As if the public outcry for the always on DRM from Electronic Arts’ latest installment of Sim City wasn’t bad enough, things just got a little worse.
Last week, EA announced a partnership with Nissan to bring users of Sim City 5 an added feature in the form of Downloadable Content (DLC). For those who want to “green” up their simulated metropolis, EA offers a free download for users to have the option to add a Nissan branded electric car charging station to their neighborhoods.
It has not been well received.
Perhaps it’s a younger generation’s aversion to advertising, or leftover backlash from the intrusive and unnecessary DRM debacle. Likely, it’s some combination of both. Regardless, what may have seemed like a creative win-win-win for advertisers, developers, and users alike has instead manifested into a prolonged public relations nightmare for EA, and perhaps (now) Nissan.
How the branded DLC works
The concept is simple and (in my opinion) quite creative. Nissan wanted a way to help promote their electric car the Nissan Leaf. Instead of purchasing traditional display advertising, however, they decided to try out something different and a bit more interactive. That’s where the immersive world of Sim City comes into play.
In exchange for an advertising fee (presumably), Electronic Arts developed a simple add-on that would allow users to include a simulated electric car charging station to their city with the Nissan Leaf brand prominently displayed. By adding the charging station to a neighborhood, users would also improve “happiness points” (a measurement of the city’s quality of life for its inhabitants), similar to adding a park.
Electronic Arts receives some additional advertising revenue in exchange for the development of the add-on and access to the Sim City platform, Nissan gets brand exposure and awareness for their electric car model, and the users get an optional dynamic addition that adds diversity to the game-play of Sim City 5 for free: win-win-win.
Electronic Arts hadn’t done itself any favors by implementing their always-on DRM and their poor response to the backlash that followed. Therefore, users are not open to the idea of Sim City 5 becoming an advertising platform, even if it adds something unique to the game and is purely optional.
While most of the backlash is focused on Electronic Arts, Nissan is still caught in the awkward position of guilty by association. With such a negative response to this experiment as an advertising campaign, it has automatically diminished its intended goals and tarnished its brand reputation.
Inclusive, not intrusive… Irrelevant.
Intrusive advertising has certainly drawn its share of well-deserved ire. To quote a Facebook friend:
“I don’t know what’s more annoying, advertising in my Facebook news feed, or the 3 times as many complaints about these ads in my news feed.”
But that doesn’t really apply here. Users aren’t forcibly subjected to the Nissan charging stations if they choose not to download the add-on. It’s purely optional. Even still, the intent of this campaign was to bring something that adds to the enjoyment of the game without breaking away for a “message from our sponsors”. Seems harmless to me…
So is the problem really with the fact that EA is selling Sim City 5 as an advertising medium to brands? Or are gamers just looking for another reason to be critical of a company that wronged them?