Good vs Evil: Product placement in MMOs

Recently Rift teamed up with gaming products provider Razer to offer Razer themed cloaks to Naga owners. This is far from the first case of product placement in an MMO. Meta Gamer takes a look at advertising in your MMOs, past, present and future.

The ghost of products past

There have been a few notable tie ins for products and MMOs over the year. On of the first was the Pizza Hut/EverQuest II tie in. Players could type /pizza and be taken to the Pizza Hut website to order pizza. Charges would appear on their game subscription bill. This was satirized by Blizzard some years later as a part of its April Fools offering.

Other than this, tie ins have rarely been so blatant in MMOs. There are many references to products in games like World of Warcraft - references can be found to Love Hearts candy, Playboy and Tiffany and Co. However, tie ins have been rarer. Mountain Dew was the most significant, with in game pets being offered and tokens being used to fuel them. The fuel was red or blue depending on the drink you purchased.

Advertising is more common in other game types, where the setting is more realistic. Adds for the Obama election campaign appeared in various EA sports games. Mountain Dew, Pizza Hut, Doritos and Subway have their images in a number of games. In fact, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker featured both Mountain Dew and Doritos as well as Axe and Pepsi!

Product placement today

There are often cases of companies like Razer, Steelseries, etc. producing themed items for MMO companies. You can get a Guild Wars 2 mouse, a World of Warcraft keyboard and a League of Legends headset if you want one. The reverse, however, is almost unheard of. Blizzard's next gen MMO, Titan, might feature this based on the advertisement of a Franchise Development Producer role with definite product placement responsibilities.

The future is orange?

It is only a matter of time before product placement comes to an MMO near you. MMOs are expensive to make and product placement is a way of off-setting that cost. The Razer-Rift cloaks show that such placements can be done sympathetically. The cloaks do not look out of place. In fact, if you didn't recognize the Razer logo, you might not realize what they were. It would be harder to do the same for more recognizable brands. The appearance of such logos would be immersion breaking and this is one of the major objections to them.

However, such products might serve to subsidize you game. Imagine a new payment model where players get all the content for free with no limits in return for seeing products in game. Would you be willing to accept product placement to get rid of a subscription and some of the more irritating limitations of free to play? Would you want to enter a raid sponsored by Coca Cola if it meant more content for free?