Downloadable Content as Product Placement

Assassin's Creed 2 and Dragon Age have taken an interesting approach to in-game advertising by essentially advertising themselves.

Some months ago I started playing Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. One of the factions gave me an open-ended mission to destroy any billboards I found, so whenever I was in a tank, I made a conscious effort to keep my eyes out for any signs still standing. Throughout my hunt, two recurring billboards caught my attention: One was advertising the newest season of South Park complete with day and time, the other was advertising the recently released movie 9. It was jarring to see the real world infringing on the game world in such a blatant way. This is, of course, an inevitability of in-game advertising, but two recent games have taken a different approach to this idea. Assassin’s Creed 2 and Dragon Age advertise themselves, or more specifically, they advertise their future/current downloadable content.

In Assassin’s Creed 2 players use a machine to relive a character’s past memories. These memories are split into 14 “memory blocks,” but after completing block 11, the player is told that 12 and 13 are “corrupted,” so we skip ahead to the final memory. This jump forward in time works as a plot device. In block 11, the hero becomes an official Assassin but fails to kill the villain. Block 14 begins years later when he’s finally given a second chance. Since the hero failed in his first attempt, we can easily assume that he spent the intervening years honing his skills and planning revenge. Since this training and planning would make boring gameplay, the memories are skipped. The “corrupted” blocks therefore work as a montage would in a movie.

But with the announcement of DLC that will fill in those blanks, the corrupted memories take on an entirely different meaning. They’re no longer just a plot device to imply the passage of time. They’re missing chapters from a story. Any player that thoroughly enjoys the game will see these missing pieces and want to fill them. Their very existence is an advertisement, a constant reminder of what we don’t have.

In Dragon Age players have a party camp that they can return to throughout the game. In this camp is a stranger who needs your help to restore his family’s honor. If you talk to him he’ll tell you his full story, and when he’s finished one of the dialogue options, one of the options that the player can select to respond to him is (and I’m paraphrasing): “Buy DLC.”

This is a far more direct advertisement then what’s in Assassin’s Creed 2, but the actual method of advertising is the same. This stranger is in your game whether your buy the DLC or not, he’ll tell you his story whether you buy the DLC or not, and even if you don’t buy the DLC, his quest still logs itself in your codex as an active quest. Whenever you return to the party camp, he’ll be there with an arrow hovering over his head, indicating a quest objective. Whenever you look at your quest logs, you’ll see it, a mission that’s impossible to finish unless you buy the additional content. The game works to constantly remind us of what we don’t have while giving us motivation to buy the DLC. Dragon Age just goes a step further than Assassin’s Creed 2 by allowing players to actually make the purchase in game. It’s not just advertising itself, it’s also selling itself.

But is this a bad way to advertise DLC? The problem with the advertising in Mercenaries 2 is that it didn’t fit within the game world: a pristine billboard in war-torn Venezuela, written in perfect English, advertising an American show makes no sense. But in Assassin’s Creed 2, the missing memories are explained in such a way as to make them a natural part of the game’s universe. Such explanation and integration of advertising is only really possible with DLC. The creative director of Assassin’s Creed 2 has said that the DLC is content that was planned for the game from the beginning but that had to be cut due to time constraints with the deadline. By saving a spot for the DLC in the actual game, the developer ensures that the old content flows seamlessly into the new and that the DLC itself doesn’t feel tacked on. It’s quite ingenious really. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Dragon Age. Making an NPC a salesman is an inspired way of making the advertisement seem natural within the game world, but that illusion is broken when we’re asked to pay real money. Making a real purchase can never feel natural in a game specifically because it’s a real purchase; to make it feel natural, would require tricking the player into thinking that it wasn’t real. But the fact that such a purchase is even possible is impressive from a technical standpoint, and the attempt made by both games to fit advertisements into their narratives points towards an interesting future for in-game advertising and downloadable content. Whether or not that’s a preferable future is a different matter.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.