TV-style advertisements are coming to a video game console near you

Simulmedia is launching a new platform that connects marketers with game developers to offer players rewards in exchange for watching video advertisements.

While there’s no shortage of controversies regarding financially manipulative tactics in games, with numerous scandals surrounding microtransactions coming to mind, there’s one cog in the capitalist machine that you can be sure you’ll avoid while playing console video games – advertisements. Perhaps not for long though.

Axios has reported that a new platform is about to launch, with the intention of bringing TV-style ads to console games. It’s a no from me (and I can probably assume literally any other gamer).

simulmedia logo
Image: Simulmeida

The platform, questionably named playerWON, has been described as “a first-of-its-kind in-game advertising platform”, which will allow marketers to run video advertisements in both console and PC games. Owned and operated by data-driven TV advertising company Simulmedia, the platform is set to launch this week.

The new venture is aimed at helping marketers who traditionally opt for big television ads instead target younger demographics through video games, supposedly without compromising user engagement. Simulmedia tout their ability to “connect your brand with engaged gamers without sponsorship packages or deep integrations”, instead emphasising their player-centric ad formats, full transparency and cross-media integration.

Thankfully, unlike their televised counterparts, these ads will at least present some benefit to the viewers. Users will be able to choose whether they want to watch a 15 or 30 second video commercial in exchange for unlocking exclusive gaming perks – think of it like a microtransaction, but you’re paying with your attention instead of money. It’s unclear whether no video will be an option.

Simulmedia’s research concluded that a majority of players “like getting free rewards and content”, but it’s misleading to perceive these perks as entirely free. Herbert A. Simon’s famous model of the ‘attention economy’ situates human attention as a scarce commodity that we only have limited amounts of, so it has great value that can essentially be used to make trades like any other resource.

This framework has been used by many modern scholars to examine platforms such as Facebook, which are pitched as ‘free’ even though users are paying for their access with attention and personal data that can be used as leverage to sell ad spaces. Sure, many gamers could in fact appreciate receiving rewards for a low-effort task like watching a video, but pretending that these benefits come at zero cost to the player is manipulative.

Mobile game advertisement
Image: Kongregate

Simulmedia’s research has been conducted for over a year, reaching the conclusion that 76% of console and PC gamers “want the option to watch ads in exchange for in-game rewards”  and 86% of gamers “agreed watching rewarded video ads allowed them to play the game title longer”. They also found that players would, on average, be willing to watch six or more advertisements each day in exchange for in-game rewards.

They then created a platform that collects and vets ad spots from major brands that would usually run on television, allowing developers to code these ads into their games and decide which reward players would get for agreeing to watch them. The company is then able to see if the ad has been viewed in its entirety, before sending a notification to the game enabling the release of the reward to the gamer (which could vary from in-game currency to new skins).

This process may feel familiar to fans of mobile gaming, but it’s completely new territory for console games. With the proliferation of free-to-play games like Fortnite, Apex Legends and Roblox, it’s very possible that we could see advertisements emerging as a more desirable alternative to spending actual money within these games. Hopefully it is within these sorts of games where the commercials will stay, rather than expanding to pay-to-play games.

This new form of advertising has the potential to be huge. Simulmedia has already struck deals with some major gaming studios, including EA (known microtransaction fiends) and Tencent’s Hi-Rez Studios, and they’re working to expand their network of advertisers and developers that can be connected for in-console advertising opportunities.

Apparently they plan to launch in-game ads in at least a dozen games by the end of the year, so start preparing for this new form of advertising to become a reality. Watch out, Black Mirror – it seems we’ve already beat you to the punch.

UPDATE: Following the publication of this article, a spokesperson from EA shared the following statement with Happy Mag:

“Following incorrect reports suggesting that we are looking to introduce ‘TV-style’ commercials into our games, we wanted to clarify that in-game advertising for console games is not something we’re currently looking at, or have signed any agreements to implement. Creating the best possible player experience remains our priority focus.”