6 Video Game Advertising Mistakes That Turned into PR Nightmares
“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” There’s some truth to that statement, but it has its limits. People in public relations have tested how far they can go to advertise their product by straddling the line between gossip-worthy and socially unacceptable marketing ploys. It’s one thing to create discussion, another to create controversy, and something completely out there to disrespect your customer base.
There’s PR that gets talk generated about your game and another that gets you fired. Here are some examples of the latter.
Back in 2011, there began a simple email chain directed at Paul Christoforo of Ocean Marketing from a customer named Dave. It contained within it a question in regards to the shipment time of a game controller. It quickly degraded into one of the most horrible examples of customer service PR work.
Christoforo was hired out as PR for the N-Control Avenger game controller, he started out by replying to Dave’s emails with short, grammatically incorrect, and generally confusing “answers” as to when Dave’s controller would arrive. Christoforo quickly gets increasingly more hostile as Dave becomes more displeased with the treatment he’s receiving.
Dave got the press and Penny Arcade’s Mike “Gabe” Krahulik added to the chain, which spiraled into news stories and blog posts about this horrible example of customer service. Christoforo was eventually fired from representing N-Control and asked for forgiveness and help to undo what had been done. You can read the entire correspondence over at Penny Arcade.
Racially charged PSP ad
Sony may not have intended it, but a billboard add promoting the white PSP’s release left some feeling a little uncomfortable. This wasn’t the only image that was produced. Other photos that were taken could be up for a much different interpretation as they feature one woman on top of the other in a suggestive position. Sony later defended the ads, saying in a statement that, “All of the 100 or so images created for the campaign have been designed to show this contrast in colours of the PSPs , and have no other message or purpose.”
Sony made headlines once again with a PR stunt that involved a decapitated animal — a goat to be specific. The freshly headless beast was on display as the centerpiece during a God of War II launch party for the PlayStation 2 console. Party-goers were also invited to reach inside the still-warm carcass and eat offal from its stomach. The story about “Sony’s Greek Orgy” was set to run in PlayStation’s official magazine with a full spread of the decapitated goat’s head and all.
Sony halted its release to news stands, but subscribers had already received the issue with the gruesome images, of which the Daily Mail got a hold of a copy. Critics condemned Sony stating its actions were “stupid and completely unjustified.”
Duke Nukem Forever was one of the most anticipated games of 2011. The original Duke Nukem was a game that helped define and make the shooter genre what it is today. While there were some callbacks to the old game, it largely rubbed people the wrong way with its blatant sexism, childish humor, and clunky gameplay. It received a Meta Critic score of 54/100.
The single-man PR team of the Redner Group found critics’ opinions of the game too harsh, tweeting: “too many people went too far with their reviews … we [are] reviewing who gets games next time and doesn’t based on today’s venom.” Effectively threatening that critics would be blacklisted. Publisher of the game, 2K, quickly distanced themselves from the PR firm. However, Redner stood by what he said, adding that, “It is my opinion that when someone exceeds their journalistic integrity and publishes a scathing, derogatory, uncalled-for review, I have the right to question it.”
Helping critics understand motion controls
Lair had an unfortunate release. It was widely disliked by many game critics who found the motion-control dragon flying clunky. Greg Miller of IGN described in his review that the controls have a “bus-like feel and Sixaxis controls kill this game. In wide-open areas, it’s okay, but the moment you need precision, you realize you’re screwed — you can’t corner, target, or fight well.”
Sony didn’t take the critiques well, as they sent out a “Lair Reviewer’s Guide” to sites to help them understand the controls in a 21 page booklet (6 of which were dedicated to explaining the controls.)
Advertise on granny’s grave
How would you feel about someone advertising on your grave stone? Acclaim Entertainment stated back in 2002 that it would be happy to pay for ad space on your relative’s headstone in order to promote its latest game. When asked why, a spokesperson stated, “It’s a dark, gory type of game and we thought it was appropriate to raise advertising to a new level.”
What’s more Acclaim thought the idea would be of “[particular] interest poorer families.” The church and chairman of the Outdoor Advertising Association moved against the idea, but apparently no one really volunteered.