Assassin’s Creed’s In-Game Ad “Error” Is A Sign Of Things To Come

Highlights

  • Ubisoft faces backlash for injecting Black Friday pop-up ads into Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, raising concerns about in-game advertising practices.
  • The introduction of in-game pop-up ads may be an indicator that Ubisoft is moving towards a future of more pervasive in-game advertising, potentially in the form of cheaper subscription packages with ads.

Ubisoft is back in the headlines for the wrong reasons again, this time for injecting a Black Friday pop-up ad advertising their misfiring latest game Assassin’s Creed: Mirage within Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Multiple players reported seeing the ad pop up when they’d go to the map screen, leading to well-deserved backlash from the game’s community condemning the practice.

Ubisoft then released a statement passing this off as a “technical error,” which I suppose it could be, even though four years ago in the very same game there were similar ‘errors’ involving spammy ads for Assassin’s Creed products injected into the game. I’m not really aware of similar errors involving occurring in other games, so it seems to be a distinctly Ubisoft problem. And while this exact manifestation of the pop-ups may indeed have been an error, it does suggest that Ubisoft are working on something along these lines behind the scenes. They said themselves the ads were meant to pop ups in the ‘main menus of other Assassin’s Creed games,’ which given that all Assassin’s Creed games are ostensibly premium products, is still an egregious thing for them to be doing (though something we’ve become inured to as they’ve been doing it for years).


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Now, to be clear, I’m not an anti-advertising puritan. If you’re playing a free-to-play game, then advertising and various forms of monetisation are simply the trade-off for that. With a phone app, the dividing line is generally that you can use it for free, but will need to suffer some ads, or you can pay to unlock the ‘premium’ product which is ad-free. It’s a fair enough system. Likewise, product placement in games, advertising boards in sports games, and other ‘integrated’ forms of advertising don’t bother me, so long as it’s logically integrated into the game world. If a character in a game drinks a can of Coca-Cola instead of Pokey-Cola, then so be it! You’re only setting yourself up for misery if you let every little element of today’s capitalist world aggravate you.

It’s hard not to see this recent bout of pop-ups as an indicator that Ubisoft’s preparing the next stage of their in-game advertising dystopia.

Previously, the line seemed to be drawn at ‘premium’ vs ‘free-to-play’ for in-game advertising, but Ubisoft has been wanting to blur that line for a while. They already do in-menu advertising for other games within their own games, and it’s hard not to see this recent bout of pop-ups as an indicator that they’re preparing the next stage of their in-game advertising dystopia.

caliph's death in assassin's creed mirage

Ubisoft, lest we forget, has what’s in my mind one of the worst-value subscription services in the form of Ubisoft+, which lets you play every game in the publisher’s catalogue for $18 a month (making it, I believe, the most expensive games subscription service out there, to play mostly old Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry games). We’ve seen TV streaming services like Netflix slowly start offering cheaper ad-supported packages over the years, and Ubisoft must be looking at those models while noticing that, at $18 a month, it has a lot of leeway to offer a cheaper subscription that peppers us with ads. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if they’re working on a system whereby ads just like this ‘error’ one pop up in-game if you choose to, say, pay $10 a month (still not cheap for what’s offered) for a future ‘Ubisoft Basic’ subscription.

So sure, maybe on this occasion (and previous ones), the ad is an ‘error,’ this time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not indicative of things to come. With subscription models blurring the boundaries of what’s ‘premium’ content and what’s not, don’t be surprised if in-game Assassin’s Creed ads could be coming to an Assassin’s Creed game you own—or subscribe to—soon.

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