Advertising cowboys and the new Wild West

Advertising cowboys and the new Wild West
David Braben

By David Braben

April 20th 2012 at 10:00AM

David Braben speaks out on controversial advertising practices used by games developers

Advertisers are leaving traditional channels in droves and moving to the internet, and becoming a lot more aggressive as they do so.

It appears their respect for decency – and in some cases possibly the law – seems to have been left behind. Here are two aspects, both apparently new in the last year or so that are pretty shocking, to me at least.

COMMERCIAL PIRACY

I was shocked when I followed a reference in a tweet about a pirated version of one of our iPhone/iPad games, LostWinds, to find a link to download a cracked version of the game and an advert for big name brands right alongside – essentially stolen versions of our game were being used – albeit indirectly via an agency – by big brands to entice users to view ads for their products.

In my opinion, this is pretty shocking, but for once the law has something to say about it.

My understanding of the Law of Agency in many countries, including England and Wales, is that in most respects if an agent is doing something on behalf of their principal, then as far as the law is concerned the principal themselves are effectively doing it, as their agent can be considered to be standing in their shoes.

That ‘principal’ may well have a complaint with their agent, but that is not the problem of the third party.

If this continues to happen, this might just be a helpful route to discourage such practice of big business thinking the actions of their ad agencies or the sites their agents fund on their behalf are nothing to do with them.

Doubtless this is happening with other pirated games too, and not just LostWinds. As an industry we need to be vigilant.

The particular site in question has now been taken down, but as an industry we need to crack down on it hard as what amounts to commercial piracy like this will kill online sales with time.

COMMERICAL SHADY DEALING

There is another practice I find pretty shocking. Have you ever followed a shortened link, the sort you see a great deal on services like Twitter?

I heard from a company selling targeted internet advertising that such shortened links can (and do) capture all sorts of data from the machines that use those links – not just from the person using the service to shorten the link but from everyone that clicks on it thereafter.

I am astonished if this is legal, as there is no way when using these links to opt out of the resultant marketing that can follow, as the information can be harvested at the point of first use, so any after-the-event opt out is too late as the data will already have spread far and wide.

This sort of behaviour will damage people’s trust, and seems to run roughshod over data protection legislation.

As a rule, our industry has a great, trusting relationship with our fans, and up to now there have been relatively few cases of it being abused.

Fundamentally, the internet can be a great venue for advertising, but we need to be very careful as an industry how we embrace it.

Because we could be embracing an advertising boa constrictor.