Earlier this week, Business Insider broke news that Microsoft is working on an advertising platform that will allow developers and advertisers to integrate ads in free-to-play games on Xbox. The news came as a surprise despite in-game ads being a commonplace in the industry for quite some time. As you may have guessed, this news was met with severe backlash online calling Microsoft greedy. Now, it looks like Sony is planning to do the same.
According to a new report published by Advertising Insider—the Business Insider off-shoot dedicated to adverts—Sony is also developing its own system for advertisers to put ads in free games on the PlayStation platform. Nearly every point here is same as the Microsoft report, beat for beat, indicating that perhaps Microsoft and Sony are almost banding together to catalyze this process, and share the fallout.
Sony is cooking up plans to run ads in PlayStation games as rival Microsoft plans a similar program with Xbox https://t.co/ZL0YartvJk
— Insider Advertising (@insiderads) April 20, 2022
Sony’s rumored ad platform
Sony will make a advertisement system available to advertisers and developers, a hub of sorts, where ads would be traded. The ads will be supplied by Sony, this would allow them to have a tight control of what content goes through. Like Microsoft, Sony will have a strict vetting process to ensure only ethical companies can advertise on their platform. The report says Sony won’t allow any dubious advertisers that could collect and share the player’s personal information and advertising data.
Once the advertiser buys an ad they like, it will be sold to the developer of said free game and put inside the game. This would enable developers to monetize their game in a new way and Sony is said to encourage this. Though there are no mentions of the ads not being disruptive in the report, one would expect Sony of all companies to know how frustrating ads are and how players will react to them.
Microsoft’s ad platform will actively make sure that in-game ads bought off their platform do not disturb the gameplay in any way and are instead put in places where the player won’t be bothered by them. This includes things like passing billboards in a racing game with real-worlds ads on them. Similar to that would be showing ads on the stadium touch line in sports games, something that FIFA already does.
As per the report, Sony has an identical approach to this as well. They want the ads to feel natural and “part of the game” so that they don’t jump out too much to the player. However, Sony will apparently go one step further and actually reward players for interacting with or watching the ads. The rewards would likely be in-game items, such as cosmetic skins.
How the ads are actually shown in the games will be up to the developer as Sony would only be providing the platform, and the ads with it. The company is considering selling ad activity data to advertisers and game publishers/developers to improve ad targeting, claims one source. Sony is also deciding whether to take a cut of the ad-revenue for themselves or not; Microsoft will reportedly leave all the revenue to be shared between the developer and advertiser.
Furthermore, the report reveals that Sony has actually been working on this platform for over 18 months at this point, and plans to launch it by the end of this year. It should be noted Sony already has a advertising system of sorts in place where advertisers can purchase ads to put in the PlayStation Store or various menus of the PlayStation operating system on both the PS4 and PS5. If this new platform does come to fruition, it would obviously be a big step-up from the minimal advertising we see on PlayStation today.
Microsoft 🤝 Sony
The timing of this news coinciding with Microsoft’s plan getting leaked is quite the coincidence, if you want to call it that. I still believe both companies are in on this together, or at least knew that the rival was working on an ad platform so they decided to create their own. So far, players have unfortunately had to get used to the increasing levels of monetization and advertising in games and it seems like this platform will be a prominent addition to that list.
Microsoft is said to be moving cautiously with this idea, knowing how players feels about the current hyper-monetized state of games. One silver lining that could be drawn from this whole situation is that perhaps big free-to-play games like Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone, and Apex Legends, which are the most-played, would likely not take part in this monetization opportunity.
One, if they wanted to, they could just do so by themselves without PlayStation or Microsoft’s help, and two, maybe there’s an a ounce of ethicality left preventing them to infuse their games with even more ads. More questionable titles, including games from smaller developers would likely jump at this chance first. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the intent is genuine.
Case in point, Microsoft’s goal behind its ad platform is to reportedly give smaller developers another way of earning on Xbox. That seems very well-intentioned but not everyone is looking for an honest check, so the platform could very well be used to turn a game into an ad service moonlighting as the game. Surely, both Microsoft and Sony are fully-aware of the consequences of such a platform, likely more than us consumers.