Play to Pay

Play to Pay
A Man, a Board, a Brand

Jordan Deam | 18 Dec 2007 12:09
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In all, there are over 45 unique brands occupying prominent space in San Vanelona, from clothing to billboards to themed stores. It's up to you to "create your perfect skater with products and sponsorships" from these brands, in EA's own words. What I imagined as some kind of marketing alchemy actually becomes central to the gameplay - after all, you need something to buy with all that cash you've accumulated. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit I probably spent as much time coordinating my outfit as I did learning how to pull off a Nollie Inward Heelflip. The sheer volume of products you can buy is mind boggling, especially when you consider that most (if not all) of the products featured are available for purchase with real money in actual stores. If, as the pundits have suggested, violent videogames allow troubled children to "rehearse" aggressive and dangerous behavior, skate is providing sorely needed training for our nation's youth to navigate their local shopping malls.

It's to EA's credit that decisions about which board to ride and which shoes to wear are purely cosmetic: No combination of gear will allow you to ollie higher or spin faster. The only thing that increases your character's performance is your own mastery of the controls, which are considerably more nuanced than any skateboarding game to date. This makes outfitting your character a more deliberate and personal process than simply picking the "best" items in each category. And depending on your outlook, it also makes most of the challenges unnecessary. If you're satisfied with the generic board and basic logo T's available to you at the start of the game, you could spend hours simply finding fun spots to skate without giving the "plot" a moment's notice.

And yet none of my four Spot Battle competitors are wearing the default green cargo shorts and basic black sneakers. Maybe we all want to show expertise - some merchandise is only available after completing specific challenges - or maybe it's simply the innate desire to make our mark on whatever is placed in front of us. What's clear is everyone gets something out of showing off his apparel as much as his ability, even if it's only seen by a few random strangers hundreds of miles away.

But, like the competitions in the single-player campaign, skate's online multiplayer takes a back seat to its video editing and screenshot capabilities, which allow players to create and upload footage from the game onto an EA-hosted site where visitors can watch and rate it. Currently, the most popular videos fall in the "blooper-reel" category, and for good reason: skate's physics engine is realistic enough that a good crash will produce a visceral response from viewers, and actually pulling off a truly impressive trick can take hours of repeated failure. But some players are taking the simulation to the next level, forming teams to create virtual sponsorship videos for their real-life brand of choice.


In skate, EA has created a simulation that educates the player as much about the commerce of skating as it does the art. What's most notable about the game is how seamlessly branding is integrated into the core gameplay, and how little the game suffers because of it. Of course, some attempts are more transparent than others: You manage your character's saved photos and films through a T-Mobile Sidekick, and you can buy "exclusive" Adidas clothing at their posh downtown outlet without a Nike Town in sight - a piece of virtual real estate that Adidas must have paid dearly for. But ultimately, whether you're picking a sponsor or a T-shirt, the brands are the main focus of skate. EA's created a $60 advergame ... and it might even be worth the price.

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