Electronic Arts just let loose Battlefield 2142, the latest iteration of the Battlefield series of First Person Shooters, onto store shelves and it brings with it an in-game advertising system developed by IGA Worldwide. Basically it places real-world ads into the video game so that advertisers can get their products back in front of the eyes of gamers who aren’t watching as much TV these days and earn a few bucks for the game publishers in the process. Battlefield 2142, along with Need for Speed: Carbon, is one of the first games to use the advertising system and to try and offset any controversy about it the folks at EA included a sheet in the game box with a brief and vague explanation of the ad system:
The Software may incorporate technology developed by IGA Worldwide Inc. (“IGA”) (the “Advertising Technology”). The purpose of the Advertising Technology is to deliver in-game advertisements to you when you use the Software while connected to the Internet. When you use the Software while connected to the Internet, the Advertising Technology may record your Internet Protocol address and other anonymous information (“Advertising Data”). The Advertising Data is temporarily used by IGA to enable the presentation and measurement of in-game advertisements and other in-game objects which are uploaded temporarily to your personal computer or game console and charged during online game play. The Advertising Technology does not collect any personally identifiable information about you, and EA will not provide IGA with any of your personally identifiable information. The servers used by the Advertising Technology may, from time to time, be located outside your country of residence. If you are located within the European Union, the servers may be located outside the European Union.
This, of course, resulted in nothing but angry and confused gamers as the explanation was vague enough to raise privacy concerns. What “anonymous” data was it collecting and why? Could it be checking your browser history to see what websites you were going to? The fact that the letter goes on to say that simply installing the game implies consent to have this data collected with no real means of opting out only made things worse. If you want to play the game and not have data collected or ads displayed then they suggest you don’t play it on a machine connected to the Internet. Seeing as online multiplayer is one of the big draws of any FPS that seems like a pretty idiotic suggestion to make.
So with the reaction to this going so badly EA figured they should try to clarify things a bit:
The advertising program in Battlefield 2142 does not access any files which are not directly related to the game. It does not capture personal data such as cookies, account login detail, or surfing history.
BF 2142 delivers ads by region. The advertising system uses a player’s IP address to determine the region of the player, assisting to serve the appropriate ads by region and language. For instance, a player in Paris might be presented with ads in French. The information collected will not be repurposed for other uses.
Battlefield 2142 also tracks “impression data” related to in-game advertisements: location of a billboard in the game, brand advertised, duration of advertisement impression, etc. This information is used to help advertisers qualify the reach of a given advertisement.
Personally the advent of dynamic in-game ads has been on the horizon for a long time and a few other titles have been doing it for awhile already so I’m not really upset that EA has finally gotten in on the act. It’s not like they’ve not announced this was coming previously as I’ve written entries about it before. I said then that I didn’t have a big problem with companies using in-game advertising so long as A) it was appropriate to the game and worked into the environment well and B) they charged less for the game as a result of the revenue they would get from the ads. You know, give a little added incentive for putting up with ads in our games.
Checking a few online stores reveals that Battlefield 2142 is generally going for the usual $49.99. EA wants to have its cake and eat it too. It’s a good thing I’m not a huge fan of the Battlefield series as that makes the decision not to buy it much easier. With any luck by the time they get to a game I do care about the experiment will have proven unprofitable enough that they’ll drop it, otherwise I may have to decide not to buy a game on principle.
Note to EA: If you’re going to make us deal with ads in-game then drop the price of the software. You’ll sell more units and piss off fewer people in the process.