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This may come as a surprise to our younger readers, but there was a time when you bought a game, and that was it. You didn’t need to connect to paid online services to update it on day one, and no one was trying to sell you skins or in-game currency. But today there’s money to be made, and you might not love Microsoft’s latest idea along those lines. According to a new report, Microsoft is looking at putting ads inside free-to-play Xbox games.
The report from Insider is light on details, and what they do have is unexpected. Microsoft is apparently not looking to take a cut of ad sales. Instead, it will create a closed marketplace where select partners can integrate ads. It is hoped that by passing all the benefits to developers and advertisers, they will, in turn, devote more resources to developing on Microsoft’s platform.
Some games might afford the opportunity to insert a billboard, but that’s been done before. Microsoft itself experimented with ads in games like Madden and Burnout Paradise more than a decade ago, but players didn’t respond positively. It’s possible this new attempt at in-game advertising will be more subtle, like sponsored items or skins. Or it might just be hamfisted video ads in your face instead of loading screens.
Video games are best when they’re immersive — features like ads and microtransactions interrupt the experience, and remind you that you are not, in fact, a knight questing for gold. For this reason, many free-to-play games can feel more like work than a game, as you grind and grind to avoid paying money for quick advancement. Putting ads in a free game can earn some revenue even from players who prefer to slave over a hot controller to avoid dropping cash. Is that a good idea, though? Microsoft’s concerns about alienating gamers are probably well-founded.
It could always be worse. The report only cites free games as a target of the ads. With AAA titles regularly costing $70, many of them with microtransactions, the addition of ads could be too much even for committed Xbox fans. The ads could begin appearing as soon as the third quarter of this year.