Saturday, April 16, 2011

on advertisements for gamers

it's gonna be a whiny one, people. I know, sorry. You don't have to be a genius to notice that there's a certain "way" games industry commercials are made, and we're not even gonna touch the Dead Space 2 debacle. My chief complaint is that theres a real absence of class in these advertisements. Like Monster energy drinks, there's a very odd (at least to me) effort to project a "dangerous" image by a lot of these companies like that's what's going to attract customers. Take a look at these commercials, hopefully they'll give you a better idea of what I mean if you don't have one already. I noticed this first one because every time I watched a video from recently, this ad is what would play, so I had a long time to get good and mad at it.

If it doesn't make you mad, watch it 40 times. I could literally feel my intelligence dropping because of my status as a gamer. Like, by osmosis or something, the greater gaming community was taking my intelligence away by being so derp. So the ad is for an Alienware laptop from Dell. If you're not familiar with Alienware, they specialize in making PCs specifically for playing games. When they made this commercial, Dell needed to clearly communicate that that's what their product was for. What did they decide to go with? A guy firing a chaingun to heavy metal in what looks like Mordor being assailed by comets and fighting demons. Also, this is tangential, but I thought it was funny how the waitress stood there smiling. And this is one of the biggest complaints: The text that contextualizes this "games = explosions" image into a reason for you to buy their laptop is that you can "Dominate from Anywhere". This is one side of games I really can't stand. Like being a gamer means I also must have this weird (but popular) fetish for putting my balls in my opponent's mouth when I win.

Somehow this is one of the most heterosexual things you can do
There is no doubt in my mind that there is a demographic that will be responsive towards ads like this. But am I really a minority when I look at ads like this and think "They must think I'm stupid"? Are people who respond to this kind of advertising a bigger presence in games consumption than people like me? If that's true, there's some problems I'll address a little lower. At worst it perpetuates a negative stereotype about gamers as manchildren, but at ... another worst ... it gives only image, not information, for people to base their purchases on. Appeals to SpikeTV-fueled man-rage aside, (because I've already covered that in my Halo review) what's just as problematic is that these ads don't really tell you anything about games when they're ads for actual games. Observe.

That was a special one, wasn't it? We've already covered the douchebaggy arrogance that seems to permeate the ads, but notice something else about this commercial: It tells you nothing about gameplay mechanics, or what the game is like. A racing game, Blur could have any number of features that could separate it from the Gran Turismos and Forzas of the world, something that makes the game a worthwhile purchase where gameplay is concerned. They chose not to tell you what makes this game different or even appealing. Instead, they chose to make you feel like an idiot if you play games for fun. Gaming, apparently, is about proving that your're badass. If your game has a breadth of colors in it, you're a kid, I guess. Just wow. Apparently Mario Kart, the game that is obviously referenced, is stupid no matter how good it is because there's color and round edges in it. I really don't understand this, or what it even gets us or publishers. I really hope the comment section on youtube is some kind of anomaly created by the fact that only Blur fans would gravitate to that video, because reaction to the commercial is uniformly positive, like nobody disagrees. Artistic integrity, give-take reward, cleverness and character have taken backseats to "playing this in front of my friends will make me look hardcore".

Now, they're just television ads. What harm can they do? Well, in terms of real harm, like something you can actually see in your own personal life, not much. True. But let's say publishers start to notice that games marketed this way actually see profitable results, results they wouldn't have without this kind of  marketing? There's not a whole lot keeping publishers from scrapping a lot of the things that give games integrity, and simply requesting that their developers create something that will sell easy based on image. It's something we've seen before, most notably in Activision over the last several years. Publisher walks in, says "we need a game that we can make a great commercial for. I don't care what it is. And make it fast." Then that game sells well. Games with no style or substance, marketed correctly, do sell.

There's a right way to sell videogames and a wrong way. What is most upsetting about the bad ads is how much they don't tell you what playing it is like. That Blur commercial only tells you that Blur is "totally sweet and awesome". If you're actually wondering about what it's like when you get the game home from the shop, pop it in and start playing, you'll have to buy it. A game commercial should tell you what the game is like, and there's a pretty good example being played on TV right now: Portal 2.

Even if you have never played Portal 1, this commercial introduces you to the portal game mechanic, showing you the device you'll be using to play. One robot sticks his hand through the portal, showing that that's actually what it is, then they do a little playing with it, showing the walk-in-walk-out property, as well as some of the mechanics like how gravity works. Then, it gives you an idea of the scope when GLADOS opens up the room and the droids dive-bomb into playing. It's brilliant. It does not appeal to any kind of idiotic machisimo to convince you it's worth buying; it tells you exactly how you play and demonstrates why that's fun. For direct comparison of how to use the same property wrong, here's a commercial for Portal 2 preorders at GameStop.

Notice how GameStop, a company I really loathe (sorry for the internet rage vocab), can use the same property to make a bad commercial. Yes, it's Portal 2, but the selling device reverts to the commercials I listed earlier. Instead of telling you anything about the upgrade you get, like what advantages (if any) you get, it uses "get this or you're lame". Yes, I can't wait to get a skin that does nothing to augment the game, looks stupid anyway, and is something every other guy who perorders will have too. Skin envy? Ay gevalt.

So ... conclusion? It's a little hard to be positively conclusive. Developers should probably be more involved in marketing for one. As long as the marketing is in the hands of publishers and not developers, it's going to look like this. The simple reason is that the publisher only sees their game as a product. Whatever marketing tactic they think will sell their game is what they'll use, and they'll make sure their message is dumbed down so as to make it accessible. The publishers are acting as salesmen who barely know their product. There should be some industry rule or something. The developer should be in charge of advertising, not the publisher. Sure, publishers are the ones who shell out to have the game made in the first place, but when it comes to having someone sell the product and know what they're doing, nobody beats the developer. And that's my two cents.

1 comment:

  1. Publisher Marketing is perpetuating the most bass ackward stereotype of the "modern gamer" imaginable. It's like the horrific evolution of bad 90's ads. I just can't help but imagine a board room with marketing execs high fiving each other about the amount of explosions and tits they jammed into the new AAA title spot.

    Also, when that first video started playing I thought it was an ad before the video and I was like " oh great, this effing commercial" lol


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