Are you ready for ads in your Xbox and PlayStation games?

Both Sony and Microsoft seem to have come up with the same idea at the same time, rethinking the concept of placing in-game ads in their video games as yet another way to monetize them. This time around, players don’t pay any other way than their eyes, but we’ll see if that cost is too high anyway.

This development follows two findings that both companies are pursuing some versions of this concept.

Last week, a report from Business Insider said Microsoft is creating a “private marketplace” where it can sell in-game ads in free-to-play games on Xbox. Microsoft says the goal is to monetize development, not Xbox itself, because it wouldn’t cut corners. Examples cited include billboards in racing games, which isn’t the first time we’ve seen that happen, and yet it seems to be resurfacing in this current “metaverse” era.

Sony’s report sounds almost identical. They’ve been working on their own program for the past 18 months to place ads in mostly free-to-play games, again with its own marketplace. Possible ideas from the past include having players watch ads to earn in-game skins. Both programs sound like they could be implemented or at least trialled by the end of 2022.

All of this is in the pretty obvious pursuit of one thing, the pursuit of a revenue stream in the mobile games space where those free games are often ad-supported, sometimes at their expense, sometimes into gigantic piles of cash. Given the larger worlds and wider real estate available in console and PC games, these wouldn’t be banners plastered across your screen or anything, and yet gamers haven’t been very receptive to past experimentation in this space. We’ve seen this recently in ads in Battlefield 2042:

While yes, Sony and Microsoft say this is mainly for free-to-play games, “mainly” does a lot of work there, and it wasn’t that long ago that fully-priced games with microtransactions were a big no-no. Are there no in-game ads coming to paid games now? I mean, again, they’re already here, and it seems like a matter of time before these new types of ad markets grow into a lot of potential games.

Obviously this is impossible to implement for some games. How are you going to throw a billboard ad in God of War Ragnarok? Other times, the developer might just agree that it was too gross to work. For example, I can’t imagine Starfield launching with a ton of holo billboards for real companies. But yes, this is coming. All the big players are on board. If players don’t want it, they’re going to have to make that very, very public.

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