Advertising and sponsored content in games is not new. Real life products have been sponsored in games for many years, usually in ways that don’t feel too shameless. In the case of freemium games, advertising can be one of the main ways the game makes money. However, the way that Capcom is utilising ads in Street Fighter V feel… rather off-putting.
To elaborate, this week Capcom allowed the player to enable ads for the Capcom Pro Tour in Street Fighter V. These ads are seen in various forms, such as loading screen messages, background details in certain stages and, most galling, on the characters themselves. According to Capcom, this is “to remind you about costumes, bundles and the Capcom Pro Tour”. Well, they certainly do that.
Now, this is still completely optional, and players can turn off the jarring product placement if they prefer. However, to entice players to enable the ads, players earn extra Fight Money (the in-game currency) when the ads are turned on. The game is already pretty stingy with how it doles out Fight Money in the base game, particularly once the player has levelled up enough.
Even though the amount earned from enabling the advertising is admittedly a pittance compared to other means of earning currency, the fact that Capcom are bribing players to place incredibly obvious advertising material into their game is still sleazy and weird.
It isn’t too hard to ignore the loading screen messages and the stage details, but the fact that the ads mar what are otherwise iconic character designs is incredibly crass. Seeing the Capcom Pro Tour emblem emblazoned over M. Bison’s chest and Dhalsim’s skull necklace (which, I remind you, is made of the skulls of village children who died in a plague, according to his Street Fighter wiki page) is rather creepy. It may be just Capcom shilling its own product right now, where does this practice end? Fans haven’t exactly been welcoming of this new move by Capcom.
Capcom are using the tactics of freemium games to get players invested, to pressure them into either buying microtransactions or grinding for weeks to earn Fight Money. The addition of Loot Boxes hasn’t helped. The obvious difference being that Street Fighter V is not a free mobile game, but instead a full-price AAA fighting game.
Whilst they haven’t started pressuring players into watching ads for other brands, somehow that particular move doesn’t sound too unlikely anymore. Sure, you can just ignore the ads and skip the bonus currency, but the fact that Capcom is using one of its most iconic games to advertise to paying players is still a strange and unsettling move.