Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Counter-Strike 1.6 Ads Debate

As many know, in this weeks Steam update, in game advertisements were taken out of beta and added to Counter-Strike 1.6. This has launched a long debate about in game advertising. For those who haven't played recently, I took a couple of screen shots detailing the ads. Wall ads were added to de_dust, de_dust2 and de_aztec and ads were also added to the spectator view and on the scoreboard.

Wall Ads-

Spectator and scoreboard ads-

As you probably could predict, this has caused huge uproar in the CS community. There is a massive thread in the Steam forums on the subject. We first heard about ads coming to 1.6 a while back and the plans were detailed in an interview by CS-Nation with Doug Lombardi and ever since, the number of hurt feelings has been growing. Users are feeling neglected and alienated by a company growing more greedy. Below I've summarized the debate.

The arguments against the ads are:

  • Ads should only be in free games.
  • Valve shouldn't be allowed to put ads in after the fact. (ie. people knew when before they bought BF2142 that it would have in game ads)
  • Ads interfere with game play
  • Ads don't fit in.
  • Ads take away from tournaments and may show ads that conflict with the tournaments sponsors.
  • Server admins have no control over the ads.
Some of the arguments for are:
  • Valve can do whatever the !@#$% they want.
  • People buy a license to play the game, not an actual copy of the game. Valve can change what every they want.
  • Valve doesn't charge for the server software. Advertising helps recoup the cost of development.
  • This game is old and valve would like people to buy the newer Source version.
  • In everyday life there are ads on stuff we pay for like on the subway ride to work, cereal boxes, DVD's etc.
My thoughts:
  • Valve has the right to do what ever they want to the game but I think it is wrong on their end to make such a major change to game after it is has already been accepted by the community.
  • It was reckless on their part to release this on their most played game. Valve should have choosen a different game to test ads with.
  • Valve should give users something in exchange for putting in the ads, such as...
    • Lowering the price of the game. Knocking a dollar off the price of all of the packages that include CS 1.6 would nice move.
    • Fix some of the bugs. There has been only one update to the game in the last year. If people saw the revenue from the ads improving the game, they might stop complaining. There is a whole list of bugs that need to be fixed.
  • Server owners should get a cut of the ad revenue. Its their servers' that are running the ads. Run it like the way Google runs Adsense on Blogspot. Ads should be optional and allow the server admins to enable them on their servers if they would like to make a little spare change. Both parties win.
  • Valve needs to make the ads fit in better. The current ads are at least double the resolution of the map textures. Reduce the quality of the ads or give the community a nice texture update. Add some wear and tear to the wall ads like some dirt, pealing corners, rips and stains. In other environments, change existing textures like on the vending machines and crates. The Spectator and scoreboard ads should be semi transparent so you can see through them.
  • Even if I think it was bad choice to test ads on CS 1.6 ad least they were modest in the number of ads with about three or four per map. (Thank god they didn't do this)
  • As the Server Admin at the RHA LAN-O-THON, I want the right to decide if there are ads on my server. If Valve won't give me the ability to remove the ads at least give me the ability to choose the ads that do appear. At a LAN Party, if I have to show ads, I would rather have it only show valve's own ads and not an Intel or a Shampoo ad.
Valve is losing many customers over this but the million dollar question is will they loose enough customers to make them take the time and rethink the damage they have caused. I can only hope that they think carefully before integrating ads into any of their other existing games. Will people keep playing valve games? Yes! But will the community ever recover? Only time can tell.

In a recent interview, Gabe Newell (main dude at Valve) answered a few questions related my rant.
You mentioned the need to experiment - something that's been announced in the last week is in-game advertising in Counter-Strike. Why did you choose to do that now? I read an open letter from a server admin who made the point that he's hosting the game, so why shouldn't he expect a cut?

Well we're looking at a variety of ways of funding these development projects and it probably benefits us less than other kinds of developers. We're very successful with the retail model of large-scale projects; we could have just kept turning the crank on that. I think where advertising-supported projects will be interesting is the degree to which it continues, you know the same way Steam hopefully broadens... one of the issues that it solves is broadening the distribution of games like Red Orchestra, which deserve to reach an audience. I think that we're also going to start to see games that would struggle to get traditional publisher funding find that advertising is a great way of finding and developing an audience, and that's why we're putting the effort to make it possible for people to use Steam to do advertising-supported games. So we really see this as another option that we and other developers can use to figure out how to fund projects going forward. What I would hope to see is that small developers can give away their titles for free and garner ongoing development support by generating advertising revenue, and we've done all the work to make that possible through the work that we're doing in Counter-Strike. That's certainly the hope. Another aspect in addition to broadening monetisation options and funding options, especially for new developers, is the possibility of segmenting your audience. So any time you can give people more pricing options, that's always been a good idea. Some people will prefer it one way and some people will prefer it the other way, but it really requires us - especially as the technology provider that a lot of developers are starting to depend on - to do it first and get it out there, work out the kinks in the system so that they can then use it to trial things themselves.

But do you sympathise with, say, the guy in Germany hosting a CS server who wonders why he should pay to serve your ads? Is there a feeling that they could cut in on that income?

We haven't really thought about that. If they want to talk to us about it then they can. I think in general... there are between 150,000 and 180,000 servers around the world, so I think we've traditionally done a good job of supporting those people and giving them what they need to be excited about running and hosting servers. That's why it's an order of magnitude larger than any other server community for any other group. We're certainly always interested in engaging with any server operator to find out how we can do a better job.

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