EA is looking at putting in-game ads in AAA games — 'We'll be very thoughtful as we move into that,' says CEO

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

EA CEO Andrew Wilson confirmed the company is considering putting ads in traditional AAA games — titles that players purchase up-front for around $70 apiece. In the Q&A part of EA’s latest earnings call, Eric Sheridan from Goldman Sachs asked Wilson about dynamic ad insertion in traditional AAA games. Wilson said, "…Advertising has an opportunity to be a meaningful driver of growth for us." He then continued, "…we have teams internally in the company right now looking at how we do very thoughtful implementations inside of our game experiences."

In-game ads are a natural progression of advertising, especially as the gaming industry is expected to grow to $583 billion by 2030. Some players deem this a distraction, but others accept it as a fact of life as long as the ads are placed naturally and unobtrusively — not going loudly in your face, blocking in-game content, or interrupting your gameplay just to tell you that you should buy this product or subscribe to this service.

Unfortunately, EA has had a few instances of poor in-game ads. In 2020, the company placed full-screen in-game ads for the TV show The Boys in UFC 4. Its player base poorly received this placement, especially as it disrupted the game. This backlash led to EA removing the ad soon after.

In-game advertising is not new in the gaming industry. In fact, Adventureland, published in 1978, is the first recorded title to have ads baked in-game — although it was for promoting its sequel, Pirate Adventure. In 1983, Anheuser-Busch sponsored the arcade game Tapper, which featured a giant Budweiser logo right in the game and was designed for bars. Root Beer eventually replaced the Budweiser logo in 1984 so it could be placed in arcades where minors could play.

As the market for gaming titles increased in the 90s and 2000s, many companies wanted to tap into its potential — some games, like Zool and Push-Over, heavily featured products that sponsored their titles, like Chupa Chups and Quavers. In contrast, others were blatant advertisements, like Pepsi Man.

EA’s Need for Speed: Underground 2 from 2004 is famously known for its in-game ads placed on billboards all over the open world. Some would argue that EA did that for realism, as the brands in the game featured real-world companies like Best Buy, Burger King, and Cingular.

But it was in 2006 when GameSpot confirmed that EA was going all-in with dynamic ads in its titles, with Need for Speed Carbon and Battlefield 2142 among the first games to try it. In 2008, Burnout Paradise, another popular EA title, featured political ads for then-Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 US Presidential election bid.

More recently, SCS Software, the company behind the American Truck Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator 2 titles, sold ad space to trucking company Schneider National for hiring drivers. However, most of these in-game ads are placed on billboards by the side of the road, where you would naturally see them in real life.

In-game ads are an understandable side-effect of the free-to-play format. However, it leaves a bad taste, especially if the ads are served in a AAA game you’ve paid good money for upfront. While the development cost of AAA titles has skyrocketed, with titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Cyberpunk 2077, and Star Citizen costing hundreds of millions to make, their developers have also sold plenty of copies.

If EA adds dynamic in-game ads in its titles, let’s hope the company sticks to its promise of "thoughtful implementation" and "community building beyond the bounds of our games." Otherwise, its community might rise in arms and force a change, just like how the uproar over the Helldivers 2 PSN account linking forced Sony to reconsider the requirement.

Freelance News Writer
  • peachpuff
    Gamers: not buying EA games has an opportunity to be a meaningful driver of saving money for us
  • helper800
    On the off chance something from EA is even worth considering, I would hope they have very scrutinized adds seamlessly added to the game if they *have* to be implemented... It would be particularly immersion breaking to see adds for modern products in a historical or traditional fantasy setting...
  • YouFilthyHippo
    Honestly, I'm okay with this, as long as its not intrusive. If I'm driving down the street and theres a burger king billboard. That's fine. Whatever. What I dont want is this:

    Load up game
    Press Start to begin
    15 second full screen ad you have to watch
    Enter Main menu
    Main Menu
    Continue Career Mode
    Press A to start next race
    I press A
    15 second full screen ad you have to watch
    Race starts. Race is 20 miles long. After 10 miles, checkpoint, game pauses itself
    15 second full screen ad you have to watch
    Game unpauses itself and continues
    Race ends
    10 second full screen ad you have to watch
    Race results
    15 second full screen ad you have to watch
    Main menu

    This is like what YouTube does. If they start doing this crap, there is going to be a war lol.
  • Giroro
    What does EA consider an ad?
    As far as I can tell, most EA games give you multiple ads upselling various battlepasses, loot boxes, pay-to-win, and "$25 for a palate swap isn't a microtransaction" cosmetics as full screen popup ads as every time you boot the game. Followed by many similar banner ads for these things, all over the interface.
    Or what about a game like FIFA, where the players jerseys are already covered in ads - not to forget even very existence of the game is, in itself, an ad for FIFA.

    I guess what's bothering me is not that EA would put annoying ads ads in their trash games - because they already do that. I'm bothered that EA's CEO is effectively lying to shareholders that there is some big untapped financial opportunity here, when in fact most of their biggest products have prioritized the advertising over the gameplay for at least a decade.
    There is very little space left to crowbar more ads into these products. Most of the profit potential has already been not just tapped, but milked dry.
    What are they going to do, put persistent banner ads on the main menu? Because jokes on you, they already have those. If the ad is for an EA product vs one of their competitor's products, what's the difference to the user? It's the same bad experience, which nobody should ever pay for.
    If anything, if EA started pointing these hard-coded ads at an external ad-specific server, then they would be easier to block. That's what I did with the highly distracting ads served to the literal in-world billboards in Mercenaries 2 (2005, EA).
  • mac_angel
    The thing is, they could have been doing something like this for decades; the right way. They literally could have made billions of dollars, especially on their AAA titles, and in a way that no one would have really noticed.
    Sadly, my idea of how that would have worked, having them make billions of dollars, was also meant to be to pass the savings onto the gamers and not having to make them pay up to $150 just for the 'full version' of the game. That would definitely never happen.
  • helper800
    mac_angel said:
    They literally could have made billions of dollars, especially on their AAA titles, and in a way that no one would have really noticed.
    How could they have made billions more with advertisements in-game had they not been noticed? Seems contradictory, no?
  • ezst036
    Welcome to the world Google built.

    Adware used to be a pejorative word, a form of malware. Now it's mainstream. They're all malware now.
  • helper800
    ezst036 said:
    Welcome to the world Google built.

    Adware used to be a pejorative word, a form of malware. Now it's mainstream. They're all malware now.
    Thats certainly one way of looking at it. If it wasn't google someone else would have eventually brought us here, same with the Bethesda horse armor.
  • derekullo
    You knew this was coming!
    Don't act so surprised!
    EA SPORTS: Advertisements it's in the game
  • Phaaze88