SWAT 4 box cover
SWAT 4 is the 4th iteration of a computer game where you play the leader of a SWAT team. The game is a member of the "tactical first person shooter" (FPS) genre; unlike normal FPS games like Doom or Quake, tactical FPSs encourage the player to move slowly and carefully, as being shot by one bullet can often result in death.

The v1.1 patch released on June 17 contains many fixes for various problems, but it also introduces "Massive Streaming Ad Support." Who is Massive, and what do their streaming advertisements do? As their website explains,

By aggregating the largest audience of gamers and providing real time delivery of advertising across top-selling video games, we can provide publishers and developers $1–$2 profit per unit shipped for their titles.

As Andrew Smith and Peter Wood, two gamers-cum-detectives found out, the patch allows SWAT 4 to download in-game advertisements in the form of posters, which are randomly plastered on the walls of the game's levels. Even more ridiculously is the fact that when the game is closed, it contacts Massive's server, giving details about the ad's "impression," including how long each player looked at the posters.

While it might seem immoral for Sierra, the makers of the SWAT series, to add advertising to a game that users have already paid for, it could very well be legal. Andrew and Peter note that installing the patch requires agreement to a new EULA, which almost certainly gives the game the right to contact advertising servers for the purpose of getting advertisement images and returning data about their use.

Ad-supported software, or "adware," has been with us since Internet use became widespread. Also, video games have previously used an Internet connection to send personal data to servers; Half-Life 2 used a system called Steam in order to verify that the copy of the game being played was not pirated. But SWAT 4's practices are much more heinous. Almost all adware is free, since the ads that users view are supposed to compensate the developers, and not to increase their revenue stream. Previous in-game advertisments were static, and not continually updated through the Internet.

Computer game publishers seem to like Massive's idea. Their website shows them in partnership with many companies, including Ubisoft, Eidos, and Atari. As for concerns for the privacy of the people playing these games?

Gamer reaction to dynamically served advertising has been overwhelmingly positive and accepting, particularly due to the realism and relevance it brings to the game environment.