List of video game product placement examples

Originally published at: List of video game product placement examples | Boing Boing


The ability for games to get paid for doing this is actually very new.

For the entire history of video games, they were considered trash by marketing people at big companies and it was the opposite of TV in how we could use them. If we wanted to show a brand in a game, we had to pay them. The costs were exorbitant, so the only games that did it were the few that really depended on the realism created by having real brands on display. This was general sports games and sim racers. Like, for a racing game to feel real, you need the real corporate sponsorship logos all over everything. Otherwise it’ll always feel a little cheesy and fake.

That’s changing. Enough old white men in marketing departments have died off now and the newer ones (current middle white-aged men) know that video games are big business, often with far more reach and way better potential to showcase a brand in a specific way than television. Forget about having an actor hold a Coke can for one second on camera. We can force the player to collect Coke cans for the right price.


The fraught history of blending marketing with games goes right back to the early 80s. Everyone talks about the terrible ET tie in as causing the American console crash, but that was just the tip of a massive branded iceberg of crap advergames that were shovelled out for the early Atari consoles.

Of course the marketers kept trying through the decades, with varying degrees of success. In the 90s one of the more successful combinations was James Pond 2 which linked it’s plot up with Penguin biscuits.
Another 90s oddity was Cool Spot, which was based around the 7-up mascot, but oddly enough, had to be localised by breaking the marketing link in places where the brand used a different character in its ads.


It’s funny because it’s pretty easy - and makes sense - to place ads in virtual versions of contemporary urban spaces (which have lots of advertising, obviously), yet games have almost always been extremely awkward about any sort of advertising. There was at least one MMO that had ad placements - I recollect when Anarchy Online, in the early 2000s introduced live ads, which were obviously for contemporary brands that were wildly out of place in the sci-fi setting. An online game I worked on had early plans, at least, to have billboards with real ads that revolved out, but it didn’t seem to happen - either the realities of setting up a whole ad network just for the game was too much, or not many brands wanted their products to be advertised in the setting of a post-apocalyptic hellscape… (I suspect it was a combination - the small amount of money brands were likely willing to pay didn’t make it cost effective to do it.)

Seems like I still see more promotional branded DLC for games, which is a lot pricier from a development perspective than plain old in-game ads or product placement. It’s weird (who actually wants, say, a Target store branded skin for their giant robot in a game?), though it avoids the problem of having incongruous ads/products in the game world.

Yeah, it’s always been weirdly backwards. Though I think a big part of it was that, for the longest time, the product placement for AAA games that made the most sense, given the limited nature of the games, were cars and weapons, and manufacturers of both were used to licensing out their product likenesses for toys, and so took out toy/game trademarks for their products. (It’s still really weird that makers of, say, military helicopters have claimed, “Oh yeah, our business involves making toys and games… even though we don’t actually make any.”)

Games get treated as toys rather than as speech (even though that’s settled in US law, at least). It’s so normalized that we’re at the point where a lot of gamers think that if you want a real product in not just games, but also movies and tv shows, you’re legally required to pay the makers of that product… (Even though this obviously makes no sense and no one could ever make a movie/tv show if this were the case.)

Yeah, the olden days of gaming, when it was cost effective to just make your own promotional game featuring your product and you might get enough sales to actually have a marketing impact, also had an influence on later ideas of product placement in games, even as the game market wildly shifted. I can’t think of the last time I saw a company doing a promotional “mini game,” though - the late '90s or very early 2000s (as web games)? I suppose now it’s promotional VR/AR experiences…


This is really a key thing. In many ways, console games have missed the window because ad sales became these insane algorithmic verticals in an automated virtual marketplace during the time that AAA games were being ignored by advertisers.

Now to put in ads in your game, you don’t create a billboard in GTA or whatever because you’d need an entire ad sales team to populate it and nobody would even talk to you when they can just click a button in their MoPub portal and get 30M impressions overnight instead. So games have to use the Doubleclick and Vungle libraries to get access to these automated markets, but those all have strict technical requirements for how ads can be shown and you have to use their code, all of which is aimed at mobile and won’t talk to your renderer. So AAA is locked out again, this time for technical reasons.

It’s conceivable that screen-space banner ads could come along formatted for console (which is how mobile does it), but the market is too small to really be worthwhile for them. With margins this thin and click-through rates this low, the break-even points on online ads are enormous. Tens of millions of impressions at least.


Yep - this particular game pre-dated the iPhone and modern mobile advertising, and the situation was still just as bad. Or maybe worse, as there wasn’t even a standardized mobile banner ad format* that could be adapted in the first place - advertisers would have had to come up with entirely new ads (even if they already had billboard/poster ads, they would need to be reformatted and might not work at the smaller display size…). So yeah, not really appealing to advertisers. Anarchy Online at least had tailored video ads (and maybe even interactive ads), and I’m not sure how well it worked out for them, either. I don’t recollect hearing anything about it after they rolled it out.

*Although web-centric ads often rely on click-throughs rather than providing a complete advertising experience, so placing them as in-game billboards is likely to be entirely useless for advertisers. The game world would be filled with nonsensical “click to find out more!” style messages where you wouldn’t even know what’s being advertised… Even if there was a way of sorting ads for the “correct type” that would actually work, the game environment is still a lot less valuable to the ad network than its usual environment.


Final Fantasy XV had more product placement than just Cup Noodle. Technically, an Audi wasn’t in the game, but the story was so split up among multiple pieces of media that Kingsglaive might as well have been required viewing. They still designed the world map around cars (and boats) instead of airships. If it had still been another sequel to FF13, it probably wouldn’t be compatible with cars.


any ideas on whether racing games pay for, or are paid by the car companies? ( i do know that’s why some racing games limit how much damage you can do to the cars: the manufacturers don’t like pictures of their cars in flames. but that’s the limit of my knowledge )

i’d also be curious who pays who for all the soccer and football games. i could see arguments both ways

outside of the games, i still remember when i first saw product tie ins: 7-11 slurpies with master chief’s head on the side. oh so strange.


I don’t know the current state of it, but historically the Gran Turismo series has paid car companies to use the vehicles, brands, and IP in the game. It cost a fortune, which is why only Sony would do it. It’s also why only GT had them, not Forza or the others. For the money Sony was putting down, they demanded exclusivity. That may have all reversed now though. It’s possible car companies pay to be included in that series now, since it’s so prestigious. I believe the in-game advertising on crash barriers and such is now paid for by the brands, again as opposed to the other way around as it used to be.


There were some notable exceptions.


I’m amazed at the nerve of whoever got the energizer sponsorship for Alan Wake. Batteries are basically the bullet analogs of the more supernatural bits of the game; and the game takes a very ‘survival horror’ stance on ammo; so they last downright comically short amounts of time when running a simple flashlight.

The more typical cars-in-racing-games and guns-in-shooters stuff may be rather crass; but you can at least see the logic of embedding your product as a mechanically satisfying tool of power fantasy rather than a deliberately unreliable scarce resource intended to make you feel weak, unprepared, and helpless.


My understanding is that sports games typically have the software publisher paying for the rights; that’s why the genre has settled into “EA Cynical Cash-in '03” having athletes you’ve heard of; and a variety of less prominent games populated by faceless bundles of statistics; but sometimes including either effort or a price tag that acknowledges their status as a less than premium product.


that’s a nice turn around for games, if maybe not for gamers. ( although considering that some people tune into the superb :owl: for the ads, maybe it lines up more with people’s expectations. which i guess is like you say, why games were paying the companies before: for the sake of realism. )

it also occurs to me that mobile is a whole other world, sometimes with heavy use of interstitial ads.

the main mobile “game” i’ve played on the regular is duolingo, and oh so many ads. ( ive given up on it now. the ads i will sit through. but not their new constrained learning path. i find it far too boring )


Fido Dido and Chester Cheetah had video games, as well. For a while, they were making the most random games (like the one starring Bill Clinton’s cat).

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I have fond memories playing Skittles’ Darkened Skye. It was much better than a candy company promo game had any right to be.


I honestly really liked Cool Spot. I still have the SNES cart

Favorite part was the bonus level where you’re bouncing around on bubbles in a 7up bottle.


Mobile isn’t just a different world, it’s the future. The freemium business model is something like 90% of all gaming by revenue now. “Real” gamers hate to hear this, but the AAA business model is dying. Slowly, but it is. The games are too big, too expensive, take too long to make, are largely too derivative, and they continue to try and cater to the same shrinking demographic of incel young men. Imagine if the entire movie industry was Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. How long would it last?

The niche of premium, interesting, original games will be taken over by indie. They are the 2000s HBO. Mobile is broadcast TV and will be the only thing most people know as “gaming” soon.

It’s not something I’m happy to see. Mobile games are trash with dark pattern cynical business models that should probably be illegal if the world was a just place. But having worked half my career in AAA and half in mobile, the trajectory of the industry is very very clear (unless something disruptive happens, such as changes in law around these business practices).


The Burger King king wasn’t just a character in a boxing game, there was a whole series of Burger King games. They were all pretty terrible except for Sneak King which was actually pretty fun.

Sneak King was also hard AF in the later levels.

I always found the Energizer endorsement in Alan Wake to be … odd. The batteries you have to use to stay alive drain really fast so you’re constantly needing to look for new ones. Seems like kind of a weird way to advertise your product. “Use Energizer batteries, they drain super quick!” Alan Wake also had a ton of Lincoln product placement too. The remaster removed all of it.

I was surprised there was no mention of Yo Noid!, Cool Spot, or the legendary Pepsiman.

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Unsurprisingly, it’s hard to get a straight answer, but it looks like the expectation is still that the game maker has to pay to license a car from a manufacturer, but it seems to vary a lot. I suspect some manufacturers have deals along the lines of “we won’t charge you for the license for they cars, but you have to include the new model blahblah car”.
I’d guess that a manufacturer like Ferrari probably charge a lot, and have many stipulations, whereas Ford seem to be happy having everything from a Transit to a GT40 in games, as long as their new models get included too.


Porsche is well-known for charging exorbitant fees to have its products in games which is why you rarely see them. Instead you see tuner brands like RUF.