In-Game Advertisements vs. Microtransactions: Which is the Lesser of Two Evils?by@truthfulgamer
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7,731 reads

In-Game Advertisements vs. Microtransactions: Which is the Lesser of Two Evils?

by The Truthful GamerOctober 17th, 2022
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The last decade has seen an increase in microtransactions and games and the controversy surrounding them. In-game ads tend to be a regular occurrence for free-to-play or freemium games, especially mobile games. The golden standard of a AAA game is CD Projekt’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The pros and cons of in-game advertisements versus microtransaction are explored in this week's Daily Discussion to explore why they are so hated, and if they are a necessary evil.
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The last decade has seen an increase in microtransactions and games and the controversy surrounding them. There is also the issue of in-game ads. In-game ads tend to be a regular occurrence for free-to-play or freemium games, especially mobile games. It’s time to explore the pros and cons of in-game advertisements versus microtransactions, why they are so hated, and if they are a necessary evil.


Regardless of how you might feel about microtransactions, it’s undeniable that microtransactions are a nice additional revenue stream for game publishers. However, that also makes microtransactions a system that is rife for abuse. For example, the mobile video game, Fallout Shelter from Bethesda Softworks, is free to play.

In 2017, the game reportedly reached $100 million in player spending on iOS and Android. That’s for a free-to-play game. That means the free game had in-app purchases or microtransactions for various items or cosmetics. That also means a game that’s “free-to-play” can still bring in game developers and publishers' major business from just microtransactions.

The problem in recent years with microtransactions is when major, full-price AAA games start to incorporate them. They try to entice players into buying items they don’t want, or they put content behind a paywall. Maybe the item is unlockable after a certain amount of hours. But if you spend real money on in-game currency or a loot box, you can buy it right away. This is a system that has received criticism for predatory practices by game publishers with the way it attempts to allure players to spend more money on a game they’ve already purchased.

Now, the pro of microtransactions is that game designers and publishers can make money on a free-to-play product. It gives them a system to profit off of a free product. Technically, you don’t have to pay for anything to play the game, but some microtransactions can be purchased to get bonuses or in-game items. This is a way for smaller publishers or developers who made a free-to-play product to earn a profit off of their work.

The cons are that major game publishers have taken the microtransaction idea too far. They’ve incorporated it in games that do not need it or shouldn’t have it. A game that costs full price shouldn’t have locked content behind a paywall or a quick fix. It also shouldn’t have “pay to win” bonuses or microtransactions either. A gamer already paid full price for that game, so they should receive the full experience.

The golden standard of a AAA game release is CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Case in point, the game had a free DLC program. Every piece of DLC was free. Every new set 7of armor, every new weapon, and every cosmetic in the game was either free or could be discovered or earned in-game. Nothing was paid.

The only paid aspects for The Witcher 3 were two massive story expansions: Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine. These were not mere DLC. These were massive expansions and additions to the game, on top of all the free downloadable content and updates. If you have a full-price, AAA game release, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the standard that all game publishers should follow. You aren’t paying to win for anything.


Some arguments can be made for in-game ads for video games. For example, if a game is free to play, having ads in the game is a way for creators to monetize that product to keep the game at a free or low price. In-game ads are not unusual to see in free apps or free-to-play mobile games. Having some type of free tier that supports in-app or in-game ads makes sense. You are enjoying the services or content for free, in doing so, it seems fair and reasonable that some mandatory ad breaks are the trade-off.

The downside is when publishers or developers are trying to sneak in in-game ads for a premium service. Fans are willing to pay a premium, and in doing so, they should not have to put up with ads. The product has already been sold, so forcing mandatory ads is a mistake.

Netflix has already put out information that the streaming service’s ad-supported tier will cost $6.99. Meanwhile, Disney+ will have its own basic ad-supported tier at $7.99. So basically, users will still be paying for a premium subscription service, but now they will be forced to endure ads they weren’t subjected to before. If they want their service to remain ad-free, they will have to pay a higher subscription rate.

Paying a premium subscription fee for ad-supported content makes no sense. Crunchyroll only forces users to watch ads for its free content. That makes sense. Paying a subscription fee for an ad-supported service risks premium subscription services from becoming anti-consumer and losing their customer base.

Previously, the allure of content on Disney+ and Netflix is that it does not have ad breaks. You get to watch and enjoy all the content without the doldrums of commercials.

This could be a problem if it comes to gaming. It means that game publishers might force gamers to endure and put up with excessive and intrusive ads or ad breaks for products they’ve already paid for. Interrupting games with ads could hurt the flow of a game. Intrusive ads could also hurt or take away from the immersion of the in-game experience.

The problem with in-game advertisements is who is there to regulate or stop game publishers or tell them when to stop or that it’s become too much? Game publishers have already proven they cannot help themselves when it comes to microtransactions for full-price games or trying to use pay-to-win bonuses.

As such, can game publishers truly be trusted with a system as volatile for abuse as in-game ads? Look at the film, “Ready Player One,” when Ben Mendelsohn as Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of Innovative Online Industries, is trying to sell the executives on filling up to eighty percent of a game screen with ads, noting, “Once we roll back some of Halliday’s ad restrictions, we estimate we can sell up to 80 percent of an individual’s visual field before inducing seizures.”

Yes, this was a fictional story, and this scene was a bit of a gag. But how long have we seen corporations and corporate executives make similar decisions at the expense of customers to make money? As Sorrento states about corporate shareholders in the film, “It’s not our job to make ‘em happy. It’s our job to make ‘em money.”

This should serve as a cautionary warning for allowing big corporations to start putting in-game ads for major video games. Once the floodgates are open, they will never stop unless restrictions are placed on them, just like with microtransactions. Sure, buying a new costume, skin, or cosmetic sounds fun, but it also sends the wrong message to big-time corporate publishers. They will make things bigger and bigger until you are forced to endure intrusive in-game ads or pay-to-win microtransactions. At some point, players and developers have to put their feet down, especially when it comes to respecting the integrity of an in-game experience, and the players.

About two years ago, there was an instance of an intrusive in-game ad popping up in EA Sports UFC 4. The feature was seemingly added after the game’s launch. After fans started addressing the controversial feature on Reddit, it was quickly removed.

Ultimately, EA Sports removed the feature in EA Sports UFC 4. Players were not happy about this considering EA Sports UFC 4 is a full-price game and not free-to-play. EA Sports’ Corey SA eventually addressed the issue in a Reddit post, stating the following:

“I’m part of the Community team here at EA and I wanted to post here and give you all an update on this situation. Earlier this week, the team turned on ad placements in EA SPORTS UFC 4 that appeared during the “Replay” moments in gameplay. This type of advertising inventory is not new to the UFC franchise, though we have typically reserved displaying ads to specific main menu tiles or Octagon logo placement. It is abundantly clear from your feedback that integrating ads into the Replay and overlay experience is not welcome. The advertisements have been disabled by the team and we apologize for any disruption to gameplay that players may have experienced. We realize that this should have been communicated with players ahead of time and that’s on us. We want to make sure our players have the best possible experience playing EA SPORTS UFC 4, so ad integration in the Replay and overlay experience will not be reappearing in the future. Thank you for your continued feedback on EA SPORTS UFC 4.”

This is another example of major corporate publishers attempting to overstep the boundaries of what’s acceptable for gamers in trying to put in in-game ads for a full-price game. If players do not soundly reject features, then major corporate interests will once again try to step over the line and try to get away with worse, more intrusive features.

At the end of the day, in-game ads and microtransactions for premium products look to be a way to reward big companies for bad behavior, especially when you have already invested money into a premium product. Ultimately, gamers have a voice and a way to vote with their wallets. It’s up to them to choose what they are willing to stomach, even when it comes to microtransactions and in-game ads. But their power and voice are stronger than they think.