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Industry-Damaging Video Games Marketing
by Victor Gont on 01/17/11 09:21:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I have been one of the people that followed the intriguing project known as Dante’s Inferno with a raised eyebrow during its lifecycle. Crafting a game based on one of the greatest cultural inheritances of man was a bold move and certainly a direction that no developer had previously considered (that I am aware of, anyway).

Then came more news, and with the 2009 E3 one of the more aggressive and immature marketing campaigns ever devised. To make a note here, I do not discuss the professionalism and ability of the marketing team responsible for it to generate sales or attract attention to their product, nor do I want to take a moral high ground and bash on the various viral points of the campaign. I am just trying to explore what this and other efforts of the sort managed to produce in popular news sources.

Mainly, that in trying to grab the five seconds of attention necessary to disseminate information and generate hype for a product, some marketing campaigns end up in damaging the image of the industry in the long run.

To be brief about what I’m basing this on, the series of ads and events for the afore-mentioned title started with a fake protest by a zealous religious group, with slogans such as ‘just say infer-NO’ and ‘EA = electronic anti-Christ’.

While amusing and praiseworthy in its execution, this made a few headlines on the internet and set the stage for the next step in the campaign. That came with the Comic Con 2009 in the form of the infamous ‘Sin to Win’ contest. EA later issued an apology, blaming it on an unfortunate choice of wording.

It’s worth noting here that the later stages of the campaign were an improvement (as much as cannibalistic-looking food and human remains Christmas tree decorations can be), but the shock-value of its earlier incarnations are what constitutes good value in modern publicity.

Let us return to the present day and take a look at the newest stunt pulled off by the marketing team in charge of ‘Dead Space 2’ this time. It’s called ‘Your mom hates Dead Space 2’, been posted on YouTube on the 15th and it’s targeted at… To be honest this is the most baffling part.

On a first glance, with a tagline like ‘a mom's disapproval has always been an accurate parameter of what is cool’ it looks put together to strike the chords of adolescent males everywhere; but then, it is advertising an M rated game, so this is not the case.

On the other hand, one would guess the adult gamers can only be put off by its message and the serious tone in which it’s delivered - if it is a subtle reference to those early years when the average 25 yrs old-gamer was secretly sneaking to watch horror movies I did not get it.

Second, the light in which it presents the game strikes me as odd. After having finished the first one, teeth gritted and lights on, I can honestly say I got more out of it than a mere gore-fest through recycled corridors and passageways.

It evoked some anxiety, some fight or flight moments as well as a feeling of being thoroughly alone throughout its walkthrough. Taking the most violent moments of the second game out of context and presenting them as some sort of highpoints to a middle aged mother is hardly appealing for me as a customer.

Lastly, and coincidentally the most important point for me is the exquisite timing of it with the ‘Schwarzenegger vs. EMA’ legal battle, on which EA encouraged gamers to show their support at one time (by joining the ESA’s Videogame Voters Network). It will be interesting to see if these clips are mentioned in the case come spring when the debates will resume.

This brings me to the point; I do not doubt that sales are the most important factor when deciding to push a daring marketing campaign and shock your target audience so their hands slip into the wallets.

But can the same (or comparative) amount of sales not be achieved by being mindful of the consequences your ads will create for the entire industry? I may be blowing things a bit out of proportion here, but reinforcing the general opinion that violent games ARE marketed towards underage persons is very bad nowadays. Please avoid it if at all possible.

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Ernest Adams
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The roaring hypocrisy of publishers that claim to support ratings and oppose selling M and AO games to underaged players, while simultaneously marketing those games directly to those same players, never ceases to amaze me.

It's true that modern American and British (I can't speak for others) culture permits men to continue to behave like adolescents and to pursue adolescent fantasies well into their 30s and beyond, so ads with a puerile attitude can still be appropriate for males 18-35. But "you mom hates Dead Space 2" can ONLY be aimed at those under 18. Nobody over 18 cares what their mom thinks about their video game playing habits.

Jamie Mann
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Good point :) By pushing the game as "your mother wouldn't like it", EA is effectively targetting the under-18 demographic. And (in the UK at least - lists DS2 as being "rating pending"), this game is rated 18+...

You can argue that the primary target is the 18-25 age group, but I'd expect that the younger demographic is far more likely to pick up on the message.

Cedric Bold
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> some marketing campaigns end up in damaging the image of the industry

So ? It's the same with stupid hollywood movies.

Sylvester O'Connor
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Not necessarily. In the movie industry, movies of a certain ratings are specifically targeted for specific audiences. If you go in to see a movie, the previews are usually aimed for the same kind of rating. It's only when they are put on DVD that, in order to accommodate a wider range of audiences, the previews are mixed ranging from kids movies like Shrek to rated R films. They try to reach many because even though I am sitting down to watch Saw V, my daughter might pass by and see Despicable Me being previewed. Once I see her take notice, I just might end up getting it for her.

Games are similar and different still. I remember when Grand Theft Auto Vice City was about to come out. Commercials for it were on in the afternoons between childrens shows, along with in the evening and during the news. You tell me that they are not purposely aiming for all crowds. The fact that the game was in cartoon form was also somthing to slid right under parents noses. We in the gaming community say we want to be like other entertainment and every single time we are suppose to start maturing, ads like DS2 pop up lettting everyone know that we are not ready for the responsibility that other media have.

I am sure someone might respond and say it's just games right now for this. Then when it comes to banning things like in CA with Schwarzennegar vs. EMA, we want to say that hey we want to be like other media. Can't have it both ways. And yes to each his own, but as developers and marketers, they have to start doing better.

Christian Rudolph
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indeed not really a helpful commercial.

Nick Green
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Our is a society geared towards selfishness.

It's survival of the fittest and most aggressive, not the most responsible.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Alan Jack
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Can I just be the one to state something we're all glossing over here?

Dead Space is cheap, exploitative and violent. Not saying it isn't fun, but a marketing team handed a game that is entirely built on severing limbs off of twisted creatures of rotting flesh doesn't really have a lot to work with.

@Evan Moore makes a good point - if non-violent gaming were as much fun as violent gaming, we'd have a far better image as an industry. It's just that fewer developers take their non-violent, family-orientated games as seriously as their blood-soaked action-fests. There's no reason why games with family-friendly content can't also be mature and clever.

Stephen Chin
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I disagree that developers don't take non-violent games as seriously. Look at some of the top selling games and most talked about games/topics this year. Angry Birds & app games. Minecraft. And others. Look at some of the significant games of old like Myst. It's perhaps more that the game media and 'hardcore' developers don't look at such games as much; they turn their noses up at casual gaming and such as kiddie.

Malcolm Miskel
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The iPhone gaming market and the console gaming market are completely different. Violence isn't really a factor in the app store (look at the top 25 games), but on consoles that's quite a different story.

In this case, I think it's fair to say that [mainstream] console developers don't take non-violent games as seriously.

Bisse Mayrakoira
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I haven't played Dead Space, and obviously haven't played the sequel, but in my understanding DS is one of the very few games in addition to late Resident Evil games that focuses on close combat targeting (which was fantastic in RE4), and does it well. The monsters of DS are built to support that vision. How is the design "cheap"?

The ad is absolutely terrible though. "What your mom thinks" when the game is rated 18+? And what about dads - do they not think at all or what?

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Whoever could doubt the value of outrageous advertising. Just look at the runaway success enjoyed by GoD Games/Gamecock.

Bernard Francois
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I've just seen the video, and I have mixed feelings about it...

I'm not really sure if they were deliberately targeting an audience younger than 18. Most of the moms in the video seem to be old enough to have 30 year old children.

An ad like this stands out. I don't think there are many discussions here reviewing an ad, and the blog post convinced me to check out this video on YouTube.

I rarely deliberately watch an ad, even if it's a video ad (I prefer reviews or gameplay videos to know more about a game - ads often don't show or represent the real gameplay).

However, the ad didn't really make me feel like playing the game. Actually it made me feel sick a bit. Mirror neurons at work: when you see someone having a certain emotion, you start feeling the emotion as well (see

Given the fact that children and younger teenagers are less able to recognize fear in other people*, the ad may work best for this category of gamers... (* sorry, no source for this statement; I've seen it in some documentary film years ago).

Neil Sorens
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EA is completely insane. The only way they could have done more damage is by luring Joe Camel out of retirement to help out with these ads.

I'm hardly the type to avoid inappropriate humor, but mocking people who are rightly horrified after watching horrific scenes from the game just isn't funny.