• November 26, 2014

Shave the pirates: Marketing and video games

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Posted: Friday, November 29, 2013 3:53 am | Updated: 2:02 pm, Fri Jan 17, 2014.

When I was in Target a few days before Thanksgiving, I came across the item pictured in the accompanying photo. It's a Schick shaving kit, a normal last-minute holiday gift, except it’s branded with a familiar title.

I’m a longtime fan of the Assassin’s Creed, so I went to check it out. I started laughing immediately.

In case you don’t see the humor, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is about pirates, not a group of people known for being clean-shaven. One of the most prominent characters is Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard, known in-game and in history for the wild tangle of thick hair that covered everything but his eyes.

Game marketing is in an awkward period. On the one hand, you have the strange tie-ins like this shaving kit; and on the other, you have extravagant television and internet campaigns that probably cost as much as the game itself did to make.

Look at Batman: Arkham Origins. Before the game came out, there were several commercials featured on YouTube. My favorite was the trailer that introduced prominent comic villain Deathstroke. I waved my mother over to show it to her.

She asked what was wrong. I responded, “Yeah, you know what you didn't see in that trailer? A single stitch of actual gameplay! Every single second of that trailer was mo-capped, pre-rendered, and lit, and not one frame of it will ever find its way into the game. It must have cost thousands of dollars to make.”

When my mother expressed disbelief, I told her that this was one of the reasons games now cost a lot of money to buy and even more to make. There’s only one thing we can do, as consumers: Not fall for it.

To end on a good note, here’s an example where it worked: Grand Theft Auto V made $1 billion in three days, and all of the trailers that I saw showed footage of in-game cutscenes and stuff you could actually do in the game. Some of it was obviously premade footage, but it gave an accurate snapshot of what the game was going to be like to play.

It’s not perfect, but it’s better. No foolish tie-ins, no “cinematic” trailers, and still a big profit and a good product. I’ll take it over a shaving kit any day.

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