Despite the once-high hopes, Electronic Arts executive Ben Cousens says in-game advertising hasn't paid off the way it was once expected to.
Remember a few years back when everyone thought that billboards and posters for real-life products in online games was the wave of the future and truckloads of money were being thrown at the companies that would make it happen? Google dropped $23 million on AdScape, Microsoft blew $200 million on Massive, publishers were signing deals as fast as they could and even Barack Obama got in on the act, becoming the first presidential candidate to ever buy ad space in a game.
But three years later, it's all become dust in the wind, dude. Cousens, the general manager of EA's free-to-play business, said the money just isn't there, at least not in the form envisioned back in the day. "We actually aren't getting much from ad revenue at all," he said in an interview with Edge. "The in-game advertising business hasn't grown as fast as people expected it to."
What has grown is the microtransaction-powered market for virtual goods, which he said is a much more reliable source of revenue that EA has managed to tap into. "We hedged our bets," he continued. "We thought we'd do in-game advertising and virtual goods sales, and one of those took off really fast and the other hasn't really taken off at all."
Cousens clarified that he doesn't think in-game advertising is dead, but that it's not going to work out quite as envisioned in those heady days of 2007. "I think it's more about specific deals where you can tie the content in," he said. "We did a deal with Dr. Pepper for Battlefield Heroes, where if you buy a bottle and scan in the code you get an exclusive outfit," he said. "That kind of deep integration will work, I think, but I'm not convinced that we'll have billboards in games and things like that. Maybe those days are over."