Thursday, September 16, 2010

WoW remains ad-free - for now

Imagine a future WoW where your innkeeper would sell certain world famous soft drinks or hamburgers instead of Honeymint Tea and Sour Goat Cheese.

Imagine that you would see posters advertising the latest cell phone model, side by side with the wanted-posters for villains.

Imagine that you would get a pop-up box with a 15 second “message from our sponsors” every 15 minutes.

Would you be prepared to accept this, if Blizzard at the same time would remove the subscription fees and let you play for free?

I know for sure that I wouldn’t. In-game advertising would effectively kill off the last piece of immersion I possibly could have. The moment they’d bring ads into Azeroth, it would mean that I’d be done with it. For good. If I’ll find myself in a financial situation in the future, where I can’t afford to pay a subscription for WoW, well then, I’ll just quit playing and spend myself on some other low-cost hobby that comes without ads.

Paying with attention
We’re living in an era were more and more services are “free”, or rather: where we pay not with cash, but with our attention. That’s how you pay for news services, music, movies, blogs, you name it, and most people don’t seem to mind very much. But I do. A lot.

Even if I’ve developed certain immunity to advertising, filtering it out from my attention span, I’ve also gotten quite sick and tired with it. I can’t stand watching TV live these days due to all the ad breaks. Since I can afford to buy TV series and movies in boxes, that’s the way I consume them these days. Just to avoid the advertising.

And it appears as if I’m not the only one. According to an article in The Escapist, Blizzard Activision CEO Bobby Kotick recently did a statement about this, saying that they don’t have any plans on incorporating ads and sponsorship into their games, out of respect for the players.

I don’t believe for a second that his views come from him being suck a nice and good guy. It’s all about calculations, and currently they’ll make more money on selling an ad-free game, than they would by including it. Regardless of his motives however, I think the statement also is an effort to help up his solid reputation for being a ruthless business man who doesn’t give a crap about the interests of the gamers or his employees.

Unfortunately Bobby Kotick has a couple of disclaimers. People at his level normaly have that. He says that there won’t be any ad included “unless it’s something that’s really authentic and will enhance the game experience”. Which of course could be interpreted just anyway he wants to, if the situation comes up. "The X company raid instance is a huge addition of game content and we know our players will love it". Yeah, I can imagine how they'll put it.

He also says that in the future, he could imagine a situation where they offer the consumers a “advertiser-supported experience” (or as I would put it “advertise-polluted experience”) so they wouldn’t have to pay for it.

But for now being we're safe. So keep paying, my friends! As long as we do this, Bobby will let Azeroth remain an ad-free sanctuary.


Windsoar said...

I have this problem with a lot of things nowadays. I live in the vicinity of Houston, and when I was a kid we'd go to the Astrodome. It was named that because of Houston's reliance and pride in being in some small way involved in the space program. The team was called the Astros--all made sense.

Now there are 3 stadiums in Houston, and none of them are named after noteworthy people or to enhance the image of the city, but by whomever is footing the biggest advertising bill for the season. We've had Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium, and the Toyota Center.

I can stomach (some) advertising on the website that is maintained by the game I'm enjoying, but once it enters my game-world I'm outta here.

Ardol said...

All I can say is thank goodness for Adblock Plus. That combined with my practice of muting my tv during advertisements or going to one of the 24-hour music channels during commercial breaks limits my exposure to advertising. Granted, I won't block the adds on a site that's small and probably doesn't get gobs and gobs of traffic (unless the adds are obnoxious), but knowing just how rich the head of icanhascheezburger is, I have no moral qualms about blocking adds on his site.

Stumps said...

It's one of the things that annoys me most about UK TV Larisa. We have to pay a TV licence here in order to operate a TV. In return that revenue pays for the BBC. However, despite that, the other channels ALL have advertising, some of them less than 5 minutes into a show - it's obscene.

If that were to enter Warcraft, I think I too would be done with it.
As Syl posted recently, we tried a few MMO's on our hiatus from WoW and I have to say EQ2 F2Play was actually the most irritating. I dislike micro-transactions anywho but the pop-up advert every 10 minutes imploring you to pay to upgrade was truly infuriating and it completely kills any immersion that you have built up in between them.

and ; the stadium naming thing is becoming prevalent in the UK now too...Spurs looking to sell the name of the new White Hart Lane =( Sad really.

Anonymous said...

At least US-WoW already had those giant commercial with those Mountain Dew Warbots promotion
And it was fairly succesfull cause, you know, "yay free pets!!!"...

they won't hesitate to bring another promotion as soon as they get a great deal.

Markco said...

Currently JMTC is using both models, ads on free content and purchaseable guides for one time payments.

For businesses selling purchaseable guides it isn't wise to mix both ads and purchaseable content together because then people feel cheated.

As you put it, they are already paying so they shouldn't have to also pay with their attention as well.

You can gaurantee that mountain dew bots will not be the last advertisers to be featured in the wow universe. However, I doubt blizzard will make us listen to ads from our inn keeper.

Selyndia said...

I can definitely relate to not watching television due to ads and interruptions. My own television is only set up to use video games, and I haven’t watched a show in about two years now. If there is a show I want to see, I wait till the following summer and purchase the full season, so I can watch it at my leisure and with only my own interruptions.

I never understood how so many people could complain about how expensive the monthly subscription is in various MMOs and demand free to play. Sure, if I played five MMOs, it would probably start to get a little pricey; but relatively speaking, a single month’s subscription is less expensive than a single night at the cinema, with buying the ticket and a small soft drink. And I know I get more than the 100 minutes of entertainment a month for the cost…

I’m wondering if the demand for free to play is part of the same feeling of entitlement some have, that has been getting stronger and stronger with the access of digital media. The same ones that argue that it’s okay to pirate software because they’re only taking money from the corporations, or that “Why should they have to pay for it, when I can find it online for free somewhere.”

Rhii said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels strongly about this! I don't watch TV either, I either buy boxed sets of TV shows or watch them on an ad-free subscription service (netflix). I stopped using Pandora because the ads annoyed me, I switched to paying a monthly fee for a music service instead. Legal and not irritating. I would definitely not play wow if I had to put up with silly advertising everywhere.

Syl said...

I run my PC and browser with all sorts of addons, ad-blocker and no-scripts, exactly because of the aggressive advertising pretty much everywhere on the internet. it's a huge nuisance, and would be an absolute killer for me in any game.
I'd stop playing if the dwarfs in IF told me to share a coke with them or raid bosses started to drop I-lootz.

Blizzard probably knows the risk about this and they've seen with open ID that there can be consequences if they go too far. so I don't think they will.

Gronthe said...

I can see it now, just as you're about to face the LK he says:

"I'll keep you alive to witness the end, Fordring, but before, let's hear a word from our sponsor, Mercedes Benz."


"Nice to see you haven't moved, Fordring, hahaha, get it? You're frozen? Anyway, I would not want the Lightg's greatest chamion to miss seeing this wretched world remade in my image...nor would I want you to miss the deal of a lifetime, check out these deals from AIG on life insurance. You're all gonna need it."


Finally the fight starts. I'm pretty sure that this wouldn't be the best way to create an environment that invites immersion. Just a guess.

Kurnak said...

And I hope it remains ad-free, because once they start rolling in I'll be out of WoW forr greener grass elsewhere.
I can't believe CEOs and Marketing chiefs can't see how tired is people of commercials everywhere. And they don't seem to udnerstand that paying games is a way of escaping of the real world to get fun, relax, etc. The last thing we want in such place is that all-for-the-money world breaching in and ruining our experience. We already pay so we can live" in that world without intrusions. And I don't think Blizz is in need of more revenue to keep the game rolling. In case of need I'd vote for micropayments instead of seeing shitty ads or pop-ups everywhere.
Other campaigns like the Mountain Dew (only on US servers, I know there's been another in asian servers with another product) may be ok as long as they don't break game experience, but since I haven't experienced it I can't say if it was something I could live with or not, despite the free pet. Seems that we european customers are "safer" for now, but I bet not for long.

tweell said...

Hear, Hear!
I haven't watched a TV station in years because of ads, the TV is used for the kid's video games and movies. If WoW put in commercials, I would be gone.

Shintar said...

I actually don't particularly mind ads in general, as long as they aren't overly obnoxious. Sometimes they are funny, and sometimes they actually do inform you about great products/deals that you didn't know about!

That said, I am wary of seeing them get introduced into games. I used to play a little browser game called Neopets, but once they started plastering ads all over their website it quickly went downhill. I wouldn't want WoW to go down that road.

Zy said...

We quit watching TV because of ads and we would do the same thing with WoW. I really hope it never comes to that because we love the game and have invested a lot in it but we would if we had to.

Redbeard said...

For me, television is bearable due to a) PBS stations and b) DVR. Of course, the PBS stations beg for money every couple of months, so that's not a lot of fun there, either.

If WoW went to a freeplay environment with ads everywhere, forget it. I'll go back to the single player games.

Anonymous said...

Ads are annoying in the middle of shows, watch 40 minutes of show and 20 minutes of commercials. I mostly watch my shows now on Hulu (at least that ones that it carries).
What is getting more and more annoying are the "Popup" ads in the middle of the show. Generally they are on the lower right or left of the screen and have some stupid animation that someone thought would be cute right in the middle of my show.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Blizzard has a team of people looking at revenue and business partnership opportunities. They're keeping an eye on in-game advertising just like they're minding micro-transactions, bought pets and gear, subscription fees, etc. So, right now, the cons outweigh the pros. That balance might never change, but they're aware of it.

One way it could work though is through phasing. The game already supports some people seeing one thing and others seeing something else. Perhaps the AH or the bank would get sponsored by a company, who could put their logo on it and those players who opted for a reduced subscription fee would see it. Not everybody would have the advertiser-supported experience but those who thought it was a good trade-off could still play.

Personally, I wouldn't make that choice. In fact, I'd pay a higher subscription fee to avoid such rubbish. Same as I pay for premium TV channels that don't show ads (Showtime, HBO, etc.) and would pay the postal service to not deliver advertisements to my mailbox.

Aloix said...


I despise ads. I stopped watching TV about 15 years ago because watching the ads really made me feel like I wanted to smash the TV. (I just don't own one these days).
I don't allow ads on my browser (unless very specific sites request/require it).
So, if Blizz were to do such a thing, without an option to pay to remove them, I'd be gone. After years and hundreds of days played, yes I would. That'd probably be the one thing that would really do it for me (other than just real life and not having time).
Nothing else really has gotten my panties in a bunch - 'casualization', microtransactions, whatever else it is that people tend to QQ about. But ads .. NO.

Perdissa said...

Yup, Mountain Dew robots. They have already done it, and I have the pet to prove it!

Obviously, if the innkeeper starts to sell me Big Macs or double whoppers I'd be uncomfortable. But if it's done tastefully, like the Mountain Dew robots, it'd be a lot easier to swallow.

Kurnak said...

To the anonymous commenter above:
Using phasing to offer a version of the game with adds and another without, aside technical difficulties (like your friends and guidlmates being in "another dimension") it's a bait people always fall for and don't realize that companies don't want to offer a cheaper version of the product, even if that attracts a larger player base. Everytime I've seen comments like "this would allow us to offer a cheaper version" from companies that never happened. What they do is to keep the same price for the ads version and then raise price for an ads-free version. Like subscriptions to websites that offer enhanced features, one of them being ads-free. So don't expect that you'll get a cheaper product from a company ever when they say things like that, because they'd been losing money, even getting a biiger playerbase (that turns also generating more costs for the company: more servers, more maintenance, higher bandwidth...)
Like the roman poet Virgil said: "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" (I fear the greeks even when they bring presents). And ad-supported version of any product it's a poisoned apple to me.

Larísa said...

I’m not a fan of that phenomenon either. It’s ever so confusing when a building – or a sports team – switches name every now and then. I think the team loses a bit of its soul when their name suddenly is changed to a company brand.

@Ardol: I’ve not gone as far as to use ad blocker tools, but it’s probably an idea considering how much I hate the pollution.

@Stumps: It sounds as if you have the same system as in Sweden. But BBC hasn’t started to have ads as well, I hope? In one way the public channels actually have. The constant self-promotion in small ad-like movies and announcements can be almost as repetitive and annoying as advertising sometimes.

Ouch. Those pop-up adverts exist for real? That would definitely keep me from playing.

& Perdissa: I never noticed much of the Mountain Dew thing, since I’m in Europe.
But yeah, now that you say it, they’ve already ventured into that kind of sponsorship cooperation. Although in a fairly discrete way.

@Markco: No, hopefully they’ll be more discrete than that. I definitely hope they won’t launch a second, alternative financial model, offering a free version side by side with the subscribed one.

: In copyright issues I’m pretty old fashioned in the eyes of the younger generations. I insist on that artists should get paid for their job and I’m not OK with people illegally uploading and downloading brand new movies from the net, instead of being honest, purchasing a dvd or buying a ticket to the theatre. I think people who create artistic work are just as entitled to get paid as someone who invents a technical device. But in Sweden there’s even a political party built on the idea that everything should be free for everyone. And yeah, f2p models might have some connection to that mentality.

Considering the responses to this post, there are a few more ad-haters out there.

@Syl: No, probably they won’t, as long as the resistance is strong enough. But it’s all up to us to make sure it doesn’t happen. I bet there are people at the financial department there who wouldn’t hesitate to propose such a change if there was any possibility to get a majority of the audience to accept it.

@Gronthe: I don’t think we’ll se a dialogue like that, but it was a funny read!

@Kurnak: I think it varies a little from country to country how much you’re into the type of campaigns that Mountain Dew was. When I’ve visited Netherlands I’ve been surprised to see the amount of “collect x stamps and get a x bonus” campaigns. We used to have more of that back in the 70s, but not so much these days. I doubt that such a campaign as Mountain Dew would be a huge success in Sweden.

And I think you might be right in your second comment about how they’d handle the phased idea.

@Twell: I’m all with you.

@Shintar: I think the commercials used to be more funny and intelligent some years back. Nowadays I find almost all of it just stupid and boring. Very dumbed down, like the washing powder ads. And that kind of ads is something I’d rather live without.

@Zy: So many replies here from people who have quit watching regular TV. It’s interesting. I always thought our family was pretty unusual in this.

: I suppose there still would be some other ”premium service – guaranteed ad-free MMOs around though.

: oh, I haven’t seen those pop-up ads. But then I’ve given up on TV, just buying the boxes and occasionally watching the news. But no ads there.

: I never thought of the phasing technology used like that, but yeah, who knows what they can make out of it…

@Aloix: That’s true. The retarded horse, the Real ID fiasco, there’s a lot of stuff you can become annoyed at. But it’s not game breaking like ads would be.

SpiritusRex said...

Art imitating Life (aka, The End is Near)?

Larisa, your post is pefectly timed as on the news in my area just this morning is a story that school administrators in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware are considering whether or not to allow advertising on the sides of children's school buses - nothing quite like our children growing up to remember ridiing the "big traveling billboard" instead of the "big yellow school bus." I know school districts our hurting for money, but give me a break! I mean, REALLY(?) - the children's song, The Wheels on the Bus, doesn't sound quite right when you substitute billboard for bus.

Stumps said...

@Larisa: Kinda yeah, all the channels do their own show self promotions and the BBC are just the same. My objection is that we don't have the option to not pay for the BBC. If we have a PC or a TV (or even a smartphone!) in the house, regardless of whether either is used for watching TV, we have to have a TV licence by law.....which pays for the BBC. We can't opt not to watch it and not fund them if we disagree with their programming or something they do. If we do that, we have to get rid of any equipment in the house that is TV capable.
There are squads that go around detecting it and prosecuting people.

redcow said...

If they started showing ads in game I would be gone immediately.

Out of game advertising, like the Mountain Dew pet, I don't have a problem with. All of the non-wow related advertising was kept out of game on a website, and the pet in game doesn't reference the product.

I may not be a roleplayer but I do enjoy the immersion in the game world, and like another commenter pointed out having a LK kill interrupted by a few words from our sponsors would send me into a bloodthirsty rage.

Tesh said...

"Since I can afford to buy TV series and movies in boxes, that’s the way I consume them these days. Just to avoid the advertising."

Well yeah, but that's the Guild Wars business model, not a subscription. :P

I'm with you, though. I don't watch TV these days, just DVDs. For a game, I'd not really like commercials... but y'know, I do think there's a place for it in WoW. Just like there's PvE and PvP servers, I think there should be ad servers and sub servers, hardcore and permadeath servers (since players apparently don't have the self control to just do their own permadeath), classic servers and private servers (gated communities, effectively, for those who just can't stand *those* people). Differentiate the product and let different players play and pay how they like.

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