Brace yourself, EA is thinking real hard about inserting ads into its videogames

 A car parked in front of an array of billboards.
A car parked in front of an array of billboards.

In his office at EA, Andrew Wilson sits dreaming. Specifically, the CEO is dreaming about ways to deliver ads to EA players, up to (and including) potentially sticking them into the corporation's $60/$70, "AAA" videogames.

That's per a recent earnings call between Wilson and EA investors (via Tom's Hardware), in which the EA boss was asked if there were plans "for more dynamic ad insertion across more traditional AAA games." Wilson's answer? "We have teams internally in the company right now looking at how do we do very thoughtful implementations inside of our game experiences." Gulp.

To be clear, it sounds like EA's efforts at in-game ads are still very much in the drawing board stage, but Wilson is clear that it's something the company is dedicating a fair bit of brainpower to.

"As we think about the many, many billions of hours spent, both playing, creating, watching and connecting and where much of that engagement happens to be on the bounds of a traditional game experience, our expectation is that advertising has an opportunity to be a meaningful driver of growth for us," Wilson told investors.

In less flowery terms, that reads as: Loads of people play our games and we sure could make bank if we showed them ads. And, to be fair, things like this have existed in games for a while. There were Duracell batteries scattered around Alan Wake, real-life ads on Burnout: Paradise billboards, ads in Street Fighter 5, and—the one that stands out most strongly in my memory as an immersive sim sicko—ads in the loading screen for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Plus, of course, the EA Sports FC (née FIFA) series has had the ads you'd expect at a real-life soccer game in them for ages.

For plenty of people, that's all totally fine so long as it's not garish and unobtrusive, and Wilson tells investors EA is being "very thoughtful" as it considers the potential of slotting ads into its games. Then again, the company does have a track record of some less-than-subtle advertising in the games it's already released. In 2020—as Tom's Hardware notes—EA came under fire for full-screen ads for The Boys in UFC 4, which were later removed. Perhaps it's learnt its lesson?

I suspect this is something EA will experiment with, looking to find ways to pull it off that don't annoy (too many) players, and that's what Wilson means by being "thoughtful". Personally? I don't like ads no matter how unobtrusive, and especially in games I've already forked over full price for. Call me old-fashioned, but I think videogame televisions shouldn't have real ads on them, they should only be used for episodes of Address Unknown and the entire length of To Kill A Mockingbird.