set of transactions are frame it likes its a form of labor is completely preposterous.

  66. Jeff Weber Says:

    >Jeff Weber: Wait, now you are taking my words out of context and >changing the subject. We were talking about games (and other media) >that derive revenue via ad placement rather than honest straightforward >paying-for-content. The page at braid-game.com has nothing to do with >that, at all.

    I read your comment as a statement against ads in general. If you were just talking about in-game ads then yes I mis-understood you’re point and apologize.

    My view on in-game ads is like I mentioned in my other post:

    “As for actual product placement in games. I say let the market and the players decide. If they want to pay for a game with ads in it so be it. If they are REALLY so terrible than the games without in-game advertising will win the day in the end.”

  67. coco Says:

    I can’t believe the utterly ridiculous tangent we’ve gone down that suggests that watching television constitutes labour. Your market doesn’t work for you, your employees do. You’re not paying the market anything. If someone wants to listen to your message, that’s their choice, there is no contractual obligation, he hasn’t taken anything of yours, and he won’t pay anything unless he becomes a customer.

    —-

    “Rejecting advertising in games doesn’t mean you are rejecting realism. If you want a coke machine in the game, go for it. Just don’t accept money for it.” – What absolute untainted bullshit. Because advertising for free is a better decision than advertising for money is it? You’ve concluded that real world brands are needed in order to emulate the real world. The player is “paying” the brand with his attention, whether or not the brand paid you at all. Great, the advertiser monopolises the benefits.

    “You could have spent that same energy making something else in the game. We all have finite resources.” – What a flimsy non-argument. Fuck that, why not save the energy on your own advertising and marketing (which by your accounts constitutes making your customers work). And then you bring up “finite resources”. Why don’t you increase those resources with a healthy dose of in-game advertising.

    —-

    “As for actual product placement in games. I say let the market and the players decide. If they want to pay for a game with ads in it so be it. If they are REALLY so terrible than the games without in-game advertising will win the day in the end.”

    That’s my perspective as well. It’s a free market, it should stay a free market. And if you think consumers are too stupid to make the right decisions, then making the advertisers the customer isn’t going do any harm is it?

  68. I Like Cake Says:

    “As for actual product placement in games. I say let the market and the players decide. If they want to pay for a game with ads in it so be it. If they are REALLY so terrible than the games without in-game advertising will win the day in the end.”

    “That’s my perspective as well. It’s a free market, it should stay a free market. And if you think consumers are too stupid to make the right decisions, then making the advertisers the customer isn’t going do any harm is it?”

    Except that customers clearly hate advertising. Everyone hates advertising except the advertisers. How many people do you know who will watch a television show and lean in when the ads come on to learn more about these new and exciting products? People change the channel. No one wants to let corporate shilling into our homes and onto our streets, but the ubiquity of advertising has come about anyway because these people control all the money and they don’t care about you as long as you continue to buy their overpriced crap. The fact that everyone hates ads has not removed them from television, much less from the street that I live on. Are you going to tell me that if I don’t want to be exposed to giant billboards every day, I am free to never leave my house?

    Another thing! Your precious free market is not under attack. No one is talking about making advertising illegal or sending the socialist police force to your home to stand in front of the screen when the ads come on: they’re asking that people accept personal responsibility not to further compromise our culture and dignity. Since when has ‘free market’ meant socializing cost and privatizing profit? That’s more what I’d call parasitism.

  69. Jeff Weber Says:

    “Except that customers clearly hate advertising. Everyone hates advertising except the advertisers. ”

    I don’t hate advertising anymore than I hate shelling out 50 bucks for a game. I think many people feel the same way. I accept is as an alternative form of “payment”.

    And I do agree the free market isn’t necassarily under attack here. Nobody has suggested advertising be outlawed/banned.

    Regardless of what is said in this blog discussion, the market WILL decide if in-game advertising remains or not.

    My guess is there will be a mix of games with ads and without. It’s not an either or situation.

  70. coco Says:

    People don’t hate advertising, that’s bullshit.

    Without advertising, you wouldn’t get cheap newspapers, you wouldn’t get the explosion of content online. The reason that print is in decline, is because the consumers have chosen advertising over proactive purchasing.

    Not everyone changes the channel when ads come on. The adverts are about the only thing enjoyable in the Superbowl. Look at how many times the Bravia Balls advert has been parodied, flick through the blogs for “I am Mercedes Benz” or Citroen’s “Unmistakably German” campaign. They are awesome adverts, they’re funny, poignant, smart and sophisticated.

    We can appreciate their power, we buy into the fiction, and we smile at how clever it is. It’s for the same reason that you’ll find propaganda posters in your art galleries, it’s beautiful.

    People don’t hate advertising. They hate bad advertising.

  71. I Like Cake Says:

    “Regardless of what is said in this blog discussion, the market WILL decide if in-game advertising remains or not.”

    I’d like to demonstrate that this is false. You and I buy things. We are part of the market. The decisions we make affect the market. Not only that, but the opinions we share with others can inform their purchasing habits. We exert this tiny push on culture which can generate real results. This discussion does, in fact, affect the market, albeit in a minor way for the moment. Minor causes can become larger causes, and in time unrest and dissatisfaction can cause major change, but that major change must have its roots in the changing of the minds of a few people. I’m not saying that people talking on this blog is going to cause a shift in culture, but that shift definitely *won’t* happen if no one talks about it anywhere.

    Actually, the opinion that this discussion does not affect the market also affects the market quite immediately. On a grander scale, the American ‘couch Libertarian’ position affects the market drastically, specifically by suggesting that ‘the market’ is something that happens in some magic alternate reality which is independent of what anyone around us thinks. Instead of encouraging people to take an active role, it encourages them to stand idly by and let other people make the decisions for them.

    “The market will decide” is obviously true, but as it is commonly employed, it’s just an alternate way of saying “someone else will deal with it.” It ignores the fact that we are part of the free market, and we’ve seen where that gets us.

  72. I Like Cake Says:

    “People don’t hate advertising, that’s bullshit.

    Without advertising, you wouldn’t get cheap newspapers, you wouldn’t get the explosion of content online. The reason that print is in decline, is because the consumers have chosen advertising over proactive purchasing.”

    That’s a bit like saying people love working because if they didn’t work they wouldn’t get the things they want. I can work to get things I want and still hate my job.

    How can you pretend that customers have ‘chosen’ a world of incessant advertising? Did I miss the door-to-door man who asked us all if we want advertising? I don’t recall having any decision in the matter on where advertising goes or who gets to advertise. I am a person and I hate advertising. Everyone I know hates advertising. I’m still surrounded by it whether I like it or not.

    “We can appreciate their power, we buy into the fiction, and we smile at how clever it is. It’s for the same reason that you’ll find propaganda posters in your art galleries, it’s beautiful.”

    I’m glad you think it’s awesome that we’ve taken all of our artistic potential for society and put into selling sugar drinks and cars in an invasive and ubiquitous manner. If that’s the best we can do, I recommend we all kill ourselves. Seriously? It’s advertisement: it isn’t fucking Proust.

  73. coco Says:

    When you choose that cheap/free media, as we have collectively chosen, you’ve chosen advertising. When you pick up that copy of the Metro in the morning, you decide that you’d rather have advertising than having to pay. It might not be love, but it’s certainly not hate.

    I’m sure you’d love an economy based around collectivist farming, leading the life of a kibbutznik unaware of the products, services available to us. If you hate advertising, go fucking do that, go join that past it hippie commune.

    You think I’m alone in appreciating advertising? Just because you can’t possibly qualify it as worthy of art (do you bang on about games as art?), it doesn’t mean others don’t. It doesn’t stop the Tate Modern from having several rooms of propaganda. It doesn’t stop Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia from being an immense work.

    If you can make an entire nation buy into Communism or Fascism, it really is some of the best we can do. If that’s a world you won’t accept, I seriously recommend you kill yourself. It isn’t fucking Proust, it gets to the point.

  74. I Like Cake Says:

    “I’m sure you’d love an economy based around collectivist farming, leading the life of a kibbutznik unaware of the products, services available to us. If you hate advertising, go fucking do that, go join that past it hippie commune.”

    How is that an argument? If you don’t like it, get out? Where does that leave culture and society and everyone else?

    I’m not interested in abandoning society: I’m interested in improving it. I’m interested in looking for alternatives, and it sounds like what you’re telling me is that there are no alternatives — that we need to keep working for large, wealthy interests at our own expense who should continue to accrue wealth with no accountability or responsibility.

    I’m not saying that advertisements should be illegal: I’m saying that people should opt not to put them in. I’m not saying someone should put a gun to their heads and tell them ‘Stop it or I’ll fucking kill you,” I’m just saying they should think about it and maybe accept some responsibility to stop treating people like products to be bought and sold, to stop attempting to willfully shape the world-views of children to increase their needless consumption. It isn’t about economics or an easy lifestyle: it’s about being a decent human being.

    “You think I’m alone in appreciating advertising? Just because you can’t possibly qualify it as worthy of art (do you bang on about games as art?), it doesn’t mean others don’t. It doesn’t stop the Tate Modern from having several rooms of propaganda. It doesn’t stop Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia from being an immense work.”

    I’m not talking about the idea of taking advertisements in their social context as documenting the mindset and aesthetics of an age and putting them in a museum for all to remember, I’m talking about the idea of aggressively pushing more useless crap on people to get them to buy, buy, buy. By your analogy, it’s the equivalent of looking at Triumph of the Will from a safe distance through the lens of history as compared to signing up for your local skinhead group.

    If someone wants to produce art shorts to run in between television programs, that’s awesome, but advertisements are not constructed for the purpose of art, they are constructed to move products, and they work. Just because we can go in after the fact and glean aesthetic enjoyment or cultural history from their viewing does not make them valid in their original context anymore than being able to view propaganda as cultural history makes it any more valid to inspire hatred against another group of people.

    “If you can make an entire nation buy into Communism or Fascism, it really is some of the best we can do. If that’s a world you won’t accept, I seriously recommend you kill yourself. It isn’t fucking Proust, it gets to the point.”

    So a murderous, totalitarian regime is the best we can do? I think you have a weird definition of best.

    My point is that advertisement is not some Campbellian journey which we embark on and extract some deep inner meaning. At best we watch it and say ‘Oh ho! That was funny. Pass the Pepsi.” I feel that advertising, as it is used today, is unethical. I don’t think it’s justified by the fact that we can buy neat stuff with our blood money and I don’t think telling me “if you don’t like it then tough” is much of an argument.

  75. I Like Cake Says:

    I mean, advertising is not without its negative consequences. I worked briefly for a software company which created products for the credit and collections industry before leaving in utter disgust. There is a massive debt boom going on right now based on excessive personal spending, based on people buying too many consumer products, and a lot of it is because of a commercial process of which advertising is an essential element.

    I’m not saying that people are *forced* to buy products and go into severe debt, but advertisement, the co-opting of public and private space (including physical space, public airwaves, your computer, etc.) to send messages unrelated to consumer wants for the purposes of selling products, is calculated to make people buy, and it works. If it didn’t work it wouldn’t be worth so much money. Advertisement firms have focus groups and tests, they employ statisticians and media specialists and they expend a great deal of money, and I can guarantee you it is not to provide information on a product or service in a neutral manner, it is to make you buy as much as possible, even beyond the limit of your spending capabilities. Your health or happiness does not matter to them. You are nothing more to them than the amount of money, not that you possess, but that you are capable of spending. Is that how you think people ought to be treated?

    And that’s just one problem! It’s a serious one, a problem that can’t just be dismissed with some hand-waving, ad hominem attacks or a status quo defender term like ‘free market.’ To the consumers: is our free stuff worth that kind of compromise, and to the advertisers: is the benefit to yourself worth that kind of damage to other people? I don’t see how you can consider that serious ethical quandary to be trivial.

  76. I Like Cake Says:

    This is bordering on writing a novel, but I suppose I should correct myself and state that our ‘free stuff’ is not free. Effectively we pay for it by buying more products. In fact, given the hidden cost of having our world views subjected to advertising and allowing advertisement to shape our culture and needs, our free stuff probably costs significantly more than most other goods we purchase individually.

  77. coco Says:

    The consumers have already said yes, they want cheap content. They’d rather have advertising than have to pay.

    We don’t just glean enjoyment from advertising from a historical perspective. I told you to just search some blogs, and you’ll find discussions on campaigns happening right now. Yeah it works, great adverts like Citroen’s “Unmistakably German” campaign raised my perception of that brand. And I can appreciate that, it’s funny and poignant. It’s certainly better than the majority of dreck on TV, and that’s the shows I’m talking about.

    Adverts are only ethical when they don’t work? Of course it’s not there to provide “neutral” messages, which thicksicle cannot understand that? Everyone knows that advertising is there to sell, you choose whether or not you want to buy into that. If you think you need the latest consumer product, and will spend outside what you can afford to get it, in order for fulfilment within your life, then there’s something wrong with you. There is something fundamentally wrong with your world view and your lifestyle if you allow advertising to fuck over your life. It’s more likely that people are using advertising as a scapegoat to brush over their own inadequacies. Oh, it was GTA that made me kill all those innocent children…

    But without advertising, you wouldn’t have heard from 99% of the products and services you use and you’d be putting up with locally produced substandard shit.

    Oh, and my point wasn’t that communism or fascism was the best we could do. It was that works such as Triumph of the Will which managed to sell such a ridiculous regime to the masses, was. Did you intentionally misunderstand me? Do you like this passive aggressiveness?

  78. I Like Cake Says:

    I misunderstood you, but not intentionally. It’s a bit tricky to pick through the insults and insinuations that I am stupid for your actual points.

    I think you’re employing a faulty analogy in comparing the assertion that advertisement sells products to the assertion that video games make kids kill. Advertisements are designed to sell products, and they function very well. There is scientific backing to suggest that they function very well, and I can’t think of anyone involved in their production who denies that. The ‘GTA scandal’ on the other hand, is based only on anecdotal evidence with no scientific support. If video games really taught children to kill, and we had evidence of that, I think that would be something we should probably look into. As it is, it seems they don’t and it is nothing beyond a media scare. I don’t see how these two things are comparable.

    You’re claiming that consumers have already said yes, but I would argue that many of them are misinformed. For example, ask your local anti-corporate hipsters about fixie bikes or Pabst Blue Ribbon or any of the other purposefully cheap, shitty products that are trendy. Are you aware that there are targetted marketing campaigns behind the popularity of both? Even many people who feel they are acting against interests they dislike are actually unaware that their purchasing choices are based heavily on advertising. I think they should be informed and should consider it: that they should consider what they buy, why they are buying it, and to whom their money and time are both dedicated. Saying the decision ‘has been made’ seems to me to be tantamount to saying there is no need to introduce new information because no one can change their minds.

    I wish it were as simple as pointing a finger and assigning blame to people who think they need the latest consumer product, but it isn’t. Media concerns build up a strong association between depicted celebrities and cultural ideals which, in many circles, invoke active discrimination against people who will not make the ‘correct’ purchasing choices. I totally agree that people are capable of deciding to do otherwise, but in order to make that decision they need to be properly educated in what is happening, and to understand the gravity of their decisions. Many people do not. I don’t think they’re incapable of understanding, but a lot of them don’t see the point or are not exposed to the alternatives. Some of the responsibility lies with people to become more educated, but this misinformation that is taking place isn’t coincidental, it is a purposeful manipulation of the facts for monetary goals: some of the responsibility then also lies with corporations to stop treating people like cattle.

    In response to the idea of ‘locally produced shit,’ my area actually has a lot of fantastic local produce, beer, clothing and consumer goods. In many cases they do not sell as well as nationally marketed brands because they are not advertised as well.

  79. Jeremy Says:

    “I totally agree that people are capable of deciding to do otherwise, but in order to make that decision they need to be properly educated in what is happening, and to understand the gravity of their decisions. Many people do not.”

    That just comes down to transparency. I would say that the biggest problem with advertising models of today is that it in effect they privatizes free speech. The more money you have, the more free speech you can buy. Which makes it not free.

    Unfortunately, outside of consumer education, I don’t know of any solutions.

  80. Babylonian Says:

    I’m totally buying some Blue Sky soda today.

  81. PHeMoX Says:

    “That just comes down to transparency. I would say that the biggest problem with advertising models of today is that it in effect they privatizes free speech. The more money you have, the more free speech you can buy. Which makes it not free.

    Unfortunately, outside of consumer education, I don’t know of any solutions.”

    You really seem to have no idea whatsoever of what the implications of 24/7 ads everywhere are.

    We are being psychologically conditioned to ultimately consume many many products we could easily do without. Do you have any idea how much more money would be in YOUR pocket when you would be far more careful about which ads you fall for???

    It’s common sense, but we.. the consumers, are extremely vulnerable to the human psychology behind ads. No consumer education will take away this vulnerability.

    At the moment advertising is the most profitable kind of business out there, if it weren’t for the sheer amount of all the different advertisers.. we would easily have had someone far far wealthier than Bill Gates by now.

  82. Jeremy Says:

    “We are being psychologically conditioned to ultimately consume many many products we could easily do without.”

    Isn’t that my point though? It’s not like consumers are being completely brainwashed, just tricked in a culture thats manipulated. Do you think that if people realized how much money they waste, they would still do it?

    “Do you have any idea how much more money would be in YOUR pocket when you would be far more careful about which ads you fall for???”

    [sarcasm]I’m glad that you keep track of all of my purchases for me. I was getting overwhelmed there with all of the money I was wasting.[/sarcasm]

  83. Matthew Fraley Says:

    Blow, I respect your point about being able developers being able to positively influence each other, but the podcast sounded like it was a hair’s-breadth away from becoming a rallying cry against advertising as an institution, causing the focus of the discussion to shift away from the plea for developers to just keep ads out of *this* little corner of our culture, thank-you-very-much.

  84. Jonathan Blow Says:

    What’s wrong with that? Advertising, especially as practiced today, is terrible. I would be very happy if we killed the whole institution.

  85. Jeremy Says:

    ” I would be very happy if we killed the whole institution.”

    Tell that to someone who can’t afford to pay 25 cents every time he needs to do a google search. Or thehungersite.com, A charity that makes its money off of selling advertising.

  86. Jonathan Blow Says:

    Umm, the cost of a Google search would be nowhere near 25 cents, but for the sake of argument let’s use that figure. The point is that YOU ARE ALREADY PAYING THE 25 CENTS. In fact you’re paying a lot more, because of the extra middlemen involved in the process. I’m not sure how much clearer this point can be made.

  87. Jeremy Says:

    Jonathan : Before I get started, I will say that just listened to the interview you and David did on 1up FM, and enjoyed it greatly(the stuff about bioshock and WoW in particular). I think you have a ton to offer the game development community.

    Your argument is flawed in that It fails to acknowledge the voluntary nature of the advertising model. People choose to or not to use a google search, people choose to or not click on the add, and people choose to or not to buy the product. And even if I did buy a product like that, I have no problem with the fact that some of my money is going to try to make other people buy it. In fact, If I like it, I’ll do it for free.

    I do value you’re perspective. It’s rooted is a sense of society, where what held at greatest value is social costs of advertising. I think its very important to acknowledge that. In a way, I am using services at the expense of the exploited.

    However, I feel like the advertising model provides a mostly fair way to provide services where payment is voluntary. We would be better off address the specific problems with it, than arguing to destroy it.

  88. Jonathan Blow Says:

    Well, the problem is that now we’ve veered into territory that’s pretty different from the original argument, since a google search is not a piece of art or entertainment media, and the core of what we were originally talking about was how ads tend to corrupt those things.

    Now, I also am not in favor of things like ads next to Google search, and if I had the option to pay for Google and have no ads, I would definitely do that.

    But I don’t feel that’s nearly as important to argue as the original point. It’s just different. Google Ads are not going to result in James Bond driving an F-150 (at least, not yet).

  89. Jeremy Says:

    “Now, I also am not in favor of things like ads next to Google search, and if I had the option to pay for Google and have no ads, I would definitely do that.”

    And I’m sure you aren’t the only one either. Thats another part of the voluntary nature of our society. I choose to pay more for Fair Trade products because I feel like the cost of not doing so it too great.

    As for the original argument, I agree, advertising destroys art. The problem with we run into with video games is they aren’t purely art. They range from Madden to Braid. I have absolutely no problem with ad’s in madden. It’s not destroying the game it anyway.

    But if the city at the start of Braid had a giant Coke logo in it, I’m pretty sure I would have quite playing.

    I think that dialog between game developers to encourage them to protect their artist vision is a great thing.

    On the slightly more extreme side, legislation could be drafted. Like protecting game developers and directors (and movie/tv writers) from being forced to include integrated adds is something to consider.

  90. Matthew Fraley Says:

    It seems like a bit of a catch-22 because the only way to prevent any widely-distributed media from being used by marketers would be strict regulation by the state… but wouldn’t such regulation also be likely to destroy the integrity of said media?

  91. Chris Says:

    I am personally fine with in game advertising when I don’t have to pay for the game or service.

    When I do pay for the game though I despise in game advertising since what am I paying for since the advert will probably be making more money for the company than my £40 will.

  92. Onawa Says:

    brilliant.

    i love me some Lynch sound bites!!

  93. Dane M. Says:

    I don’t agree with everything in that rant and feel it goes quite a bit over-the-top, but at the same time it makes some good points.

    Here’s the thing: movies, shows, games… it all takes money to make, as your previous blog posts make obvious. If advertising helps to deliver an amazing cinematic experience, or a great game, then it is quite possibly worth it in the end. Advertising dollars paid for me to have 7 seasons of The West Wing, and thank God for that.

    Where you have to watch, obviously, is keeping the art as unaffected by the advertising as possible. The obvious solution here is to keep them completely seperate. In movies, have trailers and such before the movie starts. In TV, keep all advertising to the expected commercials. In games, keep all advertising to… well… I guess that’s the trick, isn’t it? There is no expected advertising in games, and they are trying to find out where it works in the best.

    I am against product placement. In movies and shows it is often times obvious and amateurish, and takes you right out of the movie. In games they are resorting to this method because… well… how else are they to shoehorn ads into games? Trailers while the game loads? Still ads on a menu screen?

    As game development becomes more and more expensive I can’t really blame publishers for looking at advertising as a possible source to alleviate these costs… there was an article not long ago about how few games really make a profit on sales alone. Publishers need to make sure they do not tip the balance and become to abtrusing though, as they might quickly face revolt.

    As for ads being “labor” and damaging, I don’t really agree. Some ads are stupid and some sustain generalizations or stereotypes, but… hey, so do many movies and shows. I’m sure the guys in this podcase would bash those things as well, but people enjoy them. In the end I am saying I don’t find ads more damaging than other types of drivel, and we can’t just ban all drivel.

  94. Peter Lytle Says:

    Advertising is just like any tool. It can be used well, or it can be used poorly.

    The argument that advertisers are trying to somehow co-opt consumers’ ability to make independent purchasing decisions is uninformed at best, and I’m shocked Casey Muratori and others went there.

    I will admit there is a serious media literacy problem out there, but to suggest people are credit-card toting automatons just waiting for next ad to appear is selling humanity a little short.

    That advertising will influence the design process is a foregone conclusion; that doesn’t make advertising evil. It makes it inappropriate for 99% of the titles out there. The evil is in trying to force advertising to fit where it should not go.

  95. Orat Says:

    I hear a lot of bitching, but like someone else already said here, unless you are advocating government regulations which will FORCE EVERYONE to have to take the approach you like best, it’s all just a bunch of self-absorbed whining.

    I, for one, don’t mind, for example, the ads they put in Rainbow Six Vegas 1 & 2. I actually like them better than the faux ads in games like GTA which are funny for a while, but eventually destroy the immersiveness of the experience because it’s a constant gag.

    Let me be clear though: if you don’t like ads in games, then vote with your wallet and don’t play them. But don’t try to tell me what I should like, much less FORCE me to like what you like by suggesting there should be some kind of regulation.

    Oh, and the idea that kids watching TV is child labor is about as economically ignorant of an analogy as I’ve ever heard.

  96. Jonathan Blow Says:

    Care to explain why it is “economically ignorant”?

  97. Orat Says:

    Because the mere fact that there is economic value in having a medium to communicate with a target demographic does not mean that the members of that demographic are performing labor. I am unaware of any economic definition of “labor” that would involve someone sitting passively not producing any value whatsoever.

    Labor produces value. The money received by the television network comes from the advertiser, and the value received by the advertiser comes from the *possible* response from the viewer, which again is not labor but consumption. And usually the consuption will not be by the child directly, but rather by the parents. The consumption again does not produce value, rather it exchanges it – the money of the customer is exchanged for the value of the good or service being consumed. It therefore still does not qualify as labor.

  98. Jonathan Blow Says:

    The labor happens when the kids convince their parents to spend their money in certain ways. That convincing is the work that the kids are doing.

  99. Jeremy Says:

    That’s still not labor.
    It’s something they do under their own free will. And to say the child is exploited is also preposterous. If it works, they get to watch TV and receive gifts. If it’s exploiting anyone, it would be parents. But parents can still say no, or not let their child watch TV. It’s not like anyone is forced to participate.

  100. Orat Says:

    Let’s get real here. That’s like saying the ice cream man is putting the kiddies to work when they ask their parents for ice cream when they hear the music coming from his truck as he enters the neighborhood. The long and short of it is that you don’t like it, I do, but you want to impose your preference on me. You’re free to not play games that use ads, and thank God, I’m free to play them.

    Just because you’ve heard/seen a commercial does not mean anyone is “exploiting” you or coercing you to do anything. You’re still a free individual and can make decisions for yourself.

  101. Rack Says:

    Watching TV isn’t a job, if it were the labor laws would actually kick in. But there’s a reasonable parallel between trading your time and attention in exchange for money and trading your time and attention in exchange for another service.

    It was reasonably entertaining, even though the claims were somewhat exaggerated (the owners of the 007 license would never let him drive a Yugo). I’m also surprised he missed one of the more significant costs of advertising, being where the advertisers get money to make the adverts, test their efficacy and pay people to show them. It’s not manna from heaven.

  102. Peter Lytle Says:

    I see this degenerating pretty quickly. Lets try to get back on topic.

    Mr Blow. I can see why you find product placement (and all advertising, for that matter) distasteful. However, what you are trying to do is find an economic reason to discredit the entire practice. The sad truth is that an informed (well-informed or otherwise) populace is the bedrock of the free market economy you participate in. Advertising not only informs, but it helps provide much of today’s free media. This may be changing with subscription-based formats, but the status-quo for media consumption today is the advertising-subsidized model.

    What seems to be your underlying argument -that advertising is as a whole distasteful- is legitimate enough. There is no need to try and legitimize it through pseudo-economics. I think most people inside and outside of the media would agree that 99% of ads are poorly made, poorly placed or both. To make a blanket statement that all advertising is bad, and people are somehow less for liking or accepting it, seems a bit rash.

    As an artist in the video game industry, surely you can see there are occasional instances where advertising has been well done, or can be implemented well in the future?

  103. Jonathan Blow Says:

    I’m not talking about individual ads, or how well or poorly-done they can be. I am talking about systemic effects.

    I’m talking about how it takes an hour to watch a 34-minute TV show, and how that show sucks in the first place. I’m talking about how I pick up a magazine and the table of contents is buried 12 pages in so I just drop the magazine back on the newsstand in disgust.

    Might one of those ads be done well? I don’t care!

  104. Peter Lytle Says:

    You sound a lot like Roger Ebert when he said video games could never be art, simply because they’re video games. Try judging the content independent from the format.

    There are plenty of ads out there that don’t interrupt or annoy. Look at willitblend or Nike’s viral campaign for its Juice golf balls. Those were entertaining, and didn’t interrupt people.

  105. Jonathan Blow Says:

    That’s great. So, start selling DVDs that contain only ads, and if people find them really entertaining for their own sake, they’ll buy them, right? I don’t care if you do that; I am not somehow demanding that nobody be permitted to view ads if they want to. I am not saying anything about the validity of ads as art.

    I am saying, get them out of the art that I actually care about, so that they don’t interrupt it, dilute it, or otherwise prevent me from experiencing it in the optimal way. I don’t see what is hard to understand about this, and I have to wonder if you are just intentionally being difficult.

  106. Peter Lytle Says:

    Sorry, no intention of being difficult. There is nothing hard to understand that you don’t like ads or what they can do to media. However, I read your posts (and the replies of others) and was under the impression that this was to discredit ads as some sort of tool for social control. I just wanted to point out that ads aren’t evil, they’re just usually poorly placed and/or overdone.

    As an aside, you mentioned you weren’t happy with your previous discussions on this topic. I think your above post is a better and clearer summary than everything else said here.

  107. ajs Says:

    <3 Jeremy

    Even though you did make the mistake of using common sense on the internet.

  108. Gaz Says:

    A lot of great flash games would never be made/distributed for free if it wasn’t for preloader ads. That’s ads used right + it’s good!

    Practices such as being forced to watch an ad between levels really isn’t though.

    As somebody else mentioned if it is good or bad depends on how responsible the developer is.

  109. A. Ortiz Says:

    I think it’s absurd to believe in-game advertising cannot be beneficial and should be removed entirely. Developing a game is expensive. Making a game is expensive. You have to pay people, you have to pay budget costs, you have to pay engines, you have to pay publishers and production costs, you have to pay shipping and distribution. And in the end, how much does your game sell for? Sixty bucks. Fifty. Forty. Ten. Then it’s pirated. Sold as used in Gamestop. Less money made by the developer. Revenue lost. No profits. Studio closes down. Endgame.

    Any money a game can make before it’s actually shipped that is not a debt can be incredibly beneficial for the developer, allowing them to produce more of the same quality work they produced with that first “added” game. As long as the ads are not blatant and a hindrance to gameplay, I can’t really complain. Yes, they seem to destroy the essence of a game at times. But would you rather have something pure or would you rather see your favorite studio shut its doors permanently? I want to see my game developer favorites stay afloat.

    You can’t escape advertising. You can’t ban it. It’s everywhere. On your clothes. On your car. On the street. Billboards, shop signs, logos. TV shows, radio programs, music and jingles. Your mom’s stories. Your best friend’s opinion on what game you should play. It’s an AD. It’s selling the qualities of a work in order to obtain the exchange of money. Going out and posting about a game on a forum–it’s an AD. News about a revolutionary game called Braid–it’s a fucking AD.

    You NEED ads. You need to advertise. Sometimes games would never see the numbers they raked in without ads, have you thought of that? Some extremely beneficial TV shows like 60 minutes get an absurd amount of revenue from ads.

    If the main character in a game is drinking from a Coke can, are you seriously going to complain?

  110. Mcklain Says:

    hey guys,
    Advertising comes with its negative aspects…agree
    but isnt it also necessary?

  111. Fugue Says:

    A.Ortiz

    You’re taking the argument way out of the boundary though. I don’t see anyone saying “All ads must die”. But there’s something to be said about keeping ads “honest”. Because advertising is a constantly evolving practice designed to do one thing: Make you buy things you don’t need.

    Of course, that’s what the economy is built on, right? Nobody needs most of the stuff they have. But it breeds irresponsibility on the part of the content creator when they aren’t paid for the quality of their work, but on the audience size. In theory, Quality should equate to larger audiences. Advertising can help bring in the audience, but they won’t stay without the quality, right?

    Sometimes that just doesn’t matter. If you can get everyone in the world to look once, you can be a millionaire, even if they’re looking at nothing.

    Sometimes it only matters to give the illusion of quality. Give the audience just enough that they are tempted to come back, and you can score another hit.

    This is what advertising turns creations into. Rather than focusing on quality, you focus on attracting both advertisers, and an audience for them. You become a middleman to presenting as many goods and services as you can to as many people as you can while masquerading as somebody providing something people would actually want.

  112. Rick Says:

    I realise this will just get lost in the shuffle of comments, but my two cents:

    1) We live in the digital age now. That means that I will only pay for a game in one of two cases: a) I decide to donate, as in charity, or b) you’re using an online model such as an MMO, in which case I’m really buying a subscription. That means your game will make 0 dollars off me from buying it, in general. The fact of the matter is that while it cost you money to make your game, it costs so little money it might as well be nothing for me to get the game from someone else. They don’t even have to give up their own copy. If you want to make money off me using your game, you’re going to have to come up with something else; do you have a better idea than advertising? If so, what is it? If games can’t make money off of the customer, the industry will die, make no mistake.

    2) Right now, I can go to any Bow-Tie theater and pay an extra two bucks (compared to any other cinema in the neighborhood) to get no commercials in front of my movie. And you know what? I won’t. I’d rather put up with the commercials and keep my money than pay money not to see the ads. The same will be true of almost any game you produce; I will gladly save myself a dollar by watching two dollars worth of advertising during the game preloader. Elegantly incorporating these ads is the designers’ problem – something like what you described with James Bond might easily be enough for me to avoid the game entirely, and then you make less money than without the ad – but I will happily tolerate ads to avoid spending real money.

  113. Sinik Says:

    I realize I’m coming really really late into this discussion, but I wanted to add something anyway.

    While I agree that ads in any kind of media are generally bad, I can see a variety of examples where it might actually add something.

    For example the tv show Mad Men which is mostly about an advertising agency in the 60s. There is a lot of product placement but it works really well. I feel it works much better than it would if they used fake brand names (that maybe were references to real ones). It gives the show a bit more authenticity. If they got some money for it too, well good for them.

    If I shoot an indie short film, which has a scene with someone using a computer and the monitor will be in a shot (because that’s how I want the shot), I don’t want to bother to cover the brand name. If after I get the shot done, I can get some sort of deal with the brand to give me some money, I don’t see what’s so bad (personally I don’t think I would bother but that’s another story).

    What I want to say is, if you have a 100% realistic setting and some of your characters are going to a place that, naturally, has ads, they might as well be real ads, assuming of course you don’t do anything to expose the ads more than the scene requires.

  114. Braid » Blog Archive » The Jeff and Casey Show on Visual Studio 2010 and Direct2D Says:

    [...] while ago I posted an excerpt from the Jeff and Casey Show, on advertising in games. That seemed to go over well (there sure was some animated discussion!) so [...]

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