Raise your hand if you’re excited to see more ads inside your favourite video games? I don’t see any hands. Well, bad news: A new report claims that Microsoft is building an advertising program to give “select brands” the ability to buy ads that will then appear in free-to-play Xbox games. And while the report says Microsoft and Xbox are being careful to not “irritate” players or disrupt games, it’s unlikely most folks will enjoy starting to see in-game ads.
Business Insider reports that Microsoft wants to work with adtech companies to create a system that will allow brands and advertisers to buy and place ads in free-to-play Xbox games, according to two people who spoke to Insider and who are reportedly involved with the program’s ongoing planning and negotiations.
According to these sources, the ads could appear as digitally rendered billboards in a racing game or open-world adventure. However, it’s currently unknown what other forms these free-to-play ads could manifest as, or if they will include videos or audio. Business Insider was also unable to confirm if Microsoft and Xbox have started pitching advertisers and brands on the new ad system. Regardless, it’s expected to launch around the third quarter this year.
A spokesperson for Microsoft told Kotaku that while it is “always looking for ways to improve the experience for players and developers” the company had nothing further to share about the reported ad system.
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As pointed out by Business Insider, Microsoft does already sell some limited ad space on its consoles via dashboard ads and certain in-game advertising deals through third parties. However, this new program is Microsoft and Xbox’s attempt to expand to more brands that are looking for ways to advertise to the growing gaming audience, many of whom are younger, don’t watch cable TV, and have become harder and harder to reach. It’s also suggested that Microsoft wants to court more free-to-play devs to Xbox using these ads.
Interestingly, Microsoft is apparently very concerned about angering gamers who normally don’t expect to encounter ads in console games. This has led to a more cautious approach where, in an attempt to ensure no ads disrupt gameplay, Microsoft will create a “private marketplace” to which only select brands are given access.
Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen companies try to shove ads into video games. Ironically, Saints Row 2 already tried to do the whole “real world billboards” thing and it was a very funny and terrible experience. But as free-to-play games become bigger and bigger on consoles and younger players become harder to advertise to using existing methods, it’s not surprising to see companies looking to place ads in more and more video games.
And because consoles are walled-off gardens, unable to access mods or hacks easily, it means you can’t just install an adblocker to hide these ads like you do when you visit Kotaku.