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Question of the Week Responses: Impressive Game Marketing

With the increasing amount of money put into developing games, it naturally follows that a similarly large amount is spent on marketing and promoting video game titles. With this in mind, our Question Of The Week asked our professional game developer audience: “What video game marketing campaigns (TV, print, or online) have you been particularly impressed with recently?”

Quang Hong, Blogger

May 4, 2005

11 Min Read

With the increasing amount of money put into developing games, it naturally follows that a similarly large amount is spent on marketing and promoting video game titles. With this in mind, our Question Of The Week asked our professional game developer audience: “What video game marketing campaigns (TV, print, or online) have you been particularly impressed with recently?”

Illustration by Erin Mehlos


Recently, we have seen a definite buzz building for ARGs (Alternative Reality Game) as a marketing tool, notably Microsoft with its Halo 2 ilovebees.com campaign, created by 4orty 2wo Entertainment, and Microsoft's current “OurColony” campaign, which is likely promoting the Xbox 360.

The Alternate Reality Game "I Love Bees" was the most phenomenal game marketing campaign I have ever witnessed. As thousands of players spent months interacting with dicey and alluring A.I.s from the future, their actions resulted in the revelation of an emotional and action packed story set in Halo's universe. As the realization came about that the game was indeed a marketing campaign for Halo 2, the playing community went through a bit of an identity crisis. Did we care that all of our blood and sweat and emotional ties were in fact being poured into a marketing machine? Interestingly enough, the answer was "No!" Many players eagerly awaited the release of Halo 2, and “I Love Bees” only fueled that fire. But, all of us were enthralled by the marketing content itself, and that is no small thing. When was the last time YOU drove a hundred miles to pick up a payphone and speak secret passwords that were basically spinning the wheels of an advertisement vehicle, and still feel like you were in the middle of a life changing experience? Marketing departments can only drool over such a feat, to spin the cynical "Just another sales pitch" view of young people into "A sales pitch that rocks my world." I don't know if future ARGs can hold that magic, but if they can, advertising has just become the new entertainment.
-James Bohnert

One of the most innovative was that of the Microsoft and 4orty 2wo campaign for the release of Halo 2. The uber-geeks were brought out to solve a mystery of sorts, whose clues were given away on the now infamous ilovebees.com website and perpetuated by calls to random pay phones across the country. I imagine this type of marketing would be quite a bit more difficult for a title that didn't already have a fan-following, especially before the title was officially announced. Although the "winners" got nothing more than a sense of pride in unlocking all the messages, it helped to ensure the now obvious success of the title, since it made consumers feel as if they were a part an historic event.
-Christopher Kirkman

Microsoft's "Our Colony" marketing campaign for the next-generation Xbox is extremely effective, especially given the absurdly indirect approach it takes. Not only is it involving gamers with bleeding-edge console news, and placing them at the source of image leaks and "sneak peaks," but it's also simultaneously serving to perpetuate the concept Microsoft initiated with Xbox Live. “Our Colony” is all about working together; at first "gamem8ker" had players form massive colonies, and compete against each other, but recently there has been an emphasis on cooperation between colonies, and one challenge even forced the largest competitors to visit each other's forums, inspiring several to create united forums for the sake of unity. It's almost as though the ARG is preparing gamers for the massive social potential of 360's vastly superior online system...
-Scott Siegel, Bard College


In the realm of television, the Ratchet and Clank U.S. television spots were pointed out for their humor in highlighting the games weapons, while recent Splinter Cell ads were lauded for conveying the mood and “feel” of the game to the audience. Other mentions included Jade Empire, Grand Theft Auto, and MechWarrior .

I love the TV work on the Ratchet and Clank series - the stuff that looks like it's shot on home video, with the teenage kids experimenting on each other with the weapons and gadgets from the game. It's fresh, genuinely funny, and on target without gratuitous gameplay footage and bad voiceovers. However, there is some question as to how much advertising drives sales to the enthusiast market, as their purchase decisions seen more driven by word-of-mouth, previews, reviews, and editorial content. The hardcore guys (and gals) might be more swayed by gameplay footage and screenshots, which they can already access through rich media on the web. But for the mainstream gamer, this is absolutely the best kind of advertising. Broadcast to a wide audience, it captures the emotional essence and humor of the franchise.
-Thomas Kim

I like the Ratchet and Clank "Weapons Not Fit for this World" ads. They're funny. They highlight a great feature of the game - numerous and unique weapons. They capture the spirit of the game. And they also manage to squeak in at least a few little clips of gameplay. But the fact that they're the only recent game ads I can think of is a sign to me that they're pretty well done.
-Vince Dickinson, EA-Tiburon

Television marketing campaigns for video games have always seemed more than a little lackluster to me - the 10 second clips of in-game footage accompanying reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation ; adverts for the never-ending stream of updates to EA's sports games; and God-forbid... yet another Splinter Cell sequel. The only three (!) TV campaigns I think I've ever watched with more than passing interest include the GTA adverts for the last two games - the sheer style of Vice City's beautifully sun-kissed beaches, and the more gritty but equally "colorful" 'hood of San Andreas succeed in capturing the attention of any avid gamer as the bullets fly by, the choppers circle menacingly overhead, and the streets burn... giving you only a taste of what you know is waiting for you when you buy. The third? The less than recent advertising campaign for Mechwarrior 3. The advert captured the sheer scale and domination of the Mechs even better than the game ever did: the wonderfully realized timing of the leg coming crashing down on the poor sod running around outside his house - I'm sure I even remember a satisfying squelch... maybe I just remember thinking it... That advert is probably the only one ever to make me want to buy a game I otherwise had little interest in. After all at this time, I'm not sure I remember a single thing about the game... but the advert has sure as hell stuck with me.

I am actually quite impressed with the Jade Empire TV ad campaign. The ads have a style that shows the characters and environments as if they are being drawn using Chinese ink, however, they animate fluidly in combat. It's as if they are giving life to these ink paintings. It is a visually stunning ad, and it really lends itself well to further define the visual identity of the game in people's minds.
-Victor Cameron, Gnosis Games.

The new Splinter Cell has my vote. The stellar shots of gameplay in the TV spots convey the great tension and atmosphere, while the incredible magazine ads use upside-down text to further emphasize the game... The whole campaign just makes me want to play it every time I see an ad. Ubisoft wins hands down in my opinion for making me want to hang upside down from above and break someone's neck... virtually, of course.
-Todd Howard

The TV ad campaign for Tom Clancy's newest Splinter Cell (Chaos Theory) has even my significant other talking. She looked over and commented, "That looks impressive," in a non-mocking tone.

I've enjoyed the TV ads. Games like Mercenaries definitely benefited from the use of TV ads. Print is ok and so is online work. But there is nothing like seeing some gameplay mixed with a little hype and humor (or other appropriate feelings/emotional stimulants) attached. It's one of the best ways to reach a mass market. Gaming ads that are found on TV aren't that dissimilar from movie trailers anymore. They're glamorous, cocky, and exciting. What more can you ask for, other than a great game to go with its great trailer?
-Fred Callaway Jr

Impressed maybe isn't the right word. The TV ad campaign of Doom 3 for the Xbox 'tries' to sound impressive with the catch-phrase "They say that before you die, you see a bright light", followed by a few clips of raging monsters. I humor myself and my friends sometimes by saying out loud (as the ad is running) "They say that before you die, you can't see." I find it more suitable for id's shooter.
-Erik Benerdal

At the Movies

One reader pointed to the appearance of game trailers at the movies, mentioning specifically the first trailer he saw of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.

I haven't been that all impressed with the way recent marketing campaigns have been as of late. Since the focus is targeted to this 'mature' audience, they tend to go overboard and hype the game to the point that the game no longer lives up to the actual marketing gimmick. However, there is one campaign that really struck in my mind: The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time promotional trailer that was shown during a movie. It was, to my recollection, the first time a video game has ever been put in the same arena as theatrical trailers. The trailer was simple focusing on the actual gameplay and graphics. The music for the trailer was appropriate for the game. Finally, there was just enough of the game shown to attract moviegoers and game enthusiasts alike to buy this game.
-Michael Rivers


With billboards relying on visual imagery and short, hopefully memorable taglines, one reader put it succinctly:

"Wi-Fi. Hi-Fi. Sci-Fi." Sony PSP billboard.


As far as print as go, Splinter Cell received another mention, and Vivendi was lauded (?) for buying prime ad space.

Vivendi replacing the cover of PC Gamer with its own glue-on brochure for Empire Earth II . I'm sure the Prey crew is steamed, but it really is a brilliant move by VU. It just goes to show:“If you can't get the cover, buy it.”
-Shane Hensley, Cryptic Studios

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory in PC Gamer . The upside-down page forced the reader to flip the magazine over and gave a new appreciation of the gameplay.
-Paul Shervey, Electronic Arts, Canada

Zoning Out

Reflecting the prevalence of advertisements, one reader touched upon the tendency to simply ignore or filter out advertisements.

None! I don't watch TV. Sometimes I listen to political radio stations, but I've never heard a game advertised. I read a newspaper maybe once every 3 days and there are never any game ads. For transportation I mostly walk around my neighborhood, and although I've seen flyers for game-related events, I've never seen signs or billboards for games. I don't partake of game consumer magazines, as I'm too busy trying to produce. Even on the internet, the most I ever see is a banner ad. Who cares? I'm conditioned to ignore banner ads, and there's precious little they can impart anyways. The only time I really ever see the game marketing materials is when I deliberately go to the store to assess the competition.
- Brandon Van Every, Indie Game Design


[Article illustration by Erin Mehlos.]

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About the Author(s)

Quang Hong


Quang Hong is the Features Editor of Gamasutra.com.

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