A Lesson From Obi-Wan And Anakin On Interruptive Ads In Video Games

  • by September 9, 2020

Although the Star Wars prequels are widely considered to be “not so good,” fans did get a few things out of them that we continue to love to this day: Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi performance, more lightsaber battles, and most of all, timeless memes hailing from iconic scenes in the movies.

In Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, (spoilers ahead if anyone has suddenly tossed "Star Wars" onto their quarantine watchlist for the first time) Obi-Wan and evil Anakin have a final duel on Mustafar, a volcanic planet where the terrain adds to the thrill of their lightsaber combat.

Right before the nearly 10-minute battle’s epic conclusion, Obi-Wan manages to jump to a high-ground position from a raft that he and Anakin are battling on. Famously, Obi-Wan looks at Anakin and says, “It’s over Anakin -- I have the high ground,” to signify that his positional advantage over his opponent is deadly.



Anakin, who now has the low ground, arrogantly exclaims: “You underestimate my power,” to which Obi-Wan responds “Don’t try it.”

Anakin, of course, proceeds to try it anyway and gets three of his four limbs (the last of which is already robotic) cut off in the process, followed by a thorough scorching from lava.

For a very long time, marketers and video game publishers have been slowly but surely looking for ways to bring advertising into video games. Traditional sports-based games like FIFA, Madden, and NBA 2k have had an easier time placing stationary ads into their games because fans are accustomed to seeing logos plastered around arenas.

With the rise of free-to-play micro-transaction-based games, advertisers have been encouraged to find ways to authentically bring their products or ads into gaming.

Louis Vuitton, for example, designed custom looks for in-game characters in "League of Legends," which turned out to be a highly successful activation for both parties and has brought more collaborations between the two.

However, when it comes to the idea of interruptive ads in games -- by which I mean pop-ups of any kind -- the resounding message from the gaming community has hearkened back to Obi-Wan: don’t try it.

Most recently, Electronic Arts (EA) placed pop-up ads in UFC 4, its UFC fighting game, a few weeks after its release -- leading to a lot of backlash from players. “Why would I pay $60 to get a pop up while I’m playing?” one player wrote online.

While advertisers do have the opportunity to create inroads with gamers through in-game content, inauthentic logo slapping and pop-ups are not the way.

Mobile gaming, while it is lucrative from an ad perspective, is a place where interruptive ads have been accepted, mostly because the games they are playing are free, low-quality, and only played to pass the time.

The expectations of those games, in my opinion, are not very high. Most major mobile titles these days start out as console or PC games that migrate to mobile rather than beginning with mobile, and even these games don’t have interruptive ads.

When it comes to gaming on consoles and PCs, aka the pinnacle of gaming capabilities, interruptive ads that take players out of their immersion will continue to receive total dismissal from gamers. 

In reality, Anakin could have re-engaged Obi-Wan many different ways in that critical moment on Mustafar.

He could have waded downstream a little more, and jumped onto land somewhere safer. He could have used the Force to jump a little further away from Obi-Wan. Instead, he took the familiar route -- he charged headfirst (literally) at Obi-Wan, instead of tackling the problem from a better angle.

Like Anakin, marketers can work with game publishers to answer a few questions: is this the right game for me to advertise in? Can I become a part of the world built by the game in an authentic way? What would its players respond well to?

I, for one, see a future in which advertisers try to be more like Louis Vuitton and "League of Legends," where brand Coca-Cola works with much-anticipated-title Cyberpunk 2077 (set in a robotic future) -- a future where they work together to create a futuristic Coca-Cola advertisement in the world of the game, that adds to the immersion while also advertising a fun product in a unique way.

So please, if you’re a marketer or publisher looking into the gaming world and pondering interruptive ads -- don’t try it.

Instead, consider ways to authentically engage and reward gamers for their time and attention, so that both you and your gamers have a positive experience -- not a money-fueled, familiar one.

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