10 of the best – and worst – gaming publicity stunts

All publicity is good, right? Well, not always. Here's a look at a few of the best (and worst) publicity stunts for games.
 
 
 

 

  • We had a picture of the event we almost used, but... well, no
    Ian Dransfield
    By   | Games editor, BT.com
    Last updated: 23 January 2014, 13:22 GMT

    What better way to promote a game like God of War 2 than by hosting your own Ancient Greece-themed party with a freshly-slaughtered goat and topless servants feeding revellers grapes?

    Well, there are plenty of better ways. But that thought evidently never crossed the mind of the marketing team hired by Sony, as they went about putting together the headline-grabbing soiree.

    It only came to wider attention when the event was featured in the Official PlayStation Magazine in the UK, which was promptly recalled from sale by Sony, and the stunt was rightly lambasted by newspapers such as the Daily Mail.

    And it’s not often we say things like that.

    At the very least, Sony did apologise, the goat had been slaughtered prior to the event by a genuine butcher and God of War 2 did end up being pretty ruddy good.

     
     

     

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  • No word if the Mercenaries stunt gave free helicopter fuel out
    Ian Dransfield
    By   | Games editor, BT.com
    Last updated: 23 January 2014, 13:22 GMT

    People need petrol to function in the normal world, right? Right. So it’s an essential part of many people’s lives. Meaning, if someone gives it away for free, thus providing a saving of a chunk of cash, people will pay attention, right?

    Right. And then some.

    In order to promote Mercenaries 2, Electronic Arts decided the best course of action would be to offer free petrol ‘until we run out’ from a petrol station in London, up to a value of £40.

    Which is what, 125ml of the stuff at today’s prices? SATIRE.

    Safe to say, things got out of hand, roads were gridlocked and complaints were lodged – going so far as to get attention from a Liberal Democrat MP.

    In other words: the stunt worked well.

     
     

     

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  • Burnout in the pre-EA days, when Acclaim owned it
    Ian Dransfield
    By   | Games editor, BT.com
    Last updated: 23 January 2014, 13:22 GMT

    There was a time when Acclaim was a publisher of some… repute, let’s say (because it certainly wasn’t ‘acclaim’).

    It seemed not a month went by without another wacky stunt popping up in the gaming press – and of course national news coverage.

    Take, for example, offering to pay the speeding fines people racked up on the day of street racing game Burnout 2’s release. Ah, responsible marketing.

    Or what about offering to sponsor the gravestones of the recently dead in promotion of supernatural action game Shadow Man 2*?

    Changing your name by deed poll to Turok, main character in the ubiquitous first-person shooter series? Yeah, they offered money for that one.

    It’s times like this we realise we really do miss Acclaim.

    *We refuse to write ‘2econd Coming’.

     
     

     

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  • Homefront didn't have the best of luck at any point
    Ian Dransfield
    By   | Games editor, BT.com
    Last updated: 23 January 2014, 13:22 GMT

    Another day, another dead publisher, another stupid publicity stunt that backfired.

    It was 2011, and THQ – now a former entity – was gearing up for release of Homefront, a first-person shooter that saw the US invaded by North Korean forces.

    So how to symbolise this on a mass scale? Why, by releasing around 10,000 floating paper lanterns into the sky around San Francisco Bay, of course.

    It seems someone forgot about the whole ‘what goes up…’ thing, and when the lanterns inevitably came down, they did so in the waters surrounding the beautiful Californian city.

    Safe to say, littering isn’t something locals are very fond of and THQ received all manner of negative press for their idiocy.

     
     

     

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  • Not pictured: the delicacies on offer at the Resi butcher's shop
    Ian Dransfield
    By   | Games editor, BT.com
    Last updated: 23 January 2014, 13:22 GMT

    Seeming to learn from their cock up of promoting Resident Evil 5’s release by spreading fake dismembered limbs (smeared in very real, very raw chicken innards) around London, the publisher pulled a solid effort out of its hat for Resi 6.

    Setting up shop like all manner of popular pop-ups, Capcom’s butchery offered customers the unique chance to eat carefully prepared human meat.

    Well, obviously it wasn’t actually human meat – it was very much edible meat we’re all accustomed to chowing down on that was merely prepared to look like people’s bits.

    And yes, that included men’s bits.

    Even with the knowledge it wasn’t the real deal, many proved too squeamish to consume the fodder on offer. Instead they went home to feast on delicious, nourishing Soylent Green.

    Probably.

     
     

     

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  • Dante's Inferno: it (fake) annoyed some people
    Ian Dransfield
    By   | Games editor, BT.com
    Last updated: 23 January 2014, 13:22 GMT

    EA hit the double whammy in its promotion of Dante’s Inferno – the heavenly idea and the absolutely hellish one around the same time.

    On the good side we saw protests against the game showing up at E3 – the biggest gaming show in the world. Bad? Not really.

    See, these were actors hired by EA to stage a fake Christian boycott of the game, owing to its Christian iconography and dealings with the faith.

    And “Trade in your PlayStation for a PrayStation” is still a fantastic line, to be fair.

    On the other side we saw a far less clever, far more insipid method of promotion. Encouraging the deadly sin of lust, EA asked gamers to ‘commit an act of lust’ with its ‘booth babes’ – the promotional models hired to represent the company at many events.

    This was taken by some as an innocent jape, but by others as a hugely misjudged, ridiculously sexist way of getting cheap attention for the game.

    And, of course, it worked.

     
     

     

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  • Splinter Cell: a better idea in game-form than in real life
    Ian Dransfield
    By   | Games editor, BT.com
    Last updated: 23 January 2014, 13:22 GMT

    The thing is with some of the poorer entries in this list, we can almost justify their stupidity because they produced the goods.

    But Ubisoft’s work with Splinter Cell: Conviction didn’t quite strike us as anything approaching a good idea, as it could very easily have ended up with a man getting shot.

    Why? Well, the marketing group behind the stunt had a man, covered in bandages and brandishing a fake gun, to stumble into a bar and scare the bejeezus out of everyone in it.

    The thing is nobody knew it was a stunt, and nobody knew the gun was fake, and everybody got scared.

    The police were called. Responding to calls of a man acting erratically and waving a gun about, there was a very real chance a man employed to do a little bit of promotional acting could have ended up being gunned down.

    For Splinter Cell? Nah, that’s not worth it.

     
     

     

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  • Really EA should have sent plant matter for Bulletstorm
    Ian Dransfield
    By   | Games editor, BT.com
    Last updated: 23 January 2014, 13:22 GMT

    This has happened at least two times in our experience, and both in recent years.

    Serial offender EA popped up a couple of years ago with their promotion work for first-person ridiculous-‘em-up shooter Bulletstorm, sending games journalists batches of bullet and shrapnel-riddled ‘meat’.

    It was, safe to say, not the sort of thing you’d be whacking on the griddle at any point.

    Then there was the less subtle method from Tecmo Koei in promoting the original Fist of the North Star release in 2010: body parts.

    Not human ones, fortunately – we are still waiting for a marketing suit to decide sending real human body parts is a good idea – but hearts, lungs and other such… bits… from animals.

    One writer recalled to us how his boss scuttled around the office with a binbag, immediately proclaiming the PR stunt to be a health and safety issue before quickly binning everything the publisher had sent out.

    So that… didn’t work out too well.

     
     

     

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  • The PSP. It wasn't very 'street', truth be told
    Ian Dransfield
    By   | Games editor, BT.com
    Last updated: 23 January 2014, 13:22 GMT

    I Love Bees was an incredible artificial reality game set up to market the then-upcoming release of Halo 2; something that grew organically and was universally loved for its ‘realness’ along with how it managed to cleverly dupe people into following it.

    Sony’s ‘all I want for Xmas is a PSP’ campaign, on the other hand, was not any of that.

    It was not clever, instead trying to force down viewers’ throats the idea of two ‘yoofs’ who wanted PSPs for Christmas.

    It did not grow organically, instead withering on the vine as savvy web users quickly figured out it was a marketing ploy.

    It was not fun to take part in, instead feeling seriously forced and being embarrassing to be seen near.

    It was, in short, an abject failure. It’s a wonder the PSP managed to sell any units at all with this tripe backing it up.

     
     

     

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  • Zynga haven't littered since, as far as we know
    Ian Dransfield
    By   | Games editor, BT.com
    Last updated: 23 January 2014, 13:22 GMT

    It seems San Francisco is a magnet for littering publicity stunts, as Zynga – maker of games like FarmVille and Empires and Allies – proved.

    Promoting Mafia Wars saw the company hire Snoop Dogg to blow up a truck – yes that was a real thing that happened – but less interestingly (more oddly) it also saw the company littering SanFran with fake money.

    These $25,000 bills were entries to a competition to be able to win a real $25,000, sure, but they were also hundreds of bits of paper thrown on the floor around a major American city.

    You know – littering.

    To make matters worse, the bills were actually glued to the pavements, making them all the more difficult to remove by street cleaners (and members of the public trying to get in on the action).

    The city of San Francisco described the marketing as “documented acts of sidewalk vandalism” and demanded Zynga fork out for the costs of cleaning the streets.

    Still, Mafia Wars, eh? Remember that? No? Oh.

    [pictured: Mafia Wars 2, sorry]

     
     

     

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Vikki Blake

wants to go it alone

Shooting things dead, while a hell of a lot of fun, is not the be-all-and-end-all of a gripping multiplayer experience"

 

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