Doin’ it Live

Written by Ian Yuan, January 19, 2013, 0 Comments

Doin’ it Live – The Unlikely Revival of Live Action Video Game Ads

As one of the few remaining rubes that still consumes TV in the conventional manner (from my cable provider, ads and all) I end up subjecting myself to a lot of commercials. Of late there has been a modest but sharp increase in video game ads. But if you’re like me and have nothing better to do than keep track of these sorts of things, you’ll have noticed that a rising number of these have been live action, especially for big budget titles.

Failing in Multiple Mediums

Consider, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Borderlands 2 and most recently Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale, all of which featured ads with real actors. It’s an unusual choice to create commercials for a product in a different medium. If the previous examples are any accurate testament the results are mixed at best. (Not only is a real life Kratos awkward looking but wholly undesirable as well). But besides being silly looking and unconvincing the most damning aspect of these advertisements is the lack of any meaningful connection to the products they’re selling.

"This is what you get for leaving your garbage cans out!"

Imagine this guy in real life. I wouldn’t want to be his neighbour. Would you?

In no way do they inform you about anything relevant to the games they represent beyond the title. If they were a person’s only exposure to a game they’d be hard pressed to be able to tell you anything about it, save for a vague description of possible characters and/or activities. For example, if my only impression of Borderlands 2 was based on its TV ad and someone asked me about it, the most I could tell them was that you might be able to play as girl with blue tattoos and it would involve shooting guys. In fact, the only way in which these ads could be made less relevant would be to convert them into spoken word poetry descriptions of the box art – read aloud – by Margaret Atwood.

A Sign of Things to Come

So you may be asking yourself why you should care if game publishers decide to produce bad commercials for their games. Personally, my answer is two fold – I hate being treated like a fool and it is an indication of the increasingly jaded nature of video game marketing. It’s a little frustrating that publishers believe that they can show me a bunch of random images to inappropriate music and assume this will make me buy their games.

But things were not always this way. I remember a time when, if I saw an advertisement for a game in a magazine for example, of course it would feature flashy art that would never appear in game but it would also show screenshots. If it was a TV commercial it would show gameplay footage. If portions were live action, they were more often than not made that way for funny or creative reasons. (Think back to the original Super Smash Bros TV spot in which half a dozen poorly paid wannabe actors beat each other senseless while wearing giant felt costumes. The thought of it makes me laugh to this day.)

By comparison, of late there has been a conspicuous shift from highlighting relevant game content to increasingly irrelevant and generic fluff such as flamboyant trailers set to epic scores featuring nothing but cut-scenes. The only conclusion I can draw is that, unsurprisingly video games are falling the way of other consumer product marketing in general – that is the say that sales strategies are no longer centred on providing positive information about products but cheap subliminal tricks to influence behaviour.

Man, Bald,
Skin, Devoid of colour, of life, of mercy,
Poised, Striking, Guns in HAND
Third Person Action

At this point I may be sounding rather conspiratorial about all of this but consider a study released by the Electronic Entertainment Design and Research Group (a private video game sales and marketing research company) in 2008 that looked any relationship between pre-release marketing strategies (the use of trailers and/or demos) and sales on the Xbox360 and PS3. As it turns out games released with trailers only consistently out preformed those released with both demos and trailers with those with only demos a distant third. (Note: I was unable to find a link to the original study itself, only second-hand reports. My apologies, the Internet has failed me once again.) While it was a purely correlation study and no causal inferences can be reliably drawn, my concern is that this study, and those like it, have been interpreted by game publishers to mean that to provide genuine hands-on experience with a game is actually a detriment to sales. They’d be better off giving consumers as little real information as possible and blinding us with vacuous ads. While there are certainly other factors at play, it does in part explain the contemporary trend in the decline in demos and increased usage of trailers by most major publishers.

Solutions: Bought and Sold

While this suggests a bleak future for gamers – a terrible dystopia where we’re bombarded with infomercial style ads and purchasing games resembles gambling with your money and free-time – there is hope. Before we step out into the world eager to plop down some hard earned money on a new game, do what all responsible consumers do: research. Read previews, watch gameplay footage and play the demo if one is available. Ignore the flash and the ads regardless of how many B-list celebrities or pop music they cram into 30 seconds. Our consumerist society is ultimately a democratic one but one in which you can only vote with the power of the almighty dollar.

About Ian Yuan

Ian has been playing games for as long as he can remember and pretending to write about them for some significantly shorter amount of time. Words often mistakenly used to describe him include: sophisticated, gentlemanly, scholarly and Korean. His favourite time-wasters beside videogames include reading pulp detective novels, making hand sewn sock animals and adding to his skinny tie collection. He does not talk about his day job and neither should you.