Controversy Marketing

Controversy Marketing

Controversies are a great way to gain attention.

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It's too bad that good craftmanship on games can be substituted with good craftmanship on publicity stunts. It's even worse that those attemtpts succeed more often than they deserve to. I can live with moustache-twirling being all the rage in oil industry or banking, but when it enters some artistic sphere and makes creativity take a backseat, then i start to get aggravated. Well, that's the inevitable consequence of going big-budget, i guess.

And no, there was never a controversy in gaming industry that made me pay attention. It's probably because i don't really pay attention to anything, though.

Great article JP. You have shown multiple positions of marketing from a PR standpoint of "what do we do now to turn this to our benefit" to "lets do something we KNOW will piss people off". I do love a good campaign that gets people all crazy for a little bit.

However, in some cases it shows just how smart a person is and how "Duh" a group of people are. Loved it, keep it up.

This is exactly why the Escapist is so stellar.

We gain multiple perspectives/insights in the entire gaming industry, hell his articles contribute to a relevant study of mines. Keep up the good work!

I would never ever in a million years let controversy over a game influence my decision to buy it or not, and shame on the people that do. (which there are clearly plenty of) To think that some developers actually MODIFY a game after recieving feedback in order to gain controversy is disgusting.

Kollega:
It's too bad that good craftmanship on games can be substituted with good craftmanship on publicity stunts. It's even worse that those attemtpts succeed more often than they deserve to. I can live with moustache-twirling being all the rage in oil industry or banking, but when it enters some artistic sphere and makes creativity take a backseat, then i start to get aggravated. Well, that's the inevitable consequence of going big-budget, i guess.

Well said- worthy developers have a vision for their game and try to fulfill that vision without sacrifice or compromise.

Spinwhiz:
Great article JP. You have shown multiple positions of marketing from a PR standpoint of "what do we do now to turn this to our benefit" to "lets do something we KNOW will piss people off". I do love a good campaign that gets people all crazy for a little bit.

However, in some cases it shows just how smart a person is and how "Duh" a group of people are. Loved it, keep it up.

I agree, personally I like they way a centrist Californian politician used the noise about freedom of speech generated by attacking video games to sure up his position amongst values voters. A pure master stroke, or do you thing that other side cant play the same game too?

As creators and consumers of videogames, we need to ask ourselves if these tactics, even when successful, are merely illusory short term gains. They reinforce the negative gamer stereotypes to those outside our world and they make the industry look juvenile. These controversies are being used by those who'd want to limit our freedom of speech and expression by providing our opponents with no shortage of scandalous media to attack us with. The issue is not whether or not to make a profit, but whether these manufactured scandals create a scenario where profits are short-lived, unsustainable and have a negative long term effect on the industry and the people who make and play games. It's the age old conundrum of capitalism. Would you tear down a forest to make a hell of a lot of money tomorrow, or would you use that forest to sustain generations?

Thank you so SO much for this closing statement. Seriously...this is precisely the issue I see with controvesies. Not that they don't provide short-term benefits and profits, because they obviously do and if people feel like playing along, there is no reason why it should stop. But they can hurt the long-term effects of the studio, company or the entire industry when it comes both to money as well as to other more nebulous, but vitally important, things like a sense of belonging of the consumer.

I sometimes wish more business executives would realize this point. I may not be a believer in capitalism as being something that will be endlessly sustainable really...but even so, it wouldn't hurt to have more business types that can think in this sort of long-term fashion - to me that would be more than enough really.

Keep these articles up. They're truly invaluable! Often enough you read articles from pretty smart people, who make pretty solid deductions. But none of that can match someone that writes about something intelligently along with a hefty amount of experience behind him. :)

I still remember the controversy that Mass Effect made and the huge media blow out that came from it.

Just made it even the more popular.

Then there was MW2 recently with "No Russian" which, against jsut helped push it to the mainstream.

Controversay is often good, as long as its only media hype, and, even if its more than that - It pushes boundaries, and people like that

Another great article, well done! I have rarely seen articles actually get down and address the nitty-gritty of ethically gray tactics. Your piece is a very clear look at them with little bias. Thanks for another look at the inner workings of the industry.

This entire schtick rides of the notion that "there's no such thing as bad publicity" -- that is, one must attract attention to their game even if that attention is negative, since more people will learn about the game.

It makes sense from a marketing standpoint -- you have to spread the word about your game somehow. However, faking controversy is a very stupid idea, since it makes people feel manipulated and jerked around instead of convinced.

That's all marketing is: convincing large numbers of people to agree with you.

This is why we say not to feed the trolls. And the main difference between trolls on forums and in the board room is that one group has more qualified people managing the trolling. They are probably on the forums as well.

Good points made.

Sometimes accidental findings out of the controversy can lead to a boost, like it'll get covered on a news show, and people will flock to buy it just to see if the game was worth the news coverage.

As creators and consumers of videogames, we need to ask ourselves if these tactics, even when successful, are merely illusory short term gains. They reinforce the negative gamer stereotypes to those outside our world and they make the industry look juvenile. These controversies are being used by those who'd want to limit our freedom of speech and expression by providing our opponents with no shortage of scandalous media to attack us with. The issue is not whether or not to make a profit, but whether these manufactured scandals create a scenario where profits are short-lived, unsustainable and have a negative long term effect on the industry and the people who make and play games. It's the age old conundrum of capitalism. Would you tear down a forest to make a hell of a lot of money tomorrow, or would you use that forest to sustain generations?

There are quite a few things that can manage success (and sometimes even quality) on the very basis of eliciting controversy. South Park, The Simpsons (to a lesser extent), Anne Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Stephen Colbert are some examples. If you have such popular people/ franchises operating for so long, that seems to suggest that it is a sustainable phenomenon.

But for games, it is also an exploitation of the image of gaming - it's not developed enough such that most people think games are capable of or aspire to much more than juvenile spurts of blood or scantily clad females. Even perhaps the most optimistic estimate of the first digital game (SpaceWar! in 1962) is almost a century later than the first modern film (1877, 1888, or perhaps the 1860's depending on how you classify "film".) That's 150 years ago as opposed to 50 years ago for the second-youngest form of media. In other words, mainstream media has been around since before anyone alive today was born, but games haven't. This means that what we do today might cause that same stagnancy in games that plagues comic books - the grizzled space marine who repeatedly engages in mass slaughter of evil dudes may become the pervasive equivalent of the spandex-clothed superhero who saves the world once a month. That might be a risk.

I don't think that it is a large one, though. Different genres exist within a given medium for a reason, and within those genres there are still divisions between what people look for in a book/movie/game. I'll invoke Sturgeon's Law here: when asked "Isn't 90% of science fiction crap?" he responded "90% of EVERYTHING is crap." It's true: For every Lord of the Rings, every The Dark Knight, every Bioshock, there's a load of other crude attempts that mimic a lot of what they achieve, but just fall flat because they're not crafted as well. Like most forms of creative intellectual property, 10% of all the games, books or movies get 90% of the sales.
In other words, most games are derivative crap that sorely needs something more to aspire to than the last hit of the week - but that's true of all other forms of media as well. It's just that the older forms have a long list of classics that reimagined the whole medium that came before, and the much, much longer list of derivative slop of that same period was forgotten. We just need to wait for those classics to be developed (or make them ourselves, if a few of us feel like making the plunge.) Negative stereotypes will definitely stick around for a while for marketers to exploit, however - the average game does earn them (and so do quite a few popular ones.)

...well, this turned out to be longer and more rambling than I expected. I just mainly wanted to ask what people thought about games like Postal 2 that didn't manage to exploit the controversy that the developers were desperately aiming for. It seems to make controversy exploitation into less of an automatically successful "get-rich-quick" scheme than it's usually perceived as.

Edit: Doublequote removal.

Electrogecko:

Well said- worthy developers have a vision for their game and try to fulfill that vision without sacrifice or compromise.

Name one.

Rawle Lucas:
This entire schtick rides of the notion that "there's no such thing as bad publicity" -- that is, one must attract attention to their game even if that attention is negative, since more people will learn about the game.

It makes sense from a marketing standpoint -- you have to spread the word about your game somehow. However, faking controversy is a very stupid idea, since it makes people feel manipulated and jerked around instead of convinced.

That's all marketing is: convincing large numbers of people to agree with you.

Marketing is getting a product you want to sell into the hands of people who want to own it.

If you treat controversy as a marketing tactic - and you SHOULD - it should follow from the experience of the product, the game. And if it's outside that, then yeah. It's a stupid idea.

But no controversy is fake. If people argue about it, it's a controversy, whether the first person to start talking about it was an honest citizen with an axe to grind or a fully-owned subsidiary of Blizzard games. Just because somebody made it up doesn't mean it isn't true.

Think about ilovebees. Might you feel a little jerked around by that, too? But it still worked, and it still worked very, very well. Because it fit within the game.

And blah blah blah. Just trying to defend my trade.

JuryNelson:

Electrogecko:

Well said- worthy developers have a vision for their game and try to fulfill that vision without sacrifice or compromise.

Name one.

There are plenty of fantastic games that didn't see a lick of marketting, and I'd say most games aren't changed during their fundamental stage in order to gather more attention from the press and community- especially not in ways that are controversial. You have a very pessimistic view of game developers no? Most of them try to make games that appeal to large amounts of people, but that doesn't mean that they're making any sacrifices to their original concept or the game's quality, and it certainly doesn't compare to hiring fake protestors and aiming at sour topics intentionally during the conceptual stages of development. And if I had to name developers who I consider sincere in their art, the first to come to mind would be Valve, Nintendo, and Warren Spector.

Well said. Sometimes I wonder if battles won by a company through controversy will ultimately lead to their defeat in the war. On one hand, you draw more attention to one of your games, but on the other hand your general reputation among the masses becomes tainted.

Electrogecko:

JuryNelson:

Electrogecko:

Well said- worthy developers have a vision for their game and try to fulfill that vision without sacrifice or compromise.

Name one.

There are plenty of fantastic games that didn't see a lick of marketting, and I'd say most games aren't changed during their fundamental stage in order to gather more attention from the press and community- especially not in ways that are controversial. You have a very pessimistic view of game developers no? Most of them try to make games that appeal to large amounts of people, but that doesn't mean that they're making any sacrifices to their original concept or the game's quality, and it certainly doesn't compare to hiring fake protestors and aiming at sour topics intentionally during the conceptual stages of development. And if I had to name developers who I consider sincere in their art, the first to come to mind would be Valve, Nintendo, and Warren Spector.

You have a pessimistic view of marketers, no?

Valve compromises the shit out of their visions. They have ideas going in that don't work at all, and they throw them away. They are very, very open about this. Left 4 Dead began life as a game about fairies. COMPROMISED.

Behind Microsoft, Nintendo is probably the most audience-focused company in the world. It's not about giving the people something great, or delivering on a vision, it's about staying true to what people expect from them.

Full disclosure, I have never played a game that Warren Spector had anything to do with.

I hope that what this column can continue to do for people is to get them to stop confusing "marketing" with "bad marketing."

When marketing works, you don't even think it's marketing. You think it's news. But when it fails, it looks like a cooked up controversy or a compromised artistic vision.

I guess I should have amended my challenge to be "Name one [developer that didn't compromise their original vision AND didn't "bow to the pressures of marketing" AND succeeded anyway.]" And don't say Valve. Because The Orange Box was nothing if not a vote of no confidence for Portal.

JuryNelson:

Electrogecko:

JuryNelson:

Electrogecko:

Snip

Snip

Snip

You have a pessimistic view of marketers, no?

Valve compromises the shit out of their visions. They have ideas going in that don't work at all, and they throw them away. They are very, very open about this. Left 4 Dead began life as a game about fairies. COMPROMISED.

Behind Microsoft, Nintendo is probably the most audience-focused company in the world. It's not about giving the people something great, or delivering on a vision, it's about staying true to what people expect from them.

Full disclosure, I have never played a game that Warren Spector had anything to do with.

I hope that what this column can continue to do for people is to get them to stop confusing "marketing" with "bad marketing."

When marketing works, you don't even think it's marketing. You think it's news. But when it fails, it looks like a cooked up controversy or a compromised artistic vision.

I guess I should have amended my challenge to be "Name one [developer that didn't compromise their original vision AND didn't "bow to the pressures of marketing" AND succeeded anyway.]" And don't say Valve. Because The Orange Box was nothing if not a vote of no confidence for Portal.

1. L4D came from people playing Counter Strike with lots of bots set to 1 health and knives only. That's in their commentaries on the roof in the first level.

2. Valve never knew Portal was going to be so popular. The Orange Box was designed to sell all the Half-Life 2 games with this little puzzly-game and this updated version of Team Fortress thrown in for good measure.

3. Valve is one of the few companies that fully support their fan base, with SDKs, mods, free updates, and so on. They have a record stretching back to Half-Life (1997 I think) for doing this.

4. Don't get Valve and Steam confused. Steam is almost a completely separate entity in it's own right.

Are you saying that if you change the game at any point during the development process then you are compromising it's integrity? Game development is not a static thing, it's organic. New ideas appear almost everyday, some good, some bad. The best of the best go in to the game, and if that means it changes direction, is that necessarily a bad thing? Or is that a compromise?

Money tomorrow please. Screw the generations.

Excellent post.

Although, honestly... Big Name Company edits results and Makes Things Up to sell Product?

Say it aint so.

Whiskey Echo!!
mythgraven

JP Sherman:
As creators and consumers of videogames, we need to ask ourselves if these tactics, even when successful, are merely illusory short term gains. They reinforce the negative gamer stereotypes to those outside our world and they make the industry look juvenile.
It's the age old conundrum of capitalism. Would you tear down a forest to make a hell of a lot of money tomorrow, or would you use that forest to sustain generations?

Yeah, this guy, Sherman definitely knows what he's talking about. I got literary whip-lash as I read his closing comments abridged above.

The article largely delivers a 'how-to' on fabricating controversy, applicable to video games and everything else. Giving us the dirty on the manipulative world of marketing, he then gets all Ned Flanders on us with the last paragraph, the entirety of which seems to evoke the phrase 'Oh won't you please think of the children!'

He addressed the hell out of the opposing viewpoint; making up for the brevity with so much cheese.

Yeah, he's definitely in marketing.

Electrogecko:
I would never ever in a million years let controversy over a game influence my decision to buy it or not, and shame on the people that do.

You can't say that. None of us can say that - marketing is all-pervasive, and controversy-based marketing is particularly nefarious.

You might think "I won't let the controversy influence my opinion on this game, I'll judge it on its own merits" - but even by acknowledging the controversy, you're allowing it to influence your opinion (no man is an island etc.).

Hell, a good part of the time, we aren't really aware of certain games until something controversial 'breaks' about them - which means that being aware of the game at all is reacting to the controversy...

Electrogecko:
There are plenty of fantastic games that didn't see a lick of marketting

There are no publically released games available today which have not been marketed in some way. Marketing is the world's largest industry, and it's utterly invisible.

Can you tell me what Coke tastes like?
Answer : It tastes like marketing.
(and apparently, I quite like the taste of marketing...)

It's the same with games - some games, everything about them is marketing. With others, it might stop with the promotional materials (box art, posters, adverts... the logo). But pretending it isn't present at all is fooling yourself (not that it isn't easy, or even desirable, to do so - one point of marketing is that you don't realise it's there, after all).

Deathlyphil:

1. L4D came from people playing Counter Strike with lots of bots set to 1 health and knives only. That's in their commentaries on the roof in the first level.

2. Valve never knew Portal was going to be so popular. The Orange Box was designed to sell all the Half-Life 2 games with this little puzzly-game and this updated version of Team Fortress thrown in for good measure.

3. Valve is one of the few companies that fully support their fan base, with SDKs, mods, free updates, and so on. They have a record stretching back to Half-Life (1997 I think) for doing this.

4. Don't get Valve and Steam confused. Steam is almost a completely separate entity in it's own right.

Are you saying that if you change the game at any point during the development process then you are compromising it's integrity? Game development is not a static thing, it's organic. New ideas appear almost everyday, some good, some bad. The best of the best go in to the game, and if that means it changes direction, is that necessarily a bad thing? Or is that a compromise?

I'm saying that all that support for their fan base, with SDKs, mods, free updates and so on is part of their marketing, even if it is also part of their commitment to creating artful, immersive games.
I'm saying that marketing a game properly is not equal to selling out to the man.

And as for the Orange Box, That's absolutely true, and it's my point. They put Portal on the box because they didn't think it would sell on its own. They couldn't trust the game to perform only on its own merits, so they compromised.

Let me also be clear and say that I don't like how "compromise" has taken on this connotation that it's like "compromised structural integrity." Things change during development of everything, and when you have conflict, the result is either compromise, or it is the destruction of one of the sides of the conflict. Compromise is positive, and it becomes some of the most interesting stuff in games. If not the games themselves, then the hilarious stories about, say, how this or that voice actor was fired for being a diva. (<--not compromise)

You're right that games are not static things, and that, in addition to all the other stuff, is what makes them so unique and so special. Every other medium of entertainment is static. Movies are released and they are never going to be different movies. CDs are released, and that CD will always be that CD. But games can become a medium for artistic expression even after the artist has expressed within it.

I believe I've gotten off topic.
I admire Valve for marketing themselves so well that they feel like an ally to every gamer.
I admired the remarkable value of the Orange Box, even though I couldn't make heads or tails of anything but portal (not really an FPS guy)

I just don't like it when people equate selling with capitalism and capitalism with consumerism and consumerism with the inevitable decline of our whole civilization. If there's a point in any of this, it's that.

Soylent Dave:

Electrogecko:
There are plenty of fantastic games that didn't see a lick of marketting

There are no publically released games available today which have not been marketed in some way.

*applause*

Loonerinoes:

As creators and consumers of videogames, we need to ask ourselves if these tactics, even when successful, are merely illusory short term gains. They reinforce the negative gamer stereotypes to those outside our world and they make the industry look juvenile. These controversies are being used by those who'd want to limit our freedom of speech and expression by providing our opponents with no shortage of scandalous media to attack us with. The issue is not whether or not to make a profit, but whether these manufactured scandals create a scenario where profits are short-lived, unsustainable and have a negative long term effect on the industry and the people who make and play games. It's the age old conundrum of capitalism. Would you tear down a forest to make a hell of a lot of money tomorrow, or would you use that forest to sustain generations?

Thank you so SO much for this closing statement. Seriously...this is precisely the issue I see with controvesies. Not that they don't provide short-term benefits and profits, because they obviously do and if people feel like playing along, there is no reason why it should stop. But they can hurt the long-term effects of the studio, company or the entire industry when it comes both to money as well as to other more nebulous, but vitally important, things like a sense of belonging of the consumer.

I sometimes wish more business executives would realize this point. I may not be a believer in capitalism as being something that will be endlessly sustainable really...but even so, it wouldn't hurt to have more business types that can think in this sort of long-term fashion - to me that would be more than enough really.

Keep these articles up. They're truly invaluable! Often enough you read articles from pretty smart people, who make pretty solid deductions. But none of that can match someone that writes about something intelligently along with a hefty amount of experience behind him. :)

There's a great saying that basically spawns from having companies that are no longer easily accountable to the people they were once designed to serve. "(By the time the consequences come around) You'll be gone; I'll be gone." The long term consequences don't matter when bonuses are on the line. Just look at Wall St.

I can honestly say that only once have I ever been swayed to buy a game because of "controversy" that I wouldn't have otherwise. In my defense, I was twelve and the game was the NES version of MANIAC MANSION--meaning that my impulsive, hamstercidal instinct proved better than much sounder reasoning like "I played the hell out of Ultimate Alliance, surely the sequel will be worth a preorder!"

Loonerinoes:

Thank you so SO much for this closing statement. Seriously...this is precisely the issue I see with controvesies. Not that they don't provide short-term benefits and profits, because they obviously do and if people feel like playing along, there is no reason why it should stop. But they can hurt the long-term effects of the studio, company or the entire industry when it comes both to money as well as to other more nebulous, but vitally important, things like a sense of belonging of the consumer.

I sometimes wish more business executives would realize this point. I may not be a believer in capitalism as being something that will be endlessly sustainable really...but even so, it wouldn't hurt to have more business types that can think in this sort of long-term fashion - to me that would be more than enough really.

Neglecting long-term efficiency for short-term profits is only human nature. If you ever venture into game theory you'll quickly realize that not only the evil business executives do it but pretty much everyone.
Not to say it's a good thing, but humans don't change that easily and especially not when millions of dollars are involved.
I'm not only talking about sustainability in general, the economy, consumers and all corporations would profit alike, if absolutely everyone would only act on long-term goals.

But that's just utopic. Sadly.

JP Sherman:
First-Person Marketer: Controversy Marketing

Controversies are a great way to gain attention.

Read Full Article

Great article as always. I think I learn more about marketing in this article each week then I do in my college marketing class (my teacher reads ppts word for word).

I always forget that some people haven't spent extensive time analyzing these tactics on their own. These articles feel a little "duh" to me some times, but it's good to see it broken down for people who just don't think about marketing.

Your articles make me want to have a job in marketing. Keep it up.

These articles don't get as much replies as some of the other series on this website (and probably the same goes for views), but it definitely is one of the most original and interesting reads you can find out here. A great example of something that makes people come to the Escapist, because you can't find it anywhere else.

I hope Russ & co realise this as well.

This article worries me.

I like the new DMC trailer - changing things up sounds like potentially fun times to me. Now I'm worried that the whole thing is nothing more than a publicity/controversy stunt, and we'll wind up with another samey 'safe' DMC game instead of a reboot.

Ah well, fingers crossed.

I cant think of any game I've bought that was due to controversy. Some games I found out later had some controversy about them, but for the most part controversy makes me suspicious. Like, what, the game isn't good enough to sell on its own? Maybe I'm just a suspicious person.

As always, Sherman delivers a good view of the actual function of marketing beyond just the stereotypes.

Seriously, I'm not sure when we started all getting so jaded about marketing, but like it or not, I don't think I can find a single product I own where my decision to purcahse was not influenced by marketing.

heck, even the act of just publishing hardware specs for a system can be considered marketing.

A very interesting article. I think the third and best option is "making a hell of a lot of money while using the forest to sustain generations." The trouble there is people are very instant gratification oriented. They want their bucks quick. The funny thing for me is that, my desire for a game, has never been influenced by controversy marketing. I wanted to get COD:MW2 before there was ever a controversy about some of it's content. In the same vein I never really had a desire to play Dante's Inferno regardless of the controversial marketing there. Guess I don't respond well to that type of manipulation.

I do respond well to lower price point manipulation ;)

 

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