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Before we begin, take a moment to check out a few Evony ads, which I'm sure everyone has seen here and there around the internet.

Wow. This must be an adults-only game or something. Edgy stuff. Is this one of those Japanese "dating" games?

Not as such. Here's an actual screenshot:

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(Note: All of these were acquired from Google. I don't mean to imply that I've played the game myself.)

You know, this has really bothered me for a while. It's not the absurdly sexualized ads for the thing. It's the gross dishonesty and the fact that they're still at it after all this time.

Note that they haven't really broken any rules or done anything that other companies haven't done a thousand times before. Lots of other companies show a bunch of cleavage as a way of saying, "Hey! look over here!" to the male consumer. Evony isn't breaking any new ground, they're just doing it to a far greater degree than anyone else. Lots of companies put a little cheesecake on the cover of their game, but most of them at least have a reason to plausibly do so. They have a female character in the game who ends up in the promotional materials, even if that's her only real reason for existing.

But this is strange beyond my comprehension. They have extremely sexualized ads - far more provocative than anything Lara Croft ever did in an official capacity - while the game itself looks like Adventures In Spreadsheets.

I am amazed that this works. I mean, I understand that it "works" in the sense that men will click on the ads. But just having people visit your website, get irritated, and leave again doesn't actually make money in any meaningful way. What must their bounce rating be on their website? (The number of people who click through, take a look at the front page, and then immediately back out.) How many guys download the game expecting Quest for the Tits and uninstall as soon as they see it's Quest for Adjusting Ye Olde Medieval Tax Rates?

(And the other thing that people hate about the ads is the way it sexualizes violence against women. I think the goal is to have a sexy girl that the the viewer will want to rescue, but the proliferation of tied-up-and-about-to-be-stabbed-in-the-bosom women in Evony ads create the uneasy feeling in me that the guy who makes the images just gets off seeing big-breasted women get cut up.)

I'm ostensibly the target audience (people who like number-crunchy strategy simulations) but I'd never get near this thing. This marketing campaign is sleazy, which fills me with misgivings about the creators, which leads me to wonder what sort of dangers lurk beneath the surface of their software. To wit: When the advertised product differs this much from the reality, my first suspicion is that the product is merely a delivery mechanism for a noxious payload of spyware/malware. Such fears are hardly unfounded.

I would never resort to this type of ad for an online game where people can interact, because you can't build a stable community like this. More than anything you're likely to attract a good supply of Problem People. Your userbase is going to be overwhelmingly comprised of irritated young males, a problem which will be exacerbated by the fact that the female portion of your userbase is going to be rock bottom. You've got guys who want to meet girls, or see girls, or talk to girls, or something. And you've got nothing for them. At all. This is exactly the sort of situation that creates griefers.

I also can't believe how they keep escalating the cheesecake in the ads. It's their only trick. I have yet to see an ad that actually attempts to appeal to someone who might enjoy the game on its own merits. No ad has ever clearly explained what the game is. It's like they're ashamed of their product and can't imagine that anyone would like such a thing. So then they make it look like an action game with lots of skin, and hope that somehow people will show up for swords and boobs and stay for the clicking and the adjusting.

They've never tried to go after the casual market. Or women. Or teens. The only thing they know how to do is to increase the intensity of their lies and boobs. It's the most cynical ad campaign I've ever encountered. (And in videogames, that's saying a lot.)

The name of Evony is now accursed among gamers. The sight of the logo itself can evoke eye-rolls and head-shakes. And yet: It must be working on some level. If they were losing money they would have given up, gone out of business, or changed tactics by now.

You mean Electronic Arts just laid off 1,500 people, and these assholes are making money?

If you want a free-to-play online game, might I suggest Dungeons and Dragons Online? And if you want Medieval Strategy, could I suggest the Castles + Castles 2 pack from Good Old Games for a measly six bucks? And if you want to see boobs, might I suggest Google Image Search?

Shamus Young is the guy behind this website, these three webcomics, and this program. If he had the slightest shred of decency he'd feel very, very ashamed of the horrible pun in the article title.

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