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 Evony  Pledges To Clean Up Misleading Ads
Evony Pledges To Clean Up Misleading Ads
May 14, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

May 14, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC

As it celebrates its first anniversary, free-to-play strategy title Evony wants people to hear about its 19 million-user player base. But so much controversy's surrounded the title, it's unlikely many industry-watchers will happily break out the champagne.

The game's been criticized as being shamelessly derivative of Civilization, hence a name change -- the game was once called "Civony". Not only that, but it's been dogged by allegations that it's actually developed by a Chinese gold farming firm, and that its monetization strategies border on fraud.

Those accusations have been largely spearheaded by UK games blogger Bruce Everiss, who also says the company gives out user addresses to email spammers.

When Evony (the company holds the same name as the game) sued Everiss for libel, the result wasn't a vindication -- the suit brought widespread criticisms of censorship and, counterproductively, further attention to Everiss' claims.

But the lawsuit was dropped after just a few days' hearings: "A lot of our players expressed opinions about the lawsuit," the company's Ben Gifford told the UK Guardian, "and we reacted to that."

The mudslinging itself would be a public relations nightmare for a young game in the highly competitive free-to-play space, but there's yet another cloud hanging over Evony: Its advertising methods.

Although the game is a traditional city-building real-time strategy title -- players collect materials, create buildings and generate armies to attack rival cities -- one would never know that from the web advertisements, which have been prolific enough that most internet-loyal gamers have seen at least one.

Instead of an advertisement that represents the actual gameplay, Evony's ads usually featured highly suggestive and scantily clad fantasy-female characters with captions like "Come play, My Lord". Some of them simply portray photographs of attractive women promised to be "waiting for you" with simply an Evony logo in the corner. The net effect was that it was quite easy to mistake Evony for some kind of sexual fantasy simulation or networking service.

To say that Evony has a lot of work to do if it wants to rebuild its industry credibility is an understatement, but the company is starting with its advertising, pledging to keep the ad content tied to the actual game.

In a statement to Gamasutra, Evony -- which is just in the process of launching sequel game Evony: Age II -- stressed it runs a mix of ads, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the sexually-toned ads are the most successful -- and thus the most popular with ad partners.

"The scale of Evony’s advertising operation also means that occasionally – despite the fact that websites typically specify the type of ad content appropriate for their audience – these ads have run on sites they were not intended for," says the company in a statement to Gamasutra. "It also means that occasionally the content of some ads have not met our standards. We work rapidly and diligently to respond to any problem[s]."

The company says it's even set up an email address,, to field consumer complaints about the ads so that they can be "investigated thoroughly."

"Moving forward – based on community feedback as well as an in-depth look at advertising effectiveness – we are employing an ad campaign that focuses on the gameplay and features of Evony: Age II," the statement continues.

"While we cannot say with certainty that we will no longer feature less family friendly ads aimed at the appropriate audience, we will work hard to ensure the content is presented in a positive manner that is distinctly tied to the features and experience of the game we’re advertising."

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Anton Pustovoyt
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I somehow find the 18 million players mark highly unlikely.. It seems that lately every minor game, everything from free asian MMOs to web browser games is very quick to throw a stamp with over 10 million players on it..

As said, I find it really unlikely that those games have such high success.. People should have better taste :S

Caleb Garner
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it's probably more like 19 million accounts.. meaning their sexy adverts drew curious players to see what's so hot about the game. then they see it's nothing like the advertisements and promptly leave. So 19 million user names is very different than 19 million monthly active users.

Matthieu Poujade
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Someone once said "there is no such thing as bad publicity."

I'm not certain about anything here, mind you, so this is pure speculation. But building an audience (probably not a player base, but at least a registered account base) of 18 million in a short time, using a rather old IP, and a rather old marketing technique (referred here as "da boobies") is not too shabby from a business perspective. It allows you to "repent" after it all and tell the whole world you're going to be good guys from now on, while sitting on 18,000,000 email addresses that you're going to be able to send stuff to.

All I'm saying is... It could just be a series of rational business and marketing decisions.

Diego Leao
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This million thing could be just another marketing scam: "Evony WANTS people to hear about its 19 million-user player base".

They could have just invented they have 19 million players (with some weak data to "confirm"). And a lot of people would register just to see why the game is so popular.

Even if it is true, are they counting the players that registered because of the ad scam and never came back?

Michael Smith
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I was more bothered by the Age of Empires 2 plagiarism than the stupid ads.

Stephen Chin
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It probably shouldn't be surprising that free-to-play games have high numbers. When it takes all of a minute to get an account and try something out, you'll bet that people will at least try it out in some form or fashion. What F2P games have to worry about is turning that high rate of churn into money.

After all, games like Runescape and Maplestory surpass WoW in numbers. We just don't consider them 'hardcore' enough to put in the same sentence most times so we ignore that WoW might be big fish for subscription games but in general, it's hardly top dog.

Jack Young
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I was sure to never try that game but I will miss "da Boobies". I rather liked the fantasy art compared to the quick model pics in later ads. I really had no idea what the game was geared towards other than some fantasy setting. If I chose to Download, I would have first checked a review site.


I like the ad in example above: "Free Forever!" like herpies.

Dan Kyles
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Like Michael, I was most annoyed at the blatant use of AOEII material. The first ad I saw for this game featured a prominent Briton Castle, ripped straight from a screenshot; no doubt. I was shocked to find out that there was actually a game attached to the advertising. I thought a click would only lead to a million pop-ups selling everything from herbal enhancers to "lottery" tickets.

Dave Endresak
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Skipping this specific title and its controversial advertising methods, I find the ethnocentric statements in some of the replies here regarding free to play games and their success in the global games industry exasperating, not to mention a complete refusal to listen to experts in the industry who have repeatedly explained the fact that subscription models are not the standard in various markets. Frank Yu is one such expert who has posted articles here on Gamasutra, but there are many others including financial analyst firms such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers. I don't want to offend anyone, but why do so many people refuse to consider the global, multicultural aspect of the industry and the products and services that they enjoy when talking about topics related to the industry? Why do people fail to realize that the "standard" that they embrace as a "norm" is not a "standard" for others? Why can't people in the industry and everyone who enjoys playing games embrace diversity rather than insisting that one method is the "standard" that all should follow?

I think that there are two key factors to remember when talking about gaming. The first factor is that the products are global, especially for something like MMOs, browser-based games, and other such products. This means that local business methods do not apply, but rather global methods are used where any locale must be able to access the product according to the socioeconomic norms that exist in said locale. Subscription models are inherently excluding of customers. This is true for anything where a subscription is required, even academic research databases (the latter has become a very serious and contentious issue in the past several years, if not longer). Even for Western markets and their modern penchant for paying via credit/debit cards, there are many people who simply do not or cannot pay for goods and/or services that way. In other cultures such as various East Asian locales, the socioeconomic structure does not support this method as the preferred payment choice, and these infrastructure differences are why alternative methods such as free to play were created. As Stephen said (echoing many of my own prior posts about this topic), subscription models like WoW may be a big fish for subscription products or for specific markets, but WoW and similar products are not by any means the most successful offerings when the entire global market is considered. Even for WoW, Gamasutra reported an analysis by at least one financial analysis firm that estimated that 94% of WoW's revenue comes from Western markets (North America and Europe) while the Asian revenue is very tiny (I believe these where the numbers... I may be off a bit, but not much). It's still profitable there, but nowhere near the level of games such as Ragnarok Online or other products, many of which never get any attention in the West except by financial analysts who examine the entire global market.

The other important factor specifically related to free to play is that such products follow the 80/20 rule. Most people probably know about this rule already, but it simply says that 20 percent of customers actually pay for goods and/or services while the other 80 percent pay little or nothing, but are still critically important parts of the community. This is why Nexon, for example, has been so successful. A simple title like Maple Story may have 90 million users, but the 80/20 rule means that only about 18 million of those users pay any significant amount that supports the service and makes Nexon profitable. Even with this restriction, this title and others dwarf something like WoW. Same thing for newer games such as Zynga's FarmVille. With numbers like these and the lack of any excluding barrier for customer entry, it's small wonder that such games have become a focus of attention at the GDC and for major publishers like EA. The primary difference, as Min Kim of Nexon has stated in interviews and conference addresses, is that free to play is a service, not a product. Western developers are used to creating products rather than offering services, but East Asian markets such as Korea and China are pretty much the opposite (i.e. they are used to creating services but not products).

Another point related to the second one is that any of these numbers are self-reported, not tracked by an independent third party. I see a lot of noise about "active users" but that doesn't really mean anything because the numbers are self-reported. Even Valve's Steam numbers are self-reported. In other words, I see many people who seem to think Blizzard's WoW numbers are somehow "authentic" and "active users" while those of other companies are somehow "less authentic" or "not active" but this is not the case. WoW's marketing in stores and on game packages does not say "active" and even if it did, it's still not any more accurate than another company such as Nexon or NCSoft.

Any company will use "spin" to make you believe what they say. This is the nature of critical analysis. We have to be willing to question the source of any data we examine, but I see a strange unwillingness to do so when certain topics come up.

I could also post about the hypocrisy of complaints about portrayals of female sexuality despite public conventions for yaoi products focusing on unrealistic portrayals of male sexuality and how perceptions of sexuality vary between cultures just as other perceptions such as violence do, but such a post could become a book (and probably should, maybe someday). I will note that we should remember one point about female sexuality and America: America (generally speaking, of course) tends to view female breasts as sexual, but this is not true for many other cultures around the world or across human history. Again, gaming is global.

Christopher Wragg
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@ Dave

Just per your final point in that rant; To believe that Evony's previous advertising strategy was anything other than manipulating female sexuality for financial gain is absurd. Sure multiple companies do this in varying ways, and sure perceptions of sexuality are different in other cultures. But it's not exactly like we're all missing some subtle and clever social remark in Evony's adds. As such I see little to no hypocrisy here in regards to the content of their adverts.

Stephen Etheridge
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The 'gaming is global' comment is irrelevant because advertising can be personalised based on the recipient's IP address. There may be an argument that expectations vary from culture to culture, but the Evony ads clearly don't respect those cultural expectations by blanket marketing using primarily those images described.

Matthieu Poujade
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@Dave, on the topic of boobs, cultural differences, etc. America, Europe, and at least Japan in Asia are displaying a rather undisputed "cultural" interest in female chests. These zones combined sound like a pretty big audience to me. In other words, in your last paragraph there... you can't be serious.