Ad Campaign Mode
You’re running down the street to meet your friends at the gym for a pickup game. On your way there you see numerous billboards and advertising. You want to run faster but you can’t for some reason, even though you know you can — you’ve done it before. You thought back to the row of red bikes you passed over and start to think how much of a better option that would be if it were available to you.
No that’s not a dream but anyone who has played NBA 2K18 is all too familiar with this scenario. I hear many complaints: “Why does it take so long to get to the Walk on Arena?” “Why is the neighborhood so terribly spaced out?” Easy: greenbacks, cheddar, mula, or more appropriately, virtual currency. The reason for this carefully arduous layout is advertising dollars, it’s the same reason why you can’t skip the cinematic cut-scenes (which I’ll get to later). The 2K neighborhood is carefully laid out and meticulously coded with the purpose of feeding you advertisement. That’s why on your way to the “Walk on Arena” — one of the most popular online features, you are essentially fed every possible ad in “the Neighborhood.”
I point this out because as the gaming industry grows bigger and bigger so to does the potential to monetize, specifically in the advertising space. One of the biggest complaints from 2K18 was the inability to skip cut-scenes. “Why are the cut-scenes so long?” “Why can’t we skip them?” As I poetically mentioned before, 2K gettin’ paid! Think about it, the majority of the cut-scenes in your “MyCareer” mode are commercials, they just don’t feel like it because you think it’s part of the story, and it is. However, it is more so a part of the 2K business model. Yes, your character’s childhood companion/roommate’s unhealthy obsession with Reese’s Puffs cereal is more than a character archetype, it’s an advertising opportunity.
So, here’s how it works in a nutshell: You create a character, that character gets to the NBA, that character then gets ‘sponsors’ which in turn provide you with free stuff, you can only wear the free stuff you’re sponsored by, your character meets said sponsors through various unskippable cut-scenes, and finally your character becomes a walking billboard — wearing a Gatorade shirt and Nikes with various ads of your character throughout the Neighborhood product placing Mountain Dew and other companies. They do pay you virtual currency, so I guess that’s kind of nice?
2K isn’t the only publisher of course that has done this. EA and Activision are best known for getting the juice out of every squeeze when it comes to their games.
It’s quite brilliant honestly, and the marketer in me is cautiously impressed; this is a slippery slope. We see more and more games supercharging their in-game economies by leveraging them off of their own game engine and real-world money. With the always online console being a reality now, it’s easy for game publishers to get ads into their games. How long before these ads are targeted based off of data collected by the user. The majority of most in-game ads or product placements are based on demographics, but it could soon be possible that specifically targeted ads much like those seen on social media platforms can be a real thing on your console too.
By: Kevin Johnson