Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Activision, Documentaries Are Not Ads: An Open Letter

Robert Rath | 8 May 2014 12:01
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The keyword here is private employer, meaning the owners are individuals and the stock isn't offered publically. That excludes all public sector employers, state-owned corporations and companies that are publically traded on the stock market, giving G4S a substantial leg up. When you add back in public sector employers, G4S's scary private army looks pretty badly outnumbered: The U.S. Department of Defense is, counting civilian employees and contractors, the world's largest employer at 3.2 million employees. The Chinese People's Liberation Army comes in second at 2.3 million. The UK's National Health Service has 1.7 million. Indian Railways has 1.4 million. Drop G4S into the Fortune Global 500 list from 2013 and it falls in 7th place, just ahead of the U.S. Postal Service and behind the Chinese mail delivery service China Post Group.

The graph in your video, however, is a far cry from providing this sort of context.

Ugh, that graph.

call of duty superpower for hire graph

Activision, please tell me you didn't pay someone for this graph. It's an atrocity. I would call it an infographic, but it actually conveys no information at all. For a start, there are no numbers on it, just colorful columns with company names perched at the top.

And it is wrong. All wrong. It ranks Foxconn (1.2 million employees) as larger than Walmart (2.2 million employees). McDonald's, which has 1.8 million employees, lingers at the bottom because 80% of its employees work at franchises - add those back and it jumps ahead of G4S and Foxconn. Enterprise (78,000 employees) - which I assume is the car rental company? - is for some reason in 6th place while Dell (108,8000 employees) comes in 8th. If you include Hilton's franchise employees, it'll double in size and move up a ranking.

Activision, I'm not going to tell you how to feel about this graph, but if I paid someone to make a documentary and they brought me work product this sloppy I'd be sending meeting invites in all caps.

Look, I realize that ultimately you see this as a trailer, not a documentary. But like it or not, when you use the documentary form - especially under the auspices of journalism - you have an ethical duty to report accurate information. Otherwise you risk doing a disservice to the subject and your audience, not to mention embarrassing yourself.

Though it might not seem so, I actually quite like the idea of funding documentary featurettes as part of game advertising. Provided it's handled in a respectful and accurate manner, it can educate the public and be an enriching experience. As much as I've criticized Vice, I found their documentary series for Assassin's Creed IV to be pretty good. Creative Assembly commissioned several Roman history videos from the Extra Credits team to promote Rome: Total War 2, and they were excellent.

But here's the problem: in neither of those videos did the content creators manipulate data or obfuscate facts to serve an advertising message. In contrast, "Superpower for Hire" intentionally misleads the viewer so the data looks more like the fictional world you're creating in a product.

It's advertising under the banner of journalism - and that's both irresponsible and unethical.

And here's the worst part: I want you to make a good documentary about PMCs. You have the resources and connections to do it and it could be a great public education tool. The rise of military contractors is indeed an emerging trend, and brings many questions with it: How does international law deal with them? Who bears responsibility for their crimes? Are they a good investment? Does bringing them in alienate the local population? I'd love you to talk about historical examples like the East India Company, which essentially conquered India with a private army and ruled it so badly the British Empire had to bail them out. You really don't have sensationalize this topic - it's attention-grabbing on its own.

Look, Activision, you're in an enviable position right now. You've got a flagship brand solid enough that you can throw your weight around a bit - I mean, good God, you've got Kevin Spacey in your next game. Given this, I'm willing to bet that if you geared your documentary trailers toward information rather than exploitation, they'd prove just as popular force others to see you in a new light. You have the potential here to get lots of young people interested in global politics - why not take it?

Sure, the ad gurus will be against it. They'll swear you need to scandalize to advertise, but you don't, and they've been driving your decision-making for too long.

It's time to stop taking orders and start taking over.

Best regards,
Robert Rath

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher currently based in Hong Kong. You can follow his exploits at or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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