Microsoft is planning to allow ads in free-to-play Xbox games

Apr 18, 2022

Microsoft is reportedly working on a way to show ads in free-to-play Xbox games. A report reveals that the tech giant is working with adtech companies to build an ad network for in-game inventories.

Microsoft is planning to allow ads in free-to-play Xbox games

You get what you pay for. This is why many free-to-play games are seen as cash grabs with in-app purchases aka microtransactions for loot boxes, skins, in-game currency and companies rake in massive profits from live services. For example, Epic Games' Fortnite netted them over $9 Billion in its first two years alone. That's more money than most premium games make over their lifetime. So, you can see why companies opt to make such titles, and ads can definitely contribute to their coffers.

Microsoft wants to allow advertises to promote their products in free-to-play Xbox games

Microsoft already has an ad system in place on the Xbox dashboard, via Yahoo and Anzu. The new venture, which reportedly has been in the works since around 2018-2019, will likely open the door to more advertisers. An article by Business Insider (paywall), via Kotaku, says that the new system could go live by the 3rd quarter of this year, and that the Redmond company may not take a cut from the ad revenue. That means it could be up to the developers to decide whether to show ads or not. The upcoming ad network will display digital billboards like in a car racing game.

This isn't the first time a game company has tried this. Back in the 2000s, an ad company called Massive Incorporated, provided a way for brands to buy ad space to be promoted in the game's billboard ads. Microsoft acquired this company to explore this idea, though it was shuttered in a few years. Saints Row 2, Burnout Paradise, Madden NFL all had digital ad placements, and this was before the boom of free-to-play games and smartphones became the norm.

Some studios partner with a brand to promote its products in the game, like Death Stranding did with Monster Energy drink, though it has since been replaced with a generic in-game brand after their license expired. Product placements like these won't annoy people since they sort of blend in with the game, and aren't distracting. The report claims that Microsoft is concerned about ads irritating people while playing games on consoles, and wants to create "a private marketplace", that only allows ads from specific brands, without disrupting the gameplay. Hopefully this means no video ads, pop-ups or interstitials (full screen ads).

And then there is the question of privacy, Microsoft collects a lot of data with telemetry on Windows and Bing search queries. But it doesn't want advertisers to do the same, it wants to provide a system that prevents targeted ads by protecting user data. Microsoft acquired two companies recently, that could help build its ad network, Xander (from AT&T), and Activision Blizzard, which has an ad network in its platform.

If Microsoft did try something like this on PC, users can easily bypass it by editing the hosts file, or using a system-wide ad blocking program like AdGuard for Windows. Console users don't get access to such methods. Perhaps using something like PiHole or a DNS service could be a workaround for this annoyance, but these aren't readily available solutions for most users.

Some sites are reporting the news as Xbox games will have ads, but the keyword here, is "free-to-play games". I doubt that it will affect premium games for purchase and Gamepass titles, at least not single player, offline PC games, not without angering the majority of gamers anyway. This could however lead to other gaming companies to take strides in creating private ad marketplaces.

Microsoft wants to show ads in free-to-play Xbox games
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Microsoft wants to show ads in free-to-play Xbox games
Microsoft is reportedly planning to allow ads in free-to-play Xbox games. The tech giant is building a private marketplace to allow select brands to promote their products.
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  1. tar rant chew lah said on April 20, 2022 at 8:36 am

    Ads are an abomination.

    But, I guess if you’re stupid enough to still be using a M$ product, well, to quote The Joker, “YOU GET WHAT YOU FUCKING DESERVE.”

  2. KKorg said on April 19, 2022 at 2:06 am

    Doesn’t seem bad at all if they allowed it, some developers might abuse of the ads but not all. There should be many ways for developers to monetize and as long as it is not annoying then it should be okay.

    For example on PC, Paladins offers a way to watch ads, they give you garbage rewards to do it, because I am sure they get decent $ for it, but they don’t offer the same to Xbox consoles, but well, if we talk about how dumb consoles ecosystems are, we can say how Paladins can’t even have cross-progress with Playstation because Sony doesn’t allow, so opening a little the consoles shouldn’t be seen as negative.

    Of course you will expect even AAA games to show ads, they already do it in some ways when you go to a game and see a product placement or something, just like how they also show propaganda and display messages that you wouldn’t think should be in a game because why would people want that crap in the game, but I expect them to release more direct ads and stuff, because if they charge you $60 for a game today and they still see how they sell you boxes and cosmetics and battlepasses and anything like that, then I expect them to abuse ads systems as well, not all, since they don’t abuse ads on PC, but there will be exceptions.

    This could be good for indie ones though, the ones that with low budget bring interesting games and don’t get much selling but offering games free with ads could be a good way to force people to ‘unlock’ pro versions for the same amount they would buy the normal game for $10 or whatever, just like happens in mobile with the ‘pro’ apps.

  3. Yash said on April 18, 2022 at 8:01 pm

    Well nothing is free. You get what you paid for. In free games case you pay more than the minimum necessary with the extra not going in game developers pocket in long run.

  4. John G. said on April 18, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    I don’t mind about ads meanwhile the software are still free. For example, the problem is to pay 150€ to get a Microsoft Office license in W11 and then you get a lot of telemetry, fully bloatware and the weirdest funcionality ever tasted. No problem with ads for me if the other things still worth the pain. Thanks for the article! :]

    1. SpongeBomb said on April 19, 2022 at 1:55 am

      @John G.
      Imagine living in a world where the article talks about ads and you have to rant about something that has nothing to do with the article just because apparently people needs to stick to their weird anti-Microsoft rhetoric and don’t even stick to the subject of the article.

      1. You don’t even pay 150 nothing of any software and less office, since it doesn’t even cost that, which proves you don’t even use it or pay for it… it costs 100€ the family personal version and 69 the normal individual version.

      2. Office works, so what are you complaining about? oh yeah, I forgot you don’t even use it…. but to be honest Office 365 is worth it for the 1tb, excel and few the other apps like that you get in the business version, not just for word or powerpoint… people who pay office 365 to use word are just dumb.

      3. Anyway… this is about ADS and you are just ranting like a clown about Office 365 which is not about ads at all.
      And even if this is not about Office and office doesn’t have ads…. what about showing proof Microsoft telemetry is dangerous? and it is spying on you? and it is submitting everything to your gov? or Microsoft is making money out of your words and excel documents?
      People love to talk about how all these companies love to spy you, but the small ones or the open source projects never would do it, when they talk about privacy it is sacred word, but nobody has ever provided any proof of Microsoft stealing anyone’s word document, or someone getting FBI visit because they wrote a word document with the perfect plan to rob a bank or explode a bomb to kill a whole town or a shooting or anything like that or any drug activity or anything like that.
      Show proof… if not, maybe it is time to shut up about the telemetry…. which is not even hard to block since even Windows have something called FIREWALL, and but there are many other 3rd party firewalls, hardware and software and other ways to allow the necessary connections and block anything that is not needed to share to Microsoft… but can you even do a simple thing? I doubt it.

      You probably can’t even provide what is this ‘bloat’ you talk about in Office… Do you even know what ‘bloat’ means at this point? or you just want to join the caravan of braindead people who parrot anything to look cool on the internet? and bloat compared to what? to the other office suites that barely do anything against Excel for example?

      Anyway this is about ads, seems like you can’t even distinguish between ads and features and telemetry… you can’t even say the real price of a product because you are making crap up.
      Of course, since you are so unhappy with it, then why are you even paying for it? I doubt you do… so if not, why do you even complain?

      Seems like you didn’t even read the article but only read the headline and jumped to complain about anything you could about Microsoft. * [Editor: removed, please stay polite]

      1. John G. said on April 19, 2022 at 8:53 am

        Office Home and Office Business price is between 150$ and 250$. If you don’t know even the price of them you should not defend it at such the way you have done. Anyway here in Ghacks there is freedom to comment whatever about the article, and so I did. Of course I can complain about Office and Windows 10/11 because they are not free of cost. And also I repeat what I think about ads: I like ads meanwhile the other things still worth the pain. Only a fanboy could defend Microsoft considering its lack of respect to the user. And please, do have a nice day. Thanks! :]

      2. ruler is straight said on April 20, 2022 at 2:15 pm

        Can you show me the dangerous of Microsoft telemetry in Office than your Ad telemetry from free office suites like Google Doc?

  5. Paul(us) said on April 18, 2022 at 7:15 pm

    ” I doubt that it will affect premium games for purchase and Gamepass titles, at least not single-player, offline PC games”

    I think you are boundlessly underestimating the greed of shareholders.
    Currently, the technical implication is still being worked on.
    But when it is estimated that the user is used to the advertisements, the next earnings model is switched to.
    The privacy model is also increasingly being violated. The last 45 years have proven that.

  6. Tachy said on April 18, 2022 at 6:09 pm

    “We estimate we can sell up to 80% of an individual’s visual field before inducing seizures…”

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