Video Game Marketing: When Will it Grow Up? Trigger Warning for Gore

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I love video games, but I think most people can agree with me when I say that marketing of video games has been garbage for a while. With the success of Tomb Raider and it’s push for female video game characters who aren’t stereotypes, despite it’s awful PR campaign I think we should look at how bad it’s been.

There are a few I’d like to look at, two recent and one ancient.

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There are multiple collector’s editions of Dead Island Riptide being produced worldwide, but the UK one caught the eye of many a blogger and tweeter this morning, due to its bikini-focused statuette.

No arms, no face, no legs-- just boobs. The statue in question was only for the “Zombie Bait” edition in the UK.

The outrage was quick and pointed, and it seemed inevitable publisher Deep Silver would be forced to respond, especially since this wasn’t an international promotion.

Deep Silver has since issued an apology. The statement in full:

“We deeply apologize for any offense caused by the Dead Island Riptide “Zombie Bait Edition”, the collector’s edition announced for Europe and Australia. Like many gaming companies, Deep Silver has many offices in different countries, which is why sometimes different versions of Collector’s Editions come into being for North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

For the limited run of the Zombie Bait Edition for Europe and Australia, a decision was made to include a gruesome statue of a zombie torso, which was cut up like many of our fans had done to the undead enemies in the original Dead Island.

We sincerely regret this choice. We are collecting feedback continuously from the Dead Island community, as well as the international gaming community at large, for ongoing internal meetings with Deep Silver's entire international team today. For now, we want to reiterate to the community, fans and industry how deeply sorry we are, and that we are committed to making sure this will never happen again.”
Here's the problem with this statement: it doesn't even begin to address how this even happened in the first place. The deeper problem with the video game industry isn't that it makes mistakes that result in offensive, sexist incidents like this one, it's a lack of transparency and reflection on how this could be allowed to happen.

It's also unclear if Deep Silver is still planning to offer this bundle. The statement doesn't touch that. I've asked.

You can make the argument that no one would be outraged if this was a male torso with the same lack of bodily features, but c'mon. It’s different when it’s a woman, this is over the line, and Deep Silver should have known better.

Sexism and gaming are, unfortunantly, tied together tightly. You only need to look at the depressing as fuck youtube videos of ladies being hit on awkwardly and then being called sluts for daring to decline GOKUKILLERXXX’s come ons. This video sums it up a little better but let’s not stray too far from our topic, this is a post of it’s own in the making.

How about another?

Following a controversial Hitman: Absolution trailer that launched earlier this year, Square Enix has once against found itself in hot water, thanks to a Hitman Facebook campaign that asked users to call "hits" on their friends.

The 'Hire Hitman' website, which was only live for less than an hour thanks to a flurry of complaints across social media, allowed users to "hit" the Facebook timelines of friends, for having "big ears," "small tits" or "a tiny penis," among other possible selections.

Users would then be able to click on the "hit" on their Facebook wall, click through to the Hitman website, and choose to make a hit back. The link to the campaign now redirects to the series' official website.

Square Enix marketers were trying to be clever in their socially-networked vulgarity, but aside from the tasteless insults, it was the campaign's insensitivity toward the real issue of cyber-bullying that shocked many denizens of the web. Gamasutra has contacted Square Enix querying the move.

The marketing campaign was removed rather swiftly as press, developers and gamers alike took to Twitter and Facebook to note their disgust at the stunt.

Earlier this year, a trailer depicting sexy dominatrix nuns getting violently beaten and killed by Hitman's protagonist caused offense, leading developer IO Interactive to apologize.

You can see the pattern right? As video games slowly become more mainstream and games slowly becoming more artistic, look at titles like Journey, ICO, Limbo etc, this type of thing is becoming more outdated and absurd. I know movies and TV aren’t free of it yet, but gaming is so rife with it that I can’t even make the comparison in good judgement. Let’s look at one final example, and look at how it fucked an entire game.

Will John Romero make you his bitch? Can he? The early magazine ads for Daikatana certainly seemed to think so, loudly touting the Doom co-creator's bitch-making prowess in bold, black letters. Now, if his game-making prowess had been as legendary, Daikatana might not be on this list.

Almost four years and millions of dollars in the making, Daikatana was the game industry's first truly great runaway production. The wildly ambitious flagship project of Ion Storm, a company founded by the then-celebrated Romero under the credo "Design is Law," the game was supposed to usher in a new era of creative freedom and break down any restrictions on designers' visions. Instead, it was a fiasco of epic proportions, due largely to a premature PR blitz (including coverage in TIME magazine and the aforementioned "bitch" ad) that laid the foundation for Daikatana becoming an object of widespread ridicule.

Work on Daikatana began in 1997, and was supposed to have been finished in seven months. As production snowballed, the game was nearly completed, then scrapped and rewritten from scratch. Rivalries and feuds developed within the company, and reports started emerging from disgruntled employees that the development team was unfocused and unable to work together. And whether it was deserved or not, Romero's image became one of an aloof millionaire who partied while his pet project crumbled around him.

By the time Daikatana finally hit stores - in 2000, after numerous well-publicized delays - gamers who'd been fed a steady diet of negative Ion Storm gossip were all too eager to hate it. Not that they really needed prepping; once the game saw the light of day, it became clear that John Romero was maybe - maybe - capable of making you a sandwich and calling it "his bitch." (That would also conveniently explain the ad's "Suck it Down" tagline.) Daikatana was an ugly mess of dated graphics, awkward gameplay and wildly uninteresting enemies. Worse, the game's biggest "innovation" - sidekicks whom you needed to protect - turned out to be its biggest liability, as their computer-controlled brains would diligently do whatever it took to get them killed.

Daikatana could have been just another mediocre shooter that passed silently into obscurity, leaving no imprint except a valuable lesson for Ion Storm's developers and a vague bad taste in the mouths of gamers. Unfortunately, Romero and his big mouth had to go and hype the shit out of it, and as a result Daikatana is blamed not only for sinking Ion Storm, but also for sending Romero's career plummeting from stardom to relative obscurity.

So what can we take from this? Well it’s clear PR and marketing need to change and fast. This industry is evolving, it’s breaking past what it was and it’s in sight of where it needs to be, the problem is that this bullshit is keeping it back. When you see an ad for a statue of a bikini clad bloody torso, does that make you want to buy a game? No, it makes you think that gaming in general, and that game in particular are moronic dudebro activities. The industry needs to have a discussion with itself, and real god damn fast.

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