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Sony's PlayStation Arm Patents Game-Stopping Advertisments

Updated Fri, May 25, 2012 by Martuk

A while back I tried out a subscription to Hulu+ to see if I liked it. The fact that I paid a subscription to Hulu and still had to watch ads for the shows that I was already paying to view was a bit of a real turn off, one that prompted me to cancel only two days in, especially when you consider the fact that Netflix streams ad-free. But now it looks as if Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) may be bringing us a similar kind of annoyance to certain PlayStation Network games.

SCEA filed a patent back in July 2011 for in-game advertisements that pauses the game while you play to stream a short advertisement. The patent was spotted by a NeoGaf poster and is noted by Eurogamer as a continuation of a previous 2006 patent. While it’s unclear as to what games this may impact if put into practice, there are some lines in the patent that will bring a mighty cringe to online gamers.

[0028] In some implementations, the gaming network may be synchronized using a signaling scheme where a signal is sent to all players on the network to suspend and play a game. Additionally, signals may be sent to facilitate slowing down or speeding up the playing of the content at the same time to provide a fair and simultaneous game play environment. Other synchronization schemes utilizing recording stop points and time stamps may be used in some embodiments. In network gaming one or more players may all see the same or different commercials when game play stops. In embodiments where different commercials are played synchronization schemes may be used to ensure that regardless of the commercial that is playing on each client device the game stops and resumes at the same time. Such synchronization schemes may also be used to ensure that the game stops and resumes in a similar manner at all client devices to ensure a fair playing environment.

There's nothing as immersion breaking as having your gaming world yanked out from under you for another Aflac commercial from that stupid duck. On the bright side (/sarcasm), it does state that an indication of the impending commercial will be made along with a slowing of the game as you prepare to fade into commercial annoyance. There are few things that could be as potentially annoying as lining up for a bombing run in PlanetSide 2 only to be preempted by an “After these messages, we’ll be right back.” And believe me, judging by some of the patent concept drawings, that isn't too far off the mark.

SCEA Ad Patent Art
Can you look at that image and not cringe?

It’s unclear exactly what SCEA plans to use this for, if at all, but speculation is pointing towards free-to-play titles, which is now what makes up a bulk of Sony Online Entertainment’s (SOE) lineup. Free-to-play games like Free Realms, DC Universe Online and the upcoming DUST 514 can be played on the PlayStation 3, which while the games are controlled by their respective developers, is still under SCEA’s PlayStation 3 dominion. Unfortunately, if this method were to come to free-to-play games, it's not unreasonable to speculate that, like my example with Hulu, it could also be forced on subscribing players as well if the patent feature above is any indication.

In all fairness, you couldn’t very well halt the gaming experience of free players while they are PvPing or dungeon running and cause any subscribing members of the group to wipe out or be brutally massacred in PvP while they’re getting briefed on the latest flavor of Meow Mix cat food. Likewise, it would be just as annoying if a player you're about to take down suddenly tunes out for a word from our sponsor. No, you would have to do it to everyone if that were the case simply to ensure fairness on the playing field.

In-game advertisement isn’t anything new, but it usually comes in the form of product placement or streaming billboards. Having your gameplay yanked out from under you mid-stride is a bit of a new one. I don’t know about you, but I could do without that sort of annoyance in my gaming experience. It's unlikely that this will ever hit MMOGs...I hope, but the idea is still cringe-worthy for any genre.

I'll stress that at the moment, this is little more than a filed patent that has apparently been around since 2006. It could simply remain just that. For now, there's no word on it actually being put to use, but SCEA is obviously, at the very least, still interested in its possible applications.

Stay tuned and we’ll update you when we figure out exactly what it is SCEA is up to with this one and if it could potentially be adopted by SOE. Let's just hope that they never decide to use this with their other patent idea from 2003 to send information directly to the human brain.

How do you feel about game stopping advertisements? Tell us in the comments below. I'll get the fire extinguisher.

Sources: GamesIndustry.biz, Advertisement Scheme for Use with Interactive Content Patent

It all depends on how they implement it. People want their games free. Don't want the devs to sell things in item shops. Don't want to limit content based off paid/free subs. And now don't want advertising- ok. So you seem to want them to spend millions making games for your enjoyment because you're just so special apparently? I don't know. If it meant a totally free game, they could do it in a way as unobtrusive as possible. Perhaps having the game go into windowed mode, and have ad banners framing the window. Or a group pause feature. used only in pve zones, someone hits pause for whatever reason, and the game checks to see if everyone wants to use their 5 minute/hour break. Game shows ads while everyone goes to snag a beer or whatever. But like it or not, these games cost money and they must make money to exist. So players going to have to agree to something sometime, or won't be MMOs.

Just because they filed the patent doesn't mean they're going to do it. It may just mean they want a slice of the profits when someone else does it.

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