Advertising Chipware in Cyberpunk 2020



“Promises, large promises, is the soul of advertising… I cannot but propose it as a moral question to these masters of the public ear, whether they do not sometimes play too wantonly with our passions.”
– Samuel Johnson

All advertising, whether it lies in the field of business or politics, will carry success by continuity and regular uniformity of application.”
– Adolf Hitler



We all love it. We all use it. It’s a way of life, neh? Learn Japanese without taking a single class. Shoot that IMI like a real pro. Understand a simple topic such as, say, quantum physics by just chipping some MRAM into your chipware port.

Simple. Clean. Readily available. But not cheap. Oh, no, not cheap at all.

For lazy cyberpunks with few skill points to spare, chipware sockets and MRAM and APTR chips are a godsend. They allow someone to know the rudimentary knowledge of a topic or technique in a matter of days (for APTR), or in the case of MRAM, microseconds.

However, the costs of high level skill chips can be prohibitive to your average ‘punker off the street. The typical cyberpunk has to worry about rudimentary things, such as weapons, cyberware, fashionable clothes (armored or non-armored), cyberdecks and software, vehicles, and sleeping space. If he’s got a few euro left over, he’s buying a bag of nacho-flavored kibble and a beer in some seedy bar down town. Who’s got the cash for chipware?

Chipware companies, those that deal exclusively in MRAM and APTR chips, soon found themselves struggling to stay above water. Sure, there was a demand for chips, most of which was met by fixers in back rooms selling second-rate copies of original titles. For instance, it is estimated that 2/3rds of the “Axe Lessons With Eurodyne” chips sold were produced by a “punch” operation in San Dimas, California. Of course, with more chip piracy every day, the prices of standard titles soared to astronomical levels. Such high costs lead to even more piracy and even fewer legitimate sales. Several companies found themselves bankrupt, soon to be absorbed into the corporate monoliths that are EBM and Zetatech.

The remaining companies found saviors in sponsors, companies of all sizes wishing to extend their influence into the very neurochemistry of their customers. Such businesses were willing to pay good money to chipware manufacturers for their ads, which in turn allowed the chipware makers to lower their prices to competitive levels. With sponsorship deals from big name companies, many of the chip companies that had been struggling years before began to pull in larger and larger profits.

Thus was a new type of advertising born.

Types of Chipware Ads

Times Square Marquee “Banners”

The first type of chipware ads to be introduced in 2016, they are also the simplest and most limited. When interfaced, the chip sends a passive message to a cyberoptic’s Times Square display (if present). The message scrolls across, endorsing a product (or products) again and again. The up side to this method is that it’s largely harmless. The down side is that it only affects those few people who utilize a Times Square Marquee, or a Times Square Plus.

Olfactory Suggestion and/or Taste Suggestion

Close enough to be siblings, both Olfactory and Taste Suggestion advertisements were the next to come along. They reach a large percentage of audiences by directly targeting the smell and taste centers of the brain. Unlike the Times Square Banners, no special cybernetics (aside from the chip socket and neural processor) are required for use.

Upon chipping in, the user of the chip will either smell or taste something. The chip is generally marked in some way to indicate the sponsor’s name to avoid any confusion (ie, “Iraqi Basket Weaving, brought to you by Taco Hutt restaurants.” ). Such ads are popular with restaurant chains, as well as perfume and deodorant manufacturers (raise your hand if you’re sure).

Audio Commercials

Initially, Audio-based commercials only affected those with cyberaudio enhancements. Recently, manufacturers have managed to stimulate the auditory centers of the nervous system directly, fooling them into “hearing” the ads. Ads usually consist of a brief message or music, though it needn’t be so simple.

Optical Commercials

Related closely to Audio Commercials, Opticals affect one or both of the eyes. Much the same as Audio ads, Optical ads started out only affecting the cyber-enhanced. Now, such ads send passive signals to the optical centers, making the user “see” things that aren’t there. A recent Supreme Court ruling has determined that such an advertisement used in any form of driving or piloting APTR chipware is illegal, as several motorists have been injured or killed in accidents caused by a chipware-induced distraction.

Involuntary Vocalization

The chip’s user, when chipping in, involuntarily makes a statement pertaining to the chipware’s sponsor. The most common and well-known include, “I’m going to Disneyland!” and “Toyota-Chrysler! I love what you do for me!” Most phrases are short, but all are loud enough to be audible under normal circumstances.

Image Recognition

The most recent innovation is Image Recognition. The downside is that it requires the use of cyberoptics to function. The upside is that it’s incredibly subtle (in most cases), and most people won’t realize they’re being shown a commercial until they pull the chipware out. Image Recognition is descended from a military application, and was originally designed by the US Air Force to help pilots identify friendly and enemy aircraft, as well as ground targets.

Image Recognition ads pick out the advertised product and highlight it in the user’s vision. Most of the time, this is fairly low-key — for Coca Cola, Coke cans are brighter red; for H&K, the outlines of their various small arms are enhanced by a neon green line. In some of the more extreme cases, giant floating neon signs point out the products actively, causing quite a distraction in most users.


As far as game mechanics go, the more annoying the advertisement, the cheaper the chip will initially be. Annoyance is usually judged on a scale from 1 to 4. An Annoyance Factor (AF) of 1 is only mildly irritating, and doesn’t usually degrade the chip user’s performance. An AF of 4, on the other hand, is nearly maddening in its intensity. A chip can have several ads hardwired into it (a maximum amount of the chip’s total levels, ie, a Spanish +2 chip can have up to two separate advertisements written onto it).

When figuring out the amount of cash that an advertisement (or series of advertisements) deducts from a chip’s final cost, add up the total Annoyance Factors of ALL advertisement options for each ad on that chip and multiply the total by 10. If there are multiple ads, add the totals together to come up with the grand total. This is the total deduction, and limits are left to the individual GM’s discretion. Chip costs reduced to zero or lower by advertisements are generally given away as promotional items, and can be quite common at conventions. However, most “commercial” chips cannot be reduced in price by more than 75% of the original cost.

Options for the different types of ads are listed below.

General Advertisement Options (for all listed types):

Duration of Ad –

Brief (3 seconds/1 round): AF 1
Short (15 seconds/5 rounds): AF 2
Medium (30 seconds/10 rounds): AF 3
Long (60-90 seconds/20-30 rounds): AF 4

This determines how long the advertisement lasts. Most don’t last more than fifteen to thirty seconds, but a noteworthy few last almost two minutes.

Frequency of Ad –

Once, when first chipping in: AF 1
On all the time: AF 2
Every six hours: AF 2
Every three hours: AF 3
Every hour: AF 4

This determines how often ad in question runs. No matter what option is taken, the ad always comes on at least once when the chip is initially plugged in. Chips that are “on all the time” are usually those which affect one of the senses.

Times Square Marquee “Banners”:

Message Type –

Simple, scrolling message (ie, “Eat at Joe’s”): AF 1
Scrolling message w/graphical diagrams/pictures: AF 2
Large message w/bold typeface & flashing characters: AF 3
Full visual experience akin to an HUD (only possible with Times Square +): AF 4

Message type for Times Square “Banners” is based on message length and complexity.

Note: “Banners” are far less intrusive than other chip ads, simply because they only affect those unlucky few who have a Times Square or Times Square+. Hence, when factoring the Duration + Frequency + Message type for a Times Square ad, divide the total by 2 before multiplying by 10 to figure the total deduction. For example, a Times Square ad reading “Eat At Joe’s” (AF 1) that happens every three hours (AF 3) and lasts for 15 seconds (AF 2) has a total AF of 3 (1+3+2 = 6/2 = 3).

Olfactory Suggestion Ads:

Smell Strength –

Slight odor, -0 to smell-based awareness checks when in effect: AF 1
Mild odor, -1 to smell-based awareness checks when in effect: AF 2
Strong odor, -2 to smell-based awareness checks when in effect: AF 3
Overpowering odor, -4 to smell-based awareness checks when in effect: AF 4

The strength of the “smell” that the chip emulates can affect a character’s natural smelling ability if the scent is too strong.

Smell Type –

Good smells, such as perfume, flowers, food: AF 1
Bad smells, such as pollutants, smoke, bad breath, or body odor: AF 2
Really bad smells, such as raw sewage, feces, vomit, or rotting meat: AF 3

The type of smell that the ad emulates is just as important as the strength of the smell in question. Smells that are classified as “Really bad smells” may call for a stun/shock save, with the AF of the Smell Strength used as a negative modifier. Failure indicates that the user is overcome by the “smell” and cannot act for 1d6 rounds.

Note: These ads are normally used in conjunction with Taste Suggestion Ads, and are popular amongst fast food and restaurant chains, as well as perfume and shampoo manufacturers.

Taste Suggestion Ads:

Taste Strength –

Slight taste, -0 to taste-based awareness checks when in effect: AF 1
Mild taste, -1 to taste-based awareness checks when in effect: AF 2
Strong taste, -2 to taste-based awareness checks when in effect: AF 3
Overpowering taste, -4 to taste-based awareness check when in effect: AF 4

The strength of the artificial taste that the chip emulates can have a detrimental effect on a character’s natural tasting abilities if the taste is too strong.

Taste Type –

Tastes good, like candy, breath mints, soda pop, or a type of food: AF 1
Tastes bad or bitter, like many forms of alcoholic drink, cigarettes, etc.: AF 2
Tastes really bad, like ear wax, ground up medicine, or castor oil: AF 3

The type of taste that the ad emulates is just as important as the strength of the taste in question. Tastes that are classified as “Tastes really bad” may call for a stun/shock save, with the AF of the Taste Strength used as a negative modifier. Failure indicates that the user is overcome by the “taste,” cannot act for 1d6 rounds, and may throw up at the GM’s call.

Audio Commercials:

Volume –

Quiet, about as loud as normal conversation: AF 1
Medium, -1 to audio-based awareness checks when in effect: AF 2
Loud, -2 to audio-based awareness checks when in effect: AF 3
Deafening, -4 to audio-based awareness checks when in effect: AF 4

The volume of sounds in a chip-based advertisement can have a detrimental effect on a character’s natural hearing ability.

Optical Commercials:

Interface –

Requires at least one cyberoptic to function: AF 1
Direct optic nerve stimulation, no optics needed: AF 2
Interface affects one eye: AF 1
Interface affects both eyes: AF 3

Some of the older Optical Commercials require one or two cybereyes in order to function, while most of the newer ones directly stimulate the optic nerves.

Visual Stimulation –

Images are superimposed over normal sight, are ghost-like/ethereal in nature, -1 to awareness: AF 2
Images are superimposed over normal sight, but appear real and solid, -2 to awareness: AF 3
Images replace sight completely, and the user is effectively blind for the duration: AF 4

Depending on the sophistication of the advertisement it may add visuals to the user’s normal view or replace it entirely. Images that replace sight completely cause all visual awareness checks to fail automatically.

Involuntary Vocalization:

Vocal Content –

Benign, ie, “I’m going to Disneyland!”: AF 1
Disturbing, ie, “The IMI chain knife makes me want to get bloody!”: AF 2
RisquÃ?©, ie, “Go on, put it in…ALL the way in.”: AF 3
Offensive; you boys and girls can use your filthy imaginations: AF 4

The content of the message is pretty important, considering it might offend people around the user, or make the user look really silly. While content which is listed as “Offensive” might contain bad language, it might also contain racist or dogmatic phrases which might cause ill-will to the user. Beware any chip sponsored by the Aryan Defense League.

Volume –

Whispered tones, will only be heard by those within a meter or so of the character: AF 1
Conversational tones, will be heard by anyone in the same room: AF 2
Loud tones, will carry across a large room and will be heard over other people’s voices: AF 3
Shouted tones, will be heard all the way down the block, or at least across a busy street: AF 4

Aside from the message’s content, how loud you say it can make a difference in some situations. A solo, hiding from a corpcop, doesn’t want to shout out, “Glocks kick ASS!!” thereby giving himself away.

Image Recognition:

Prominence –

Subtle, faint outline around product or brightened colors, +1 to awareness to spot product: AF 1
Obvious, product is brightly lit, flashes in field of vision, +2 awareness to spot product: AF 2
Distracting, as “Obvious,” but neon arrows and signs point out product, +4 to spot product, but -2 to all other actions due to distracting visuals: AF 3

The prominence of the product that is being advertised helps the user spot it, but can detract from other rolls (included to-hit and visual awareness rolls) if it is overdone.

Sample Chip Ad

Chip Type & Level: Wardrobe & Style +2
Base Chip Cost: 200 euro
Ad Duration: Medium AF 3
Frequency: Once AF 1
Audio Commercial Volume: Medium AF 2
Involuntary Vocalization Content: Benign AF 1
Involuntary Vocalization Volume: Loud Tones AF 3
Total AF AF 10
Total Discount for Ad: 100 euro
Total Chip Cost: 100 euro

Ad Description: This chip is sponsored by Calvin Klein of Tokyo. When chipping in, the user hears the soft music of the Calvin Klein theme and is forced to sing along with the Japanese vocals.

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