by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">

by Brian Clayton (General Manager, NCsoft NorCal Studios) and
Matt “Positron” Miller (Senior Lead Designer, City
of Heroes)

In-game advertisements are often an extremely serious issue. Community
opinion of in-game ads often runs in a black and white spectrum, a
love/hate sort of relationship. So when the developers of style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes
announced that they would be placing real world ads on the billboards
in their MMOG, the entire massively multiplayer industry perked up to
see how their community would respond. As gamers continue to href="">voice
their opinions on the CoH forums, Ten Ton Hammer’s
“Micajah” Bye sat down with Brian Clayton and Matt
“Positron” Miller to find out exactly why the
NCsoft NorCal studio opted to place in-game ads into their MMOG.

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href=""> src="/image/view/30172/preview" width="200">

An example of one of
NCsoft's upcoming in-game ads.

Ten Ton Hammer: When the
announcement was made that City of Heroes was moving to an in-game
advertising model to generate some extra revenue for the design team,
it was fairly evident that the decision had been a long time in the
making. How long had the team thought about moving to in-game ads?

style="font-weight: bold;">Brian Clayton:
We’ve really been thinking about this sort of move ever since
the launch of City of Heroes. Once the client had proven itself to be
successful, the advertisers came running. Of course, it’s not
our business to do in-game advertising, and there wasn’t any
advertisers working with MMOs as partners. So we’d been
thinking about it and trying to find a way that works for our customers
and business. After years of revisiting the idea, we finally found a
good partner in Double Fusion.

Ten Ton Hammer: Has the
focus been on in-game ads mainly because City of Heroes is more of a
“modern” game than anything else on the market?

style="font-weight: bold;">Matt Miller: It was
really just a logical fit for us. We already had a lot of fake
billboards in the game, and we really much prefer those to be real to
enhance the immersion. The billboards we first included in the game are
obviously fake and some are meant to be funny, but it makes sense for
us to put real advertisements up to make the city feel more real and
more alive.

style="font-style: italic;">With our in-game advertiser, we
actually have the ability to rotate out our ads, which is something we
haven’t been able to do before.

Ten Ton Hammer: How is
revenue actually generated from the ads? Do players need to just flip
the switch and choose to view the ads?

style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">Matt style="font-style: italic;">: It’s generated by
actual impressions in the game world. We’ve got ways of
tracking whether a players sees an ad or not, and that will be how the
money is generated.

Ten Ton Hammer: How did
you select Double Fusion as your ad partner?

style="font-weight: bold;">Brian: First and
foremost, we felt it was very important to implement advertising in an
optional way. Double Fusion understands that, and they feel that it
brings more value to the advertiser if customers are willing to see the
ad. By having the ads be optional helps insure that the customers are
willing to see the ads in our world.

Double Fusion also gives us full control over what ads actually go into
the game. A lot of advertisers won’t give you that sort of
control. It’s not always necessarily about the dollars and
cents; it’s really about the immersion and the experience of
the game for our customers.

Those two criteria alone were strong factors in working with Double
Fusion. We also think they’re a very sharp group of people,
and we know that they can bring in the types of advertisements that are
relevant to our game and customers. We think that we’ve
finally found that really solid partnership.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are you
considering other forms of advertisements in the game world aside from
just billboards? Things like soda machines or other forms of product

style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">Matt style="font-style: italic;">: The first phase is definitely
just doing the billboard advertising route and switching out the
graphics on those billboards that are already in the game. In the
future, we’re looking at adding some more billboards to
areas, especially high traffic areas, that don’t currently
have any billboards. But the first thing we want to make sure of is
that they fit within the game world. You won’t be seeing a
pair of billboards on top of City Hall just because players tend to
congregate there. We want to put the billboards up in logical spaces.
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As we go forward from
there, if opportunities present themselves for other types of
advertising that’s going to be none exploitive and
unobtrusive, we’ll definitely look into it.

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href=""> src="/image/view/30171/preview" width="200">

Another in-game ad

Ten Ton Hammer: Do you
believe there will be any sort of fallout from the advertising deal?
Will subscription numbers be impacted at all?

style="font-style: italic;"> style="font-weight: bold;">Matt: We definitely
hope that subscription numbers aren’t going to be impacted at
all, and that’s the reason why we made it optional. We want
to give players that option to turn the ads off if they feel so
strongly about advertisements in their games and continue to play the
game like they normally had been in the past.
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Those players will still
reap the benefits from any money that is earned through this process,
but they don’t have to deal with the ads if they
don’t want to. We hope that there’s absolutely no
fallout from this decision, and it’s really the reason why we
put in that optional switch.

style="font-weight: bold;">Brian: And to just
be clear, if we really thought there was any potential to lose
customers over this, we wouldn’t have done it. We think that
the optional switch is also very compelling to the advertiser since
obviously those players in the game who leave the ads on are willing to
view those advertisements.

We feel that the one factor (the optional switch) gives players full
control over their experience, which is something that we always strive
to do within the City of Heroes universe.

I’d also like to make one other point regarding the revenue
itself. Generally, what businesses do is take a percentage of their
revenue and reinvest it back into their products and services. We do
that as a business as well.

However, with the in-game advertising, there’s no percentage
of revenue that’s going back into the business. One hundred
percent of the revenue that’s generated from the in-game ads
is pushed back into the development team and the game. What’s
great about that is that customers have an additional way to support
the product and service that they love without ever having to open up
their wallets. There’s really very few opportunities in the
world where the customer can do that.

It really is a huge win if the customers support this campaign.
Frankly, it’s more important to us that the customers enjoy
the game that they’re currently participating in. So if
in-game advertising isn’t for them, we have zero issues with
the customer opting out. Whatever works for them is what we want them
to do.

To close out this particular topic, I think there’s some
speculation that at some point we’ll change from making this
an optional idea to making advertising required.

I have zero interest in doing that. The development team has zero
interest in that. This is not an icebreaker to get people to buy into
the idea then force it upon them at a later point. Our expectations are
that in-game advertisements are 100% optional for as long as
we’re going to be having in-game ads in City of Heroes.

Ten Ton Hammer: Speaking
of money, I think a lot of the current players are interested to know
where the money is going. In your article, you talk about ramping up
the team size and that sort of thing. Is most of the money going to go
towards hiring more employees or something else? How is the money going
to be used?

style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">Matt style="font-style: italic;">: Back in February, we released
a wedding pack, which generated some additional revenue for us, and I
was able to take that revenue and get the Villain Epic Archetypes into
Issue 12 when they were originally scheduled for Issue 13. I can
directly point at that micro transaction and say that it allowed us to
implement a feature faster than normal.
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I’d love to do
the same thing with the advertising money that comes in and say that
these particular features have been made possible through the in-game
ads. We’ll see if that’s possible when the in-game
ads show up. We really have no idea how much money the ads are going to
bring in.

style="font-weight: bold;">Brian: In-game
advertising in MMOs is in its infancy. There haven’t been any
major success stories. We would love if this plan worked out for us and
we could grow the development team and the product. We think this is a
perfect opportunity to do just that.

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href=""> src="/image/view/28702/preview" width="200">

Thankfully the CoH
developers know better than to put a billboard in ancient Rome.

Ten Ton Hammer: In your
article, Brian, you discussed expanding the size of the CoH team. Can
you give us a hint as to what you’re preparing to expand for?

style="font-weight: bold;">Brian: We really
haven’t made any formal announcements yet, but we have huge
plans for the future of the franchise. I think anyone that is reading
between the lines can see that City of Heroes is still strong and
growing, but why in the heck would NCsoft buy just the current state of
City of Heroes? We expect, within the next few months, that
we’ll be able to make some of these huge announcements and
let people know where we’re going with the franchise and what
we want to do with it in the future.

But having a revenue stream, like advertising, that doesn’t
require the customer to put forth any money is a great opportunity for
both us and the community to help accomplish these larger goals.

Ten Ton Hammer: When
should we start seeing these in-game ads?

style="font-weight: bold;">Brian: Summer 2008
is still the targeted time frame for release on the live servers. Those
players on our test servers will probably start to see some of our test
ad campaigns on their server to prepare for the launch of in-game ads.
That said, the in-game ads will come after the launch of Issue 12 and
will likely be a month or so after that.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there
anything else you’d like to tell the Ten Ton Hammer readers
and your community about City of Heroes and/or the in-game ads?

style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">Matt style="font-style: italic;">: I’m really just
excited to see where the in-game ads can propel the franchise. I know
that I have big plans and my other designers have big plans, and
we’re also hiring a bunch of people. It’s really a
very exciting time for the entire company.

style="font-weight: bold;">Brian: And
I’ll follow that up by saying that the community is
– by and large – very supportive. We’ve
gone to great lengths to make this an awesome opportunity for them. In
no way are we trying to put pressure or any sort of guilt on the
community, and we want them to have the experience that they desire.
Some of them are genuinely interested in seeing real world ads and feel
that it does build the immersion factor.

However, at the end of the day, it’s their choice,
we’re comfortable with whatever decision they make, and we
hope that the additional revenue can help us expand the City of Heroes
resources more quickly than we might otherwise be able to do.

On top of that, in a few months you guys will be hearing all about our
future plans for the City of Heroes franchise!

Is City of Heroes the
right MMOG for in-game ads? Do you think other MMOGs should follow
their example? href="">Let
us know on the forums!

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our City of Villains Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016