Product Placement in Video Games… Part2: Answers and More Questions

For some players, authenticity and realistic games go with brand, so without the brands  in them, the video games would seem odd.

Gaming on consoles, PCs or mobile devices has gained popularity among the American and Canadian population. The age and gender distinction between the gamers is not as wide as it used to be; however, gamers under the age of 18 still represent a significant number of the video gamers (around 29% in 2017 pursuant an American study). Brand holders or marketers deliberately target those customers by using video games to reach them. With new technologies and internet connectivity, advertising has taken different forms. For example, “Advergaming” is where a game is designed to clearly advertise a specific product and/or company. More integrated product placements are called “in-game advertising”. The static form is an integrated and programmed advertising directly into the game and it cannot be changed. The dynamic form, also inside the video game, is implemented in real-time, like on a billboard, in the game showing advertisement.

In Canada, the advertising practices are regulated by acts and self-regulations. The Competition Act prohibits false or misleading representation in commercial promotions at large. The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards provides, pursuant section 12, that “advertising that is directed to children must not exploit their credulity, lack of experience or their sense of loyalty, and must not present information or illustrations that might result in their physical, emotional or moral harm. […]”. In addition, in the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice published by the Canadian Marketing Association has special consideration for children (under 13 years of age) and teenagers. Commercial advertisements are not prohibited, but marketers “must not exploit children’s credulity, lack of experience or sense of loyalty” or “exploit teenagers’ impressionability, or susceptibility to peer or social pressures”. However, it is explicitly noted in that code, under the section regarding broadcast as specific media, that “product placement within entertainment programming is acceptable”. In addition of these rules, there are some particularities for the province of Quebec. The Quebec Consumer Protection Act,  subjected to some exceptions (sections 248, 249 of the act and sections 87 to 91 of the Regulation respecting the application of the Consumer Protection Act), prohibits commercial ads directed to children under the age of 13,. The Supreme Court of Canada, in Irwin Toy Ltd. V. Quebec (Attorney) General [1989], found constitutional this limitation in the Quebec law. The Office de la protection du Consommateur du Québec has published an application guide for commercial advertising directed at children. In it, they used, as an example of prohibited advertising, the case of an advergaming by a cereal company aimed at children.

For what I understand, product placement is acceptable without any particular disclosure or precaution. Whether we should request stricter regulation is still a legitimate claim; as whether we should treat differently children, teenagers, and adults.

Commercial communication is obviously an important matter, but ideological communication concerns me more.

We discussed moral rights on several occasions during the last weeks. The author has the right to the integrity of the work (s.14.1 Copyright act); he or she could object to alteration of his/her work if it is prejudicial the author’s “honour or reputation” (s.28.2 Copyright act). In situation of dynamic in-game advertising, I doubt that commercial communication would cause that prejudice to the artist. In contrast, political or military or social communication might cause it. My concerns are divided. A no commercial  communication should benefit a greater protection under freedom of expression right. In the other hand, the harmfulness of that communication has to be considered. Games, like America’s Army and Special Force, promote military enrolment; survival games, as This War of Mine, force players to make moral choices to progress into the game; other games emulate social and sexual behavior. This summer, Steam removed, from its store, the House Party for a week for its sexual content. Shall we let private companies decide what it should be commercialized or censured? Do we give more confidence to private corporations then to governments? Should we request less paternalism and not restrict individual autonomy? Or is private intervention justified?

One response to “Product Placement in Video Games… Part2: Answers and More Questions”

  1. piersfib

    I was quite surprised to learn that the United States Army would develop and publish its very own video game. If you go onto the game’s website — — you can read more about the game’s features, what is included in its latest updates, or connect with other players on the online forum. Also on the website, though, are links to the Army’s website (the actual, real life United States Army), with job descriptions, benefits, and other enticements for joining the military.

    The website describes the gaming experience as follows: “Engage in small unit tactical maneuvers and training that echoes true-to-life Army scenarios”. I think it’s very dangerous for anyone to suggest that playing a video game can be anything like experiencing real combat. What’s more, having looked at several gameplay videos for America’s Army, to me it is strikingly similar to other military first person shooter games like Call of Duty or Battlefield. For example, in America’s Army, you can revive killed teammates by applying a bandage and performing a single CPR compression. In no way could this be considered “echoing true-to-life Army scenarios”.

    For me, the logic behind regulating in-game advertising would speak strongest against permitting this type of “advergaming”. No video game, no matter how realistic or immersive, can replicate the experience of actually serving in the military. Well-trained and professional militaries are vital to a country’s national defence, and I have the utmost respect for those who chose to serve. But they are demanding, difficult, and dangerous jobs, and nobody should be misled into thinking that life in the military will be similar to playing on your computer.