Get ready for the "advertar," a new form of online advertising developed and patented by Microsoft that will turn citizens of virtual words into virtual walking billboards.
The system is really quite simple: MMOG players and members of online communities will be able to adopt "advertiser-generated avatars," which will let other people in the same game interact with them through, for instance, a series of questions and answers relating to a particular product. If a question is answered incorrectly, the player may have to sit through a "brand-accurate message" in order to continue answering the questions.
Exactly why, you may be wondering, would people be willing to do this? Participants will be given "compensation," possibly in the form of things like virtual currency, in-game objects or points and even real money. The more that people interact with the ads and the more they entice others to interact with them, the more compensation they may be eligible to receive.
"To advertise the movie Transformers, an advertiser may provide the robot Bumblebee, which is a popular character in the movie, as the advertiser-generated avatar. The Bumblebee avatar may include functionality to 'transform' between the robot and the Chevrolet Camaro depicted in the movie," Microsoft said, providing examples of how the new advertars could function. "To advertise the cereal Trix, an advertiser may provide the Trix Rabbit as the advertiser-generated avatar. The Trix Rabbit avatar may include functionality to say the popular catchphrase 'Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids'."
It's a safe bet that advertisers will make at least a token attempt to keep the new advertars relevant to the games in question; after all, nobody wants to be hassled by the Geico gecko while playing Age of Conan. And although players will almost certainly be unhappy about the prospect of yet another layer of advertising intruding upon their online experiences, the near-desperation of the advertising business to find new and better ways to penetrate the collective consciousness made this sort of thing inevitable. The only real surprise here is that it took this long to happen.