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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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."