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Feature: 'Turning the Tables on In-Game Ad Design'

For today's in-depth exclusive Gamasutra feature, Persuasive Games co-founder Ian Bogost uses the classic board game Monopoly to illustrate how game designers can use established brands
For today's in-depth exclusive Gamasutra feature, Persuasive Games co-founder Ian Bogost uses the classic board game Monopoly to illustrate how game designers can use established brands to their advantage for in-game advertising. In this excerpt, Bogost details how Hasbro's recent redesign of Monopoly, which replaces the classic edition's iconic tophat and shoe game pieces with branded ones such as a Toyota Prius, McDonald's French Fries, or a New Balance Running Shoe, can be looked at not as crass commercial outreaches, but as objects with 'tremendous cultural currency' for the player: "Normally we might dismiss Hasbro's move as deliberately opportunistic and destructive. After all, Monopoly's branded tokens seem very similar to static in-game advertising (like the Honda Element that on the snowboard courses in SSX3). In a New York Times article about the new edition, the executive director of a consumer nonprofit did just that, calling the new edition “a giant advertisement” and criticizing Hasbro for taking “this low road.” But perhaps the historical relationship between the tokens and the game’s cultural origins should dampen our reaction to the little metal fries and hybrid cars. None of the brands solicited the advertising nor paid a placement fee for it. Instead, Hasbro itself solicited those particular brands to appear in the game. Hasbro Senior Vice President Mark Blecher claimed that the branded tokens offer “a representation of America in the 21st century.” The company, argues Blecher, brings the “iconography” of commercial products to the game of Monopoly. Blecher is a marketing executive, so we should think twice before understanding his justifications as wholesome design values. Certainly other advertising-free design choices would have been possible. The game’s original tokens were similar in size and shape to bracelet charms—perhaps a more appropriate contemporary update of small tokens would have been SD memory cards or Bluetooth earpieces. But Blecher has a point: for better or worse, branded products hold tremendous cultural currency. They are the trifles, the collectibles that most of the contemporary populace uses to accessorize their lives. Here & Now uses branded tokens to define its game world as that of contemporary corporate culture, in contrast to the developer baron world of the original game." You can now read the full Gamasutra feature with much more from Bogost on how he's used corporate imagery in his own Persuasive Games productions, and how developers in general "can use advertising to exploit cultural preconceptions about known items that then serve as a kind of shorthand for aspects of your game world" (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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