Raise your hand if you’re excited to see more ads in your favorite video games? I can not see any hands. Well, bad news: A new report claims that Microsoft is building an advertising program to give “selected brands” the ability to buy ads that then appear in free-to-play Xbox games. And while the report says Microsoft and Xbox are careful not to “annoy” gamers or disrupt games, it’s unlikely that most people will enjoy starting to see ads in the game.
Business Insider reports that Microsoft wants to partner with adtech companies to create a system that will allow brands and advertisers to buy and place ads in free-to-play Xbox games, according to two people who spoke to Insider and who is allegedly involved in the ongoing planning and negotiation of the program.
According to these sources, the ads could be displayed as digitally rendered billboards in a racing game or adventure in the open world. However, it is currently unknown what other forms these free-to-play ads may appear as, or whether they will include videos or audio. Business Insider was also unable to confirm whether Microsoft and Xbox have begun pitching advertisers and brands on the new ad system. Either way, it is expected to be launched around the third quarter of this year.
It tells a spokesman for Microsoft Kotaku that although it “is always looking for ways to improve the experience for players and developers”, the company had nothing further to share about the reported advertising system.
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As pointed out by Business Insider, Microsoft already sells some limited ad space on its consoles through dashboard ads and certain in-game advertising agreements through third parties. However, this new program is Microsoft’s and Xbox’s attempt to expand to more brands looking for ways to advertise to the growing gaming audience, many of whom are younger, do not watch cable TV and have become harder and harder to reach. It is also suggested that Microsoft wants to woo more free-to-play developers Xbox by using these ads.
Interestingly, Microsoft is apparently very concerned about making players angry, who usually do not expect to encounter ads in console games. This has led to a more cautious approach, in which Microsoft, in an effort to ensure that no ads interfere with gameplay, will create a “private marketplace” that only select brands can access.
Of course, this is not the first time we’ve seen companies try to push ads into video games. Ironic, Saints Row 2 already tried to do the whole “real world billboards” thing and it was a very fun and horrible experience. But as free-to-play games get bigger and bigger on consoles, and younger players become harder to advertise using existing methods, it’s not surprising to see companies wanting to place ads in more and more video games.
And because consoles are shielded gardens that cannot easily access mods or hacks, that means you can not just install an adblocker to hide these ads, as you do when you visit Kotaku.