- [Brothers In Arms developer Gearbox Software has announced a new partnership with in-game ad/branding firm Double Fusion - but what does this actually mean in terms of integrated content and authenticity for the developer's games? Gearbox co-founder and CEO Randy Pitchford (pictured) explains why he thinks in-game brands can be good from multiple perspectives - including authenticity, notice, and increased budgets - in this opinion piece.]

I'd like to take the time to shed more light on the announcement that Gearbox and Double Fusion are partnering to consider connecting advertising with our games.  Some gamers have voiced their concern, and I want to set the record straight about this announcement.

We respect any contempt for exploitive advertising that negatively effects the integrity or the quality of the game because we, as hardcore gamers, share that same contempt.  If anything, that's a big understatement.  I'll say it again:  We hate exploitive advertising that doesn't offer value to the gamer.

We partnered with Double Fusion because we believe they approach this kind of thing with the right attitude and because we wanted to be in control of these kinds of decisions for some of our games.  It is important for us to ensure that we're able to keep our artistic interests in mind and that our gamer customers' interests are cared for.

As of this post we haven't committed to any particular in-game advertising for any of our upcoming titles (including Hell's Highway, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and Borderlands).  What we've done is to enable Double Fusion to connect us with opportunities.  If this leads to anything, we intend for the results to bring you advantages that can increase the quality of our games, including improved authenticity, increased budgets, or out-of-game promotion that helps attract more gamers.

I'll speak a bit about each of those advantages:

Improved Authenticity: Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway takes place in the historical Operation Market Garden.   In the town of Eindhoven, in the center of the 101st Airborne Division's operational area, there was a factory for a company called Philips.   You've probably heard about Philips – they invented the CD and some other neat technology over the years.  One of our missions happens to take place in that factory.  Philips was eager for us to use their physical logo in the factory as it was then, and we placed an old version of their mark.  Without that agreement, we would've had to leave that authentic detail out. I'd like to share some photos to go along with this example from Hell's Highway - the blog does continue after these, but I felt it was important to illustrate this case:  

The Philips emblem and logo as they appeared in 1944, and the Philips factory from the side (background), 1944.  Note the tower.
 
 
 
The factory as it appears in Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway.  There's the tower from the last image.
  
A shot from inside the factory, also from the game Hell's Highway - there's the Philips logo.


From the rooftop of the factory during WWII
 
 
Faithfully recreated in Hell's Highway (slightly different angle)
 
  
In the past, our publisher's legal department had to ask us to change or remove the logo on the front of the Opel blitz truck that the Germans used in WW2. They asked us to do that because we don't have the rights to use the Opel logo from 1944.  If we did a product placement deal with Opel, we could use the logo and actually better fulfill the authentic promise we're making with our game.

These are just two examples where cooperation with brand owners via advertisers actually helps improve the authenticity of the experience.

Increased Budgets: Not all games are created equal.  The difference between some games that have a great promise but don't quite fulfill it and the really great games is often about budget allowing the commitment to quality that most game makers have.  The folks working on games that don't turn out so well generally care just as much as the developers for those that do; the difference is usually about budget.  The better the budget, the better the game.   If we can find ways that bring value to you and help us increase the budget, everyone wins - we think that it's a good thing to proactively look for opportunities where everyone wins.

Out-of-Game Promotion: Sometimes, cross-promotional activities exist outside of the game and the goal of these activities is to reach people.  Examples include the special "Halo" version of Mountain Dew that was launched just before Halo 3 came out.  The value that this kind of activity brings is that it gets more attention for the game.  For people who care about our games, the idea of bringing more people to the games is very exciting. The community benefits by having more people to play with and share in the experience of playing, and can benefit from more support for the game post-launch.

These are the kinds of things we hope come from Double Fusion helping to connect Gearbox with advertisers.  The smart and successful advertisers' goal is for you to trust and respect them.  If their ads invade or injure our entertainment, we get angry and reject them.  If, however, something feels natural and unintrusive, they get the value they were looking for.

So, please don't judge us by the fact that some folks out there do it wrong and with exploitation as their key driving factor.   This is not our motivation or intent.  Don't judge us based on fears that may not turn out to be true.

Instead, judge us from the result.  If you see in-game ads for some stupid product that has nothing to do with the context in which it occurs and actually detracts from the experience, then you can feel justified in bashing the developer, publisher, or advertiser that made that decision.

However, if we can improve authenticity and make things feel better or more natural because of the right kinds of permissions with folks that have important brands, if we can make better games with higher budgets and if we can help bring more people to the games we love, then I think we're fulfilling our mission of creating entertainment that serves you – the gamers. 
  A challenge for the forums:

-  What kinds of examples can you think of where an in-game, in-show, or in-movie product placement felt really good, natural and actually added value?
-  Conversely, what are examples where it was done wrong and should be avoided?
 
Here’s some examples I thought up to start you off:

-  Toy Story:  The movie was better and more authentic because Mr. Potato Head was one of the toys, not in spite of it.  The Pixar guys rule and do a great job, we respect them a lot!  We respect their decision to use a few real toys in Toy Story – we don’t hate them for it!

-  Cast Away: Tom Hanks’ character worked for FedEx.  That was much more authentic than if he worked for some fictional over-night air delivery service.

-  Super Monkey Ball:  The bananas have the Dole sticker!  I thought that was cool and funny, not cheap or sucky.  It felt natural and was a nice detail that added character.  It did not feel like an advertisement that was exploiting me.

[This opinion piece was originally made available on Gearboxity, the official community site of Gearbox, and is reproduced with permission here. If you'd like to comment directly in the Gearbox forums on this matter, a special thread has been set up for gamer and even developer feedback.]