As governments around the world urge their citizens to “Stay at home, save lives,” the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is using in-game advertising to deliver that message to a younger audience of video game players. .
The messages already appear via in-game banners in Codemasters’ Dirty Rally 2.0, which will be offered as a free PlayStation Plus title this month. Rebellion titles like sniper elite and Strange Brigade, meanwhile, the message before the start of each game will be displayed. And King’s Candy Crush Saga will insert the PSA between the usual interstitial ads for millions of free-to-play players.
“At Codemasters, we realized that the technology in our games, which enables remote banner updates in the virtual environment, could be reused to aid communication efforts against the coronavirus,” said Codemasters VP Business Development Toby Evan-Jones in a statement. † “It’s great to see conversations already emerging in our community.”
Public service announcements in games are not an entirely new phenomenon, as anyone who remembers the arcade-era “Winners Don’t Use Drugs” campaign can attest. The Scottish government banned PSAs while drunk on Xbox 360 titles as early as 2007. More recently, the US Ad Council distributed free in-game T-shirts to Guild Wars players to promote a nationwide suicide prevention campaign.
Still, the use of video games for public health messages has become extra urgent as officials urge citizens to avoid unnecessary travel and large gatherings to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. “Getting through the crisis will require a collective national effort, and every generation has a role to play,” the UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in an announcement. “Young people spend more time playing video games than the rest of the population, so in-game messaging is a creative, targeted and immediate way to amplify the government’s message Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives for gamers. .”
In-game contextual ads exploded in popularity in the mid-’00s as publishers saw a potential new revenue stream from gamers who were always online. Research suggests that even subtle environmental advertising in video games can have a significant impact on players. Being immersed in a virtual world “disrupts counterarguments between individuals who might otherwise resist attempts at influence in the real world,” according to a 2015 University of Connecticut study.