I just downright love WipEout HD. Yet, it suffered some serious neglect after other games were released right after its launch last year. Small wonder then, that when the Fury expansion was announced, I used it a springboard to return to its clean utopian anti-gravity racing tracks. There are multiple reasons why I like the game and oddly enough one of them received quite some flak the last couple of days:advertisements.
Wait, hold on, did I just say I liked advertisements in WipEout?
I sure did! When the PlayStation was launched, it did so with the first WipEout alongside it. Infuriatingly hard to play, the 3D and modern aesthetics still kept me interested. Back then The Designer’s Republic was already in charge of the game’s visual identity. But when its sequel WipEout 2097 (XL in the US) hit the market, it was something else entirely.
The game had done away with individual pilots and instead was now focussing on teams. It was also one of the first games I played with actual advertisements in it; the now famous Red Bull logos were almost everywhere. Combined with the internal branding of racing teams like AG Systems, Auricom, Feisar and Qirex RD, the entire endeavour became something of a high-speed post-modern celebration of branding. A ‘brand racer’ if you will, and it actually enhanced the experience.
As the PlayStation itself started its AOXD branding, the machine itself turned somewhat post-modern. By the time the third instalment Wip3outwas released, the series’ branding and design choices had become almost as important as the game itself. Selecting a company to race for carried a lot more clout than just comparing statistics. A lot of ‘feeling’ got involved as well.
So to recap, advertisements (both fake and real) and WipEout go hand in hand. A series that is as obsessed with branding as with anti-gravity racing should embrace advertisements as it did in WipEout 2097without ever having to compromise. So what on Earth went wrong whenWipEout HD introduced in-game advertisements to monetize the game a bit?
Well, it used interstitial advertisements during its loading screens provided by (warning: WipEout-fanboy in-joke imminent) Double Fusion. Not exactly a problematic proposal, until it became apparent that loading times were drawn out until the advertisement had finished. Sony pulled the advertisements almost as quickly as Double Fusion sent out its press release and I still can’t imagine why they ever agreed to the interstitials in the first place.
You see, the series’ obsession with branding means WipEout HD has literally dozens of billboards promoting fake brands already available in-game! Why, even when you select a campaign event, the fake sponsors of that event animate in the bottom of the selection screen. Was it that hard to make those parts interchangeable and allow for dynamic/static advertisements to be streamed to them?
Besides, this seemed to work perfectly for games like Burnout Paradise, where nobody was really complaining about the in-game billboard advertisements to start with. And WipEout HD‘s photo-mode could mean even additional exposure later on. Get Red Bull back on board and it becomes even a tad nostalgic. What’s not to love?
It does make you wonder who was in charge of the entire endeavour. For a game that thrives on branding, you have to be blind to ignore the huge potential already apparent. Sure, the type of advertisements (banking; must be a sign of the times) might not be properly suited to the type of exposure that would give it, but at least players would have continued the game in spirit.
That’s a whole lot better than them creating comparison loading time videos, causing an outrage and getting the advertisements pulled.