Nice post. Tideyman’s?

Killed in a smiling accident is brought to you in association with Tideyman’s Carpets. Remember, nothing soaks in to a Tideyman’s!

Advertising. Its creeping, insidious presence is getting everywhere, it seems. Rest assured, though, this blog will always be a haven of product-placement-free tranquillity, and will return after these messages from our sponsor…

Tideyman’s Carpets: nobody walks all over us. Except people who buy Tideyman’s Carpets! And then walk all over them.

Last week, there was an NCSoft announcement introducing in-game advertising for City of Heroes. Needless to say, this prompted a brief, polite discussion on the forum for a couple of days before everyone returned to deconstructing Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. No, hang on, I’m thinking of something else there… It naturally prompted a wide ranging and frequently heated debate ranging over advertising, product placement, privacy concerns, the ultimate meaning of life, and whether one can, in fact, haz cheezburger.

I’m somewhat ambivalent myself. I can certainly see the point of the anti-advertising lobby (especially when articulated by the great Bill Hicks), but on the basis that the genie won’t go back in the bottle, I can generally live with product placement and adverts so long as they aren’t too intrusive; I don’t really mind what kind of watch James Bond wears, but pointing it out in dialogue is a bit clunky (the recent version of Casino Royale: “Rolex?” “Omega” “CHA-CHING”!) There’s a post about adverts in Brothers In Arms, a bit of a puff piece, but at least it shows they try and blend things into the environment; I can even buy the argument that they’re doing players a favour in making things more realistic. The City of Heroes adverts should be fairly similar, placed on billboards that already exist in-game. Sounds fairly reasonable, and there’ll be an option to turn them off if they turn out to be particularly garish.

Potentially more insidious than the mere presence of adverts in an online game is the possibility of associated data gathering. Now, in general, I like the idea of targeted advertising, so long as it’s based on information I volunteer myself and I know what I’m letting myself in for. If I search for hatstands on Google, it’s sometimes helpful when it pops up a sponsored “BUY HATSTANDS HERE!” link (as an option, if I want to look there). I think Amazon’s “My Store” is pretty nifty, suggesting things I might like based on what I’ve bought/rated, though it shows a distinct lack of imagination (“After buying a Radiohead album, you reckon I might like… every other Radiohead album? Steady on there, Amazon, let’s not go too crazy!”) It’s not a huge leap from there, though, to the looming shadow of the Panopticon, where the insurance company can check your online shopping from the supermarket and raise health insurance premiums because of all the high fat food you’re buying, and you lose out on a job because the employer found some embarrassing photos of you on Facebook. The recent revelations about Phorm in the UK (today’s exciting instalment) show it’s not exactly tin-foil helmet stuff, the amount you need to worry depending on how far you believe Phorm’s assurances about anonymity (general conclusion would seem to be: not very). Again, though, there doesn’t seem to be too much to worry about that in City of Heroes, I don’t believe it has any interaction with the rest of your ‘net use, so won’t run into the dangers Penny Arcade warn of…

I’ll give the adverts in CoH a go, if it means more money for NCSoft to invest in the game, so much the better, but I hope it’s not the start of a slippery slope, there’s nothing worse than terrible, blatant advertising, so don’t forget: when you think carpets, think Tideyman’s, the deep shag that really satisfies.