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Marketers, start caring about video games, please
Marketers, start caring about video games, please
December 4, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander

December 4, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander
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In a fiery opinion piece, Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander examines how the jaw-dropping debacle around Hitman: Absolution's Hire Hitman app illuminates some wider problems with the role of marketing in the game industry.

This week, the #1ReasonWhy campaign provided a poignant and much-needed platform for women to talk about why they don't feel comfortable in the games industry. Obviously it's the perfect time for a Facebook advergame that encourages you to bully your friends about their breast size.

Wait, what? Are you serious?

Hire Hitman, a Facebook app designed to do some viral marketing for Hitman: Absolution in the wake of its mixed critical reception, was live for only an hour before an apologetic Square Enix pulled it.

But for that brief window, you could help the company sell its game by making death threats to your friends based on their body size, for having hairy legs, their awful make-up or their "tiny penis." How appropriate for the age of cyber-bullying and teen suicide!

The outrage from the community is no over-reaction, and if you don't understand what the fuss is about, you're not paying attention. Don't tell anyone to lighten up. Of course human beings have a sense of humor, and among friends that know and trust one another, all kinds of teasing can be okay in a safe context. Today Cliff Bleszinski told his fans he likes to see his new wife blow on Nintendo cartridges; he's a person who's open about his personal life. That's his business (and mostly yields warnings about how blowing actually degrades the cartridge's pins).

But this campaign isn't about how you want to behave in public or how you play with your friends and loved ones. It's what the video game industry -- specifically marketing -- thinks of you. There's some scary stuff here.



Game companies don't know their players. According to Rock Paper Shotgun's report (they've also got some screenshots and "choice" quotes from the app), the app's the work of an Emmy Award-winning ad agency called Ralph. One of the world's biggest game publishers assumes an outside agency knows the audience for a game it spent millions making better than it does.

They think gamers are all dickish young men. If Hitman: Absolution's stripper-nun shtick, "cheap gay jokes and lazy misogyny" wasn't a tip-off, this cake-icing proves that the company either doesn't know or doesn't care what constitutes a "mature" game -- communications breakdown? Market research failure? Either way, you don't have to have some swanky communications degree to infer what kind of consumer would be attracted to a game based on this kind of visibility campaign on Facebook. It's evident what kind of community you are actively encouraging.

They feel no social responsibility. Gamers and devs have been crying out to make room for a more inclusive, grown-up game industry. Marketing is aware of its power to dictate what is cool to consumers of all ages, and that they'd exploit that is as old as the ad industry itself. But this sort of thing shows no sensitivity to what our industry in specific and its audience seems to want and need right now -- since there are obviously better ways to sell video games, clearly no one cares about whether they're encouraging young people to think mocking girls' small breasts is "edgy" and "cool."

We can have a heartfelt discussion on respect for women in the industry that gains global media attention, and this company is totally cool with throwing it back into our faces to sell something.

They don't respect their developers. Was it that no one on the Absolution team itself spoke up about this? Was no one consulted, or is that devs' feelings about their work and who their audience is don't matter? If I'd worked years of my life on something and someone told me they wanted to market it this way, I'd feel kicked in the teeth. Does the company really think the game is so bad that it needs to go all-out creepster on the marketing side to get attention?

Did Absolution's developers genuinely want their product to be seen as childish and offensive? Maybe, since IO did make the previous eye-roller 'let's kill stripper-nuns' ad itself. They seemed bewildered by the reaction -- which means marketing failed in its job of helping them target. In either case, if I were an adult making games, I certainly wouldn't want the result of all my hard work to be that people think of me as some rude child.

All of this spells a major problem in our marketing: a combination of tone-deaf cluelessness and an utter disrespect for games and the people who make and play them. It's especially outrageous now, as marketers are in a unique position to help shape the dialog and the reception around games. Broader audiences actually care and are listening now, so why are they still marketing to the mainstream like it's 2002?

Every barrier to commercial games reaching the heights most of us only dream about comes down to marketing. Diverse protagonists? Won't sell, they tell us. Games with meaningful stories? Won't sell, supposedly. People criticize the writing and character craft of modern games, but when I talk to narrative designers privately, they talk wistfully about all the groundbreaking stuff that got cut because marketing said it wouldn't sell.

Marketing can sell sexism and hatred, but it can't sell anything good? Is that what we're to believe?

The unfortunate conclusion we're forced to draw is that many marketers working in the traditional commercial space -- at big publishers and at the trendy ad agencies they farm their work out to -- don't understand games, they don't care about them, and they don't care about us. They share none of our interest in seeing the medium continue to thrive and grow at a crucial turning point for console retail.

Marketers, if you don't care about video games as a medium, go sell something else. Don't insult us anymore.


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Comments


Luis Guimaraes
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Am I the only one finding it funny that the reason this campaign failed so miserably is because it's ridiculously and needlessly, erm... "linear"?

"Target identifiable by:" [shows list of pre-made offensive stuff]

Maybe because players are too dumb to write interesting or actual funny stuff themselves or you know, they might write something offensive...

Benjamin Leggett
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That's a good point. If they hadn't decided to provide dickish fill-ins for those, it would just be another irritating Facebook marketing thing.

Luis Guimaraes
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Isn't a text-box for people to write whatever they want the very first most obvious thing to do? How did they even come with the idea of giving a set of options, how is that even possible?

Is that how much close-minded we are by the ludicrous idea of contriving everything the player can do? Jeez...

E Zachary Knight
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For most companies, the reason they resort to preselected options is to avoid having offensive user created content along side their product/service. However, based on the quality of these preselected options, I don't think that was a worry here. So I am lost as to why they did not allow for user created content.

Luis Guimaraes
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@Anthony

That's a good point.

Benjamin Leggett
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AMEN PREACH IT.

I realize "dickish young men" buy games, but the rest of us do too, and our purchasing power (and possibly our influence) is greater. But then the big gaming industry is trying to ape Hollywood, which does exactly the same thing and has for years.

Another big hangup for me is that all of this involved *Hitman*, which used to at least attempt to be stylish and classy, or at least as stylish and classy as a game about murdering people for hire can be.

I'd be more forgiving of stripper-nuns in, say, Saints Row 3. As it is, my immediate response to both of these kerfuffles was "Oh hey, another reason for me not to want to play this game."

marykate clark
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I'll see your AMEN and raise you a HALLELUJAH ;-)

I can't stand the mind-numbing, PHALLOCENTRIC approach to marketing.

Trailers and posters that IGNORE female playable characters... Or distort and hypersexualize female characters.

Skyrim, Dragon Age, Mass Effect... these are just a few where you either NEVER see the female playable character make the cover... or in the case of ME3, it only happens AFTER a huge outcry from fans.

Joe McGinn
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Still not as offensive as Official XBox Magazine's "buy ou magazine instead of feeding starving kids in Afriaca" pitch! Stay classy, game industry.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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"but the rest of us do too, and our purchasing power (and possibly our influence) is greater."

Sadly, the entertainment industry doesn't seem to understand or care (and given the numbers CoD and the like still put up, it's hard to dispute this past a point-mommy and daddy clearly provide the necessaries for kids/angry young men to buy these in full force).

If anything, it's why I'm starting to grow disinterested in AAA studios, as they seem to be running short on innovation, and running up against the limits of current gen tech (so we're not even getting visually boundary-pushing games anymore).

Still, the marketing for this has just been a series of minor debacles, as the game itself is quite good/not in line with the marketing tone.

Ryan Creighton
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The article strangely tries to point out a disconnect between the marketing and the game, or its creators' intent. From the other criticisms about the game, it seems like this marketing piece was a GREAT fit for the game. The problem is the *game*, not the marketing.

You can play a haunting, poetic piano ballad over your Gears of War commerical ... church it up all you like, but it's still just a dumb dudebro action video game about chainsawing aliens.

Ozzie Smith
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I agree. While the gameplay of Absolution can be pretty complicated and mature (almost a puzzle game), the theme of the game is pretty dumb and immature. This sort of marketing actually seems on point for the game's story and dialog.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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No matter how immature the game is, I don't think Agent 47 ever killed someone for having a 'tiny penis'. Seems to be go way beyond the bounds of the games normal stupid.

Isaiah Taylor
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I was one of the people who was 'totally siked' to buy Hitman this year and then I saw ads for it. It was one of the few times I'd been turned off from playing a game that 'could have possibly been' a great game.

Justin Kwok
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As someone who used to work in marketing... it's easy to see where this kind of thing stems from. Marketing is pure numbers. The "market" for M rated games tend to be "dickish young men." At least that's the way they see it as it's been that way for a while.

The biggest problem is that marketing doesn't take into account the new. You can't quantify the new because people can only give you an opinion based on things they've already seen. You can only quantify the past and make decisions based on the past. Anything new automatically starts with a big "0" beside the figures that marketers use to make decisions.

There's a story I often tell to illustrate this. I was in a department store trying to buy a belt on a wednesday. But there was no body around to help or even pay. I walked to another department and they said "We've found that nobody buys belts on wednesdays so we don't staff that department." It didn't even occur to them that maybe the reason nobody buys belts on wednesdays is because there's no one to buy them from.

Ask a marketer about the success of Star Citizen (almost at $7 million in their crowdfunding) and they'll be bewildered. Their data says that nobody buys Space Sims... their data is probably twenty years old. Nobody buys them because nobody makes them.

Edit: grammar

Luis Guimaraes
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"We've found that nobody buys belts on wednesdays so we don't staff that department."

Call MIB, we're being invaded!

And back on Hitman marketing... well, they've got some data now.

Chris McLeod
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Great point.

Star Citizen is a great example. Here is this huge hole in the gaming industry, space combat. It used to be huge, and then it all but disappeared. Since then, nobody ever filled that gap. Now's the perfect time to jump back in the game.

It's like every store in the city stops selling belts on Wednesdays. It'd be a pretty great idea to become that one store that IS open.

Chris Melissinos
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"As someone who used to work in marketing... it's easy to see where this kind of thing stems from. Marketing is pure numbers. The "market" for M rated games tend to be "dickish young men." At least that's the way they see it as it's been that way for a while."

Except that being a "dickish young man" is not necessarily the only message that resonates with that audience. I am positive that the same crowd that this agency was targeting would have also been receptive to the campaign if the list of characteristics were in line with the game and not stupid, childish insults. I doubt anyone in the same group would expect Bond in Skyfall to describe targets in this manner, let alone Agent 47.

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

Matt Robb
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People that go out of their way to only buy M-rated games might be "dickish young men". But, as an adult gamer who was a child gamer before games had ratings, when buying for myself the ratings might as well not exist. I'm just as likely to buy M-rated as E-rated, I'm just looking at what appears interesting and fun.

So rather than marketing to people who *can* buy M-rated games, they've alienated everyone but a portion of those who *only* buy M-rated games.

Rabbit Seagraves
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THIS! THIS THIS THIS!

Also in the games industry and having worked in Marketing, I have seen this same attitude numerous times. WORD.

Peter Christiansen
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I find it interesting that a marketing campaign so terrible that it goes down in flames in a single hour could be greenlit in the first place. Whether this was made with or without input from the developers, you would think that it would have set off red flags somewhere.

The question I want to know is whether this is the result of some terrible and pervasive groupthink among the marketers (and/or Square Enix), or if it did raise red flags and some "dudebro" (very apt term, thanks Ryan) in some position of power pushed it out in spite of objections.

Wylie Garvin
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No kidding. In a more responsible industry, heads would roll over something like this.

I would personally get great satisfaction if Square Enix were to announce that they had fired all of the person(s) who came up with this and greenlit it. The industry has enough of an image problem as it is, we don't need this kind of garbage.

Chris Melissinos
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Agree. Total lapse in judgement on that one. Of course, there is always the argument that "any ink is good ink". However, in this day of digital discussion happening at Internet speeds, there is no more "ink" to speak of. Only immediate and swift reprimand when it is absolutely warranted, as it was in this case.

John Trauger
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If this is a guerrilla marketing campaign?

If so, then it has succeeded wildly and people are up for bonuses if it translates into sales.

"The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about."

Paul Marzagalli
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Too late in the day to write anything in-depth, so I'll just put on my Devil's Advocate hat and weigh in with some comments for discussion and debate...

Why must a broader "more inclusive" industry *not* have these things? This makes "inclusive" sound homogenized, which is something that I imagine would worry any creator/developer. This is a foolish app for a franchise I have never played a game of, but judging by their whole campaign, they targeted the game where they wanted it. The app sounds like a variant of the party game "Cards Against Humanity" - meant to be so outlandishly offensive that it can only be construed as humor. They could have chosen to do things differently, but they didn't want to for creative and business reasons.

This gets into the sense of whose responsibility this is, and for purposes of this comment, I will posit that as far as the games themselves go, it is *not* the responsibility of the artist or business to be inclusive or socially-minded if they choose not to be. If that means they lose out on potential profit or alienate potential players, this is a decision that they live or die with. For the rest of us, working to create a broader, more inclusive industry means building up and out, not trying to kill off those elements which offend your personal beliefs. That seems rather Moral Majority-ish. Video games may be a multi-billion dollar industry, but they are still an artform and it is not necessarily the best thing to start pressing for a universal form of "acceptable."

Looking forward to the thread on this article. I thought last week's "#1ReasonWhy" comments section was fantastic, and I hope for the same here.

Christian Nutt
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In a pluralistic world there's plenty of room to both do what you want and take your lumps for it, hmm?

Tomi Vesanen
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This stupid campaign isn't even about offending people's beliefs, it's about offending people - period. Beliefs are fair game, offending people themselves based on their looks or gender are not. Fuck that.

Tomi Vesanen
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Oh, and instead of the "Devil's Advocate" hat you seem to have mistakenly taken the "Privileged White Male" hat.

Carlos Rocha
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I agree with the other responses. Marketing and communication professionals in general have a responsibility with the community, don't mistake tolerance with irresponsibility. Next you can have racist and xenophobic campaigns that are "ok" because they're "funny".

Paul Marzagalli
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Christian, sure, I just don't think the issue is as black or white or across the board as some people make it out to be nor do I think Leigh's interpretation is entirely correct.

Tomi, stay classy.

Carlos, I tend to agree with you generally. In this instance, I would have shitcanned the app over cyberbullying concerns. However,the marketing seems to mirror the game itself and one of art's most powerful attributes is its power to provoke - which is something worth defending, even if it provokes for reasons you don't agree with. As Christian said, do it and take your lumps. I wrote what I did to introduce another vantage into the conversation.

Matt Robb
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In defense of Paul's post I'll paraphrase the classic free-speech quote: I think their marketing campaign was idiotic but I'll defend their right to be idiotic.

We shouldn't be telling these marketers they shouldn't have done this for moral reasons. That's not being inclusive. But we can certainly tell them it was (in our opinion) a bad move. Sales will determine if we are correct.

Owen Faraday
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This is a totally worthwhile article and an admirable sentiment. Here's the problem: marketing people don't understand ANY of the stuff they're selling.

I worked in advertising and PR agencies for years. Big, prominent ones with global accounts.

Most of the people in marketing are great folks - but they're in marketing because they're frustrated journalists, failed novelists, and generally aimless people with business degrees. Nobody goes into marketing because they love cars, or soap, or video games.

The advertising and PR industries believe (rightly, to an extent) that being an advertising creative or a PR strategist is a skill onto itself, one that doesn't necessarily require familiarity with the client's business. Remember that the big ad agencies represent dozens of different clients in wildly different sectors - very few people at any ad agency will ever have an intimate understanding of what their client does.

As a result, when Advertising Agency X wins the Honda account, or the Ivory Soap account, or the Square Enix account, they don't go around asking "who loves cars or soap or games?" They look around to see who has time to work on the account, and stick those people on it.

I worked on accounts for major car companies, mobile phone makers, and microprocessor makers. Nobody working on any of those accounts knew the first thing about any of them.

Marketing people don't care about video games as a medium. But they also don't care any of the other crap they're selling either.

Chris Melissinos
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Well, don't paint everyone with the same broad brush please. I have spent almost 20 years in everything from technology development to running sizable marketing organizations. My approach was that I always had to believe in and understand what I was creating and lead the messaging with that. I had ZERO problem telling a marketing agency that they were dead wrong when creating a campaign around a message that did not align with the product or company essence, was offensive, or just "not right".

For my part, I always try to find ways to connect people to purpose or content, in a manner they can internalize. For example, one of the last campaigns under my direction with my former employer sought to humanize a large utility in a manner that allowed people to understand it's impact in a large sense.

http://vimeo.com/28205361

So, not EVERYONE who has worked in marketing or PR is clueless, nor are they clueless as to the product or service they are selling. Just saying :)

Matt Robb
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Perhaps we can say there's no *requirement* to know anything about what you're marketing. Look at the majority of Geico commercials for example. They have nothing to do with the product. It's just as common to find marketing campaigns that are designed to be "cool" or "funny" or "pretty" than it is to find ones that actually tell you something about the product.

But hey, I wish more people would take your approach Chris. I'd like to know something about what I'm buying or who I'm buying it from.

Ian Welsh
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This and their nun advertisement are why I won't be bothering to buy the game. Congrats on turning off a likely buyer.

Wylie Garvin
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Same here -- I own four previous Hitman games, I sure won't be buying this one

Lyon Medina
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I think the pull was intentional, created news and buzz around the gaming industry. This really feels like a strategic move from Square Enix, seriously one hour? There is no way any company could manage that unless it was intentional that it was going to be taken down in a hour, or at the very least they knew it was not going to be on the app store for long.

Honestly I understand the rage from everyone and the fact that this is really a tragedy of marketing. That all makes sense and is understandable, but please focus on the fact that this really had nothing to do with the game from my view point. Yes the marketing is more horrible beyond all measure. There is no disagreement there. But being Hitman fan I would like to judge the game by only looking at the game. (Which I haven't played yet but I plan too soon.)

Honestly yes we should be angered by this but we should focus it to the people who made these decisions to allow this very career suicidal app (Which let’s face it, no one who was a part of creating this app should ever get work again.) be the target of our disgust and anger.


By all means if you have played the game and hate it for that fact that is a bad game that is good too. Just saying to keep issues separate so that you can properly evaluate the circumstances.

Maria Jayne
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I can't believe nobody pointed out how bad this idea was, we're either at a stage where the wrong people make decisions in marketing or there is nobody willing to even question those decisions for fear of repercussion.

Of course, it's probably a huge success, for something only up for an hour, plenty of people are talking about it.

Lyon Medina
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"we're either at a stage where the wrong people make decisions in marketing or there is nobody willing to even question those decisions for fear of repercussion."

Its a fine line that you have to walk, I agree with your view though. Someone along the way should have said. "This is a horrible idea." Again I bring it back too that the fact that only an hour on the app market seems very fishy to me.

Justin Sawchuk
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And what if there target demographic was these "dickish young men", maybe they were going after the call of duty crowd. I guess it just didnt work out

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

Adam Bishop
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Fun fact - all people have "agendas", not just people you disagree with.

And I know this might sound crazy, but some people really do care about the things they criticise. Just because you don't care about something doesn't mean no one else does.

Kristen C Stewart
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"Or did you not know that there were male-targeted insults in the FB promo game as well?"

I'm guessing she did, since she mentioned the "tiny penis" insult as cyber-bullying in the 4th paragraph, and since the included screenshot is entirely of male-directed insults ("his skinny frame" and "his silly facial hair" are not generally directed towards women).

Edited to address this: "Leigh, do you have any experience or background in games? A quick search shows nothing. Seems to me that you only write articles when you have a flimsy premise to get all 'outraged'. Are we supposed to applaud that?"

We appear to be using different search engines. A quick search on Gamasutra itself shows her biography (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/authors/844491/Leigh_Alexander.php) as well as a list of recent features (e.g. "Hey Baby, Do You Dyad? A Letter Series" and "What's Really Going Down in Vancouver?" - an article about the game industry in Vancouver).

But by all means, continue with that "twist stories, omit key info, exaggerate" thing you got going on. The ad hominem is pretty great too.

Jongwoo Kim
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Wait.. What? She addresses the male targeted insults as well. I can't even find the second quote you're talking about.

What agenda are you accusing her of pushing? There's no need for this kind of ad hominem attack.

Chris Hendricks
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"Or did you not know that there were male-targeted insults in the FB promo game as well?"

From the article: "But for that brief window, you could help the company sell its game by making death threats to your friends based on their body size, for having hairy legs, their awful make-up or their 'tiny penis.' "

Yes, I'd say Leigh knew.

Joe Wreschnig
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Did you seriously just call Leigh Alexander a fake gamer and get three likes?

Holy shit videogame culture. :/

Luis Guimaraes
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"Leigh, do you have any experience or background in games? A quick search shows nothing. "

o_0 WTF...

BTW, Leigh, what's Merlin's Twitter account? I tried to search it but didn't find anything.

Kumar Daryanani
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"Leigh, do you have any experience or background in games? A quick search shows nothing. "

Sir, I entreat you to go back to google.com and search again. I suspect you must have used some form of bizarro-universe version of AOL that wasn't actually connected to the internet if you have found _nothing_.

Diana Hsu
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This comment currently has five likes, and this makes me sad.

Jakub Majewski
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Andrew Webber's ad hominem attacks aside, he does have a point. Yes, Leigh clearly is aware of the male-centred insults as well... and yet she still manages to call the campaign "sexist" and tie the whole thing to the #1ReasonWhy campaign.

Why? It's clear that whatever else can be said about this marketing campagin, it absolutely is not sexist. Moronic, yes. Infantile, yes. A bunch of other epithets, yes. Sexist - no.

Rob Wright
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"Leigh, do you have any experience or background in games? A quick search shows nothing."

OMFG....

Andrew, I think you're better off building a detailed defense of the app in question and why YOU believe it's not offensive or worth the outrage rather than trying to take down the author. Trust me on this one -- you'll fail badly.

Matt Robb
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I'm going to second (third?) Jakub and Ryan here. You undermine your campaign to eliminate sexism in the industry when you commandeer a non-sexist piece of idiocy as an example of what you're trying to eliminate.

Of course, Andrew's post was just poor example of a counter-argument.

Kristen C Stewart
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Jakub Majewski: "Yes, Leigh clearly is aware of the male-centred insults as well... and yet she still manages to call the campaign 'sexist'."

Yes, because male-focused insults are sexist. The "target identifiable by..." attributes changed according to the sex of your intended target, and using "his tiny penis" as an insult is sexist - it's an insult based entirely on gender.

Ryan Smith: "This article was clearly written in a way to incite outrage over sexist things instead of stupid things - and yes, there is a difference."

Agreed: Most sexist things are stupid things, but not all stupid things are sexist things. I addressed above how male-targeted insults are just as sexist as female-targeted insults, so perhaps you can explain to me how another example of someone in the gaming industry demeaning women could lead you to state that "This issue has nothing to do with women's issues in the industry."

"What's the point in raising the sexism flags?"

I can't speak for the writer, of course, but I personally support calling out actions, statements and ad campaigns that are insulting and sexist towards either or both genders.

Diana Hsu
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Whether or not the ad campaign was sexist is up to debate (personally, I just think it's in horrible taste and promotes making young people feel awful about body flaws). What I had hoped isn't up for debate is Andrew Webber's ridiculous and completely inaccurate ad hominem attack again the author of this article. But apparently this is not the case. :-/

George Blott
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Dislike.

Bryan Provencher
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With regard to this article: Amen.

We've been marketing mature games to boys instead of men and women for long enough. Time to grow up.

Kenneth Wesley
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Leigh's right. Sales executives and marketers within the industry act completely disconnected about video games and who plays them. I remember on a game I worked on I saw an email that went into the thinking of a game and it was basically a chart of percentages from other games.

They just continue to make this industry a place where we're can't be talked to, treated like, or be looked at like adults.

And to everyone calling out Ms. Alexander for getting angry over this, attacking her won't change that there are severe problems that make video games a hostile environment to be in. Doing things just for the 'buzz' is an outdated way to sell video games because it's not needed. There are ways for video games to be sold and talked out without making people feel unwelcomed or made fun of. Nintendo and Valve seems to know how to do it.

Mike Griffin
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Dear Square Enix:
Call me next time before greenlighting this type of campaign.
I would have helped you separate good buzz from bad buzz.

Hiring-on external e-marketing firms specialized in another sector of entertainment to concoct an offensive and tacky Facebook campaign doesn't exactly speak to confidence in your own internal teams.

Jim Butler
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Let's be fair to marketers and not paint all of us with a broad stroke. There are some damn ingenious marketers that have worked on games, and there are some idiots that should be tossed out the nearest airlock.

There are crappy game developers as well. They're the exception, not the rule.

The Hitman plan was misguided and insulting. An adult at some point should have killed this on paper before it ever emerged as part of an overall plan.

Development and marketing (and lots of other groups) have to work together to win. Clearly, that didn't happen here.

Glenn White
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Thank you. I'm also fairly bored with the assumption that the marketer/agency doesn't know anything about games. Unlike Owen Faraday above, I went into marketing because I like it.

Marketing campaigns, like any other facet of game development, have a LOT of moving parts and stakeholders. If a campaign is an offensive farce, like this one, it's easy to blame the agency and say they know nothing about games. Believe it or not, agencies don't get to launch campaigns like this without client approval and several rounds of feedback after a usually long (frenzied) pitch process for concepts.

An agency doesn't "know better than their client." The information usually COMES from the client, who provides a deck of anywhere from two to fifity slides explaining who their audience is, and what they're trying to accomplish. A good agency will have a viewpoint, and ask questions, sometimes providing a counterpoint as to who the audience is...but more often than not, the client is pretty confident in their assessment, and the agency is expected to work from that, often with some minor tweaks in a nod to the agency's POV.

To the point "Did they talk to the developers?" Not likely. In the twenty-odd years I've been in agency marketing, I can count on one hand the number of times I've been able to talk to the devs/product teams...at least officially. I get to talk to the marketing manager for the game who gets to talk to someone in production, who knows stuff. It's a huge game of telephone back and forth...and I'm always surprised when someone says "the devs saw it and they love it." That's how agencies work...at least the ones I've worked with.

Did an agency recommend this? No doubt. I'm curious as to what Square Enix told their agency they wanted. Do you know what Square Enix asked for? Did this stray from that? Or did it hit it dead on? Do you think Square Enix cared about offending people? Or did they set out to do so?

Valerie Bourdeau
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While I'm not savvy on the details of the Hitman marketing campaign, I work in marketing at a sister studio and we've been following the debacle with great interest.

It's true that many game marketing campaigns are run at the publisher level or by external ad agencies, but it's not true everywhere. We are privileged to sit side by side with our dev teams. We're with them every step of the development period, we consult with them on our strategies, we make design recommendations based on research and playtests, we collaborate to create trailers and other assets... So yeah, we care about the games.

It's easy to hate on marketing (to be fair, we make it easy for you), but in the end, to be played, your game has to be sold. The lesson we should take from the many missteps of the Hitman campaign is not that marketing is evil, but that it can't operate in its own little echo chamber. To be effective, marketing teams need to be in touch with both the devs and the community. They also need to include people with diverse perspectives who can be trusted to laugh the stupidest ideas out of the room before they're unleashed on the public, whatever the demographic numbers say.

Robert Marney
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Great reminder. Remember that even a game aimed squarely at the dude-bro demographic can have a great, classy ad campaign, like the Call of Duty "Everyone's a soldier" ads with normal people interposed onto war zones.

Johnathon Swift
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Agree on every single point and then some.

I'm playing Far Cry 3 right now, and loving it! Except for the utter trash story about some "bro's" perfect dream where they are a California adventurous punk with rich parents that gets captured by pirates (really?) and then escapes to have your brother shot before you by the antagonist. OMG PEEERFECT revenge fantasy! For someone I probably avoid associating with socially perhaps.

But the game seems to assume that's the person that's playing it. So did the advertising campaign. I literally learned this game was actually an open world exploration game first from a friggen graphical white paper at this years GDC. The game had been announced months before, and I learn what it actually is about besides a fantasy I want no party of from a technical paper? That's just... an utterly fantastical failure in every respect. Much in the way of Triple A game marketing is a cringe inducing failure today. The Hitman thing was just the most abhorrent and sensational of these screwups.

Christian Nutt
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This has the odor of the British "take the piss" culture that just doesn't translate to America at all. Between the Britishisms ("ginger", "shit" as an adjective) and the attitude, it's clear this came from the other side of the pond (where the junior marketers who wrote it are probably now moaning, to use another Britishism, about Americans' lack of a sense of humor and not learning anything.)

This doesn't make it okay -- and John Walker, a British critic at Rock Paper Shotgun, was the first to call foul on this, for valid reasons (cyberbullying is a serious issue.)

Just reminds me of my mystified fresh-expat British boss at my last job, completely bewildered at why the entire editorial staff didn't spend the entire day insulting each other viciously in the office.

Daniel Martinez
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And here I thought SquareEnix were being diligent when they hired other marketing talent above me. I would feel schadenfreude about this if I didn't care about the company; but instead, I feel like less than trash now. Thanks.

Kelly Kleider
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I would sum it up as disappointment. I'm disappointed that they are just pressing a series of tired buttons, like Maxim from 10 years ago. The killer nun thing they did was their "A" game :(

Because this is their second blunder which doubled-down on the first, an apology will seem disingenuous.

Christian Nutt
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"Like Maxim from 10 years ago" sums it up. The game industry can be so outdated. Ironically as the technology changes, the content doesn't. Just like the latest Splinter Cell takes its cues from 24, from 5+ years ago.

Emppu Nurminen
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....do I reckon right, but wasn't the developers side as bewildered of the reaction for their Nun video? How that makes it marketers fault, if whole brand was okay with creepy, exploitative violence to begin with?

Muir Freeland
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The twenty minutes or so I just spent reading this article and its comments are the most time I've ever spent thinking about a Hitman game.


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