In-game ads backfire in violent games - Study

University of Texas research indicates gamers have significantly worse recollection, perception of brands advertised in guns-and-gore software.


Save for a few rare instances, gamers haven't been keen on seeing real-world advertisements populate their fantasy adventures. However, that dislike may amount to more than just a minor irritation when it comes to violent games. According to a new research study, ads that appear in violent games actually have a detrimental effect on the brand being sold.

Blood spots on the left were replaced by water spots on the right.
Blood spots on the left were replaced by water spots on the right.

Conducted at the University of Texas, the study was authored by doctoral candidate Seung-Chul Yoo and assistant professor Jorge Pena. It will appear in the July/August issue of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking and is said to be the first to link "increased video game violence and impaired in-game ad effectiveness."

Two groups participated in the study. The first group navigated a number of rooms that included blood spots on the floor, while being assailed by computer-controlled characters wielding weapons. The second group was presented with a nonviolent take on the same situation, with players walking through rooms with water spots and encountering empty-handed computer-controlled characters. In the violent version of the scenario, participants were also wielding weapons.

[CORRECTION:] This article originally reported that participants in the study observed, but did not interact with, the violent and nonviolent imagery onscreen. In actuality, participants controlled a character that was either being shot at in the blood-soaked environments or not being shot at in identical water-soaked rooms. GameSpot regrets the error.

After the demo ended, participants were asked to recall the brands advertised as well as relate their perceptions of those brands. The study found that those who witnessed the violent scenario had a significantly lower score when it came to brand recall and perception.

Women in particular had a negative response to the violent game. Study authors postulated the reason for this as being that women typically have less experience with violent games or that men who more often play these types of games have become desensitized to the violence.

Yoo and Pena concluded that violent content not only pulls players' attention away from ads, but also creates a subconscious link between negative imagery and the brand. They said that a similar effect has been observed in violent television programs as compared to nonviolent TV shows.

"Advertising campaign planners would do better to spend their budget on ads embedded in nonviolent video games than in ads placed within violent video games; particularly if they are trying to reach women," said Yoo.

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