Sometimes though, marketing for games can be simply shocking. Surely the worst culprit in this field is the barely-missed Acclaim, the grandfather of bad marketing. There were no taboos with this company, honestly. To begin with, they named themselves to get ahead of Atari and Activision in the alphabet, which is not necessarily bad marketing but it certainly sets them off with fairly cheap and petty ambitions. Far worse, in the build-up to the release of Turok, Acclaim offered members of the public £500 each to legally rename themselves to ‘Turok’ for a year. Extending from this obvious ‘brainwave’, they went one step further and put forward $10,000 to anyone who would name their baby Turok. Forever. Seriously. At least they could say ‘I was born to rock’ with no sense of hyperbole (sorry, that was shockingly unfunny). Eager to outdo themselves, they next proposed to pay for the funerals of the recently deceased in exchange for tombstone advertising space for their game Shadowman. I’m sure the dead relative would be turning in their grave over that (no more, I promise).
Acclaim’s aptly named Vexx was almost viewed as a joke, especially when its promotional materials and general content were all but ridiculed in Douglas Coupland’s J-Pod. Acclaim’s rampage of marketing malpractice continued with a campaign that coincided with the release of Burnout 2, whereby Acclaim would pay the speeding tickets of drivers who where caught driving too fast to go and buy the game. This act was of course illegal and stupidly controversy-baiting, which is silly because the game was pretty good. Acclaim’s incompetence reached a plateau when they released a re-‘skinned’ version of the decent enough ‘Dave Mirra’s BMX’ game to a sex-filled and crude bumfest called BMX XXX. Despite court cases from Mirra removing his likeness from all promotional materials related to the game, a banning of the nude content on the PS2 version and a classification refusal from Australia, the game hardly caused a stir and was met with a massive ‘meh’ (here in the UK at least) and everyone realised they didn’t give a toss about the title.
Sony have also often made a bit of a cock-up with their promotions over the years too, from sacrificed goats to fake PSP fansites and video raps written by PR twats. Of course, absolutely despicable companies like those responsible for the browser-based Evony are far worse than the big industry players, though we expect more from the companies spending hundreds of millions on their products.
Some other classic marketing balls-ups are Tiger’s game.com disgrace that is an insult to everyone that comes onto this site to read about games and Nintendo’s infamous Zelda rap, that somehow avoided hampering the sales of what was one of the most successful titles of its generation. Even the more subtle mistakes of today can be viewed as poor marketing, with this Dragon Age trailer putting off many Bioware fans and completely setting the wrong tone for a game many were hoping would continue Bioware’s rich history of compelling storytelling, item procuring and relationship building.
You would think that the industry would have learned from its glaring missteps, of which there are far too many for me to have listed them all. Alas, EA has stepped the game up a notch and pulled some PR stunts that even Acclaim would have been proud of. The upcoming Dante’s Inferno, a ‘remake’ of Dante’s epic work The Divine Comedy had a bleeding advert at various bus stops around the world. The ads would seep a blood-like substance over a 6 day period, which is frankly inappropriate and deliberately provocative. Speaking of which, at Comic-Con last year EA actively asked punters to grope the booth babes and rewarded those that best displayed the sin of ‘lust’ with a night of hedonistic luxury with two beauties. The publicity-hungry marketing team hasn’t stopped there, also sending cheques to gaming journalists (they missed me out, grrrr...) that became cursed if they were cashed in, tempting the professionals into committing a sin. They also went as far as staging faux-protests with evangelists-for-hire supposedly outraged at the depiction of hell.
Sure, our industry often craves a bit of loving and attention but it certainly needs to grow up a lot if it wants to be taken seriously. We have no argument for the oft-repeated claim of maturity if games companies are going to continually provoke and court controversy for the sake of a bit of attention and hype, then complain when they are not taken seriously like some sort of prepubescent girl. We’re beginning to get the content of games right, now the marketing needs to follow.