The video game Left Behind seemed destined to tear a giant fiery swath of controversy through the digital landscape. Based on the series of novels of the same name, Left Behind is a Christian-themed game set in New York City, a few years after the arrival of the Anti-Christ and the ascent of one-third of the world’s population (presumably the “good third”) into heaven. As a player, you must direct and expand the “Tribulation Force,” a military organization that attempts to either convert or kill the remaining population.
Yes, this is not your father’s Bible Adventures. The game features 3D graphics and a top-down perspective vaguely reminiscent of Origin’s classic DOS-era game Crusader. It differs from more common action games in its use of prayer as an instant “power-up” device, and sneaks in several subtle September 11 references (such as the opening cinematics and the use of giant “911” decals on the roofs of in-game ambulances).
Now, as if the game itself was not controversial enough, it has been discovered that the publishers, Left Behind Games (a publicly traded company, even) have added money-changers to their particular temple. The game comes fully loaded with what some would term built-in spyware, in the form of in-game advertising that tracks the amount of time ads are seen, how often the game is played, and the player’s geographical and personal information. It then sends this data back to the advertiser’s servers. From the horse’s mouth:
“All Double Fusion campaigns provide detailed campaign reporting for full accountability, and, unlike other media, advertisers only pay for the time their ads are seen…unlike TV, unlike the web, and unlike print. No medium is more accountable and measurable in terms of the actual time spent with advertising.”
“Double Fusion’s In-Game Ad Engine is a software component that gamer developers insert in their games. The Ad Engine is the seamless interface between the game and the advertiser servers, and works as a broker between the two, calling advertising creative elements as needed, providing them to the game to be displayed as ads in the game, and tracking impressions and views and reporting back to the advertising management servers.”
The issue of advertising in games has been a hot topic lately, bolstered by widespread always-on access to the Internet. While surveys of gamers show that advertising in games is effective and generally unobtrusive if done properly, most people would feel differently if they knew their in-game activity and user information was being tracked. Most games that currently feature in-game advertising simply display built-in ads, or at worst download new ads from a server, without sending the user’s personal information back over the wires. Left Behind Games plans to distribute up to a million sample CDs of the game through major churches and pastoral organizations. Will these people be informed that their personal information will be tracked, not by a higher power, but by an advertising agency?
Ironically, or perhaps otherwise, Double Fusion was founded in 2004 in Jerusalem, through US$10 million in venture capital investments from various firms including official Government of Israel incubator programs. Kirk Cameron, star of the Left Behind movie, was unavailable for comment.