Total Nerd The Top 10 Embarrassingly Bad Moments in Video Game Marketing  

Tom Welsh
25.7k views 10 items

While there are always a few great ads and campaigns for games and consoles, the majority end up being patronising, offensive, childish, desperate, dull or just mystifyingly bad. With 80′s power suit-wearing advertising executives trying to sell products they didn’t understand, the earliest marketing campaigns had a good excuse for being so terrible.

These days though, marketing agencies full of creatively bankrupt, soulless young husks are paid to stir up controversy and discussion any way they can. Whether it’s obvious (but plausibly deniable) racist billboards, fake viral videos or tasteless PR stunts that offend very carefully chosen minorities, there’s no lengths to which modern games marketing won’t go to avoid actually showing some gameplay footage. 

What are the ten worst moments in video game marketing history? Look here to find out.

The Nokia N-Gage price announc... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Top 10 Embarrassingly Bad Moments in Video Game Marketing
Photo: via Wikimedia

The Nokia N-Gage price announcement

Sometimes a newcomer enters the gaming market and makes a big splash. The PSone was a great example of a company entering the gaming domain in strident form and shaking up a complacent industry. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other companies that get it spectacularly wrong. Enter Nokia.

The mobile phone giant was riding high off the back of its domination of the mobile phone market. It was arriving onto the gaming scene with a strong and (at the time) revolutionary concept: a mobile phone that also played "proper" games. The days of snake and solitaire were over, this baby could crank out 3D graphics. You could play Tomb Raider on it for crying out loud!

As Nokia geared up for their first E3 there was some trepidation amongst the other platform holders. Could Nokia swoop in and become the new Sony, shaking up the industry and making the competition look like aging dinosaurs?

No. No they could not. The E3 conference was an unmitigated disaster. The audience looked on bemused as the PR team tried desperately to connect with an audience they didn’t understand. Like Granddad at a rave, they seemed hopelessly lost and as the show went on it was clear how much they were in over their heads. Everything the crowd heard made them sure the platform was dead on arrival. A screen longer than it was wide. The requirement to remove the battery to change games. The way you held it to your head: like you had a plate imbedded in your skull. The awful design. The awful games.

Worse was to come though. In a toe curling-ly embarrassing move, Nokia paraded out a bunch of dancing girls with the price tag written on their bellies. They hoped it would result in riotous applause, but at $299 dollars it was far more expensive than anyone expected. Nokia obviously thought they would get a warm reception for their bold pricing like Sony had received when they released the PSOne a hundred dollars cheaper than the Saturn. All they got was silence. Painful, protracted silence. The painted girls slinked off the stage into embarrassed obscurity, and the N-Gage followed not long after.
Lair Reviewers Guide is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Top 10 Embarrassingly Bad Moments in Video Game Marketing
Photo: via Imgur

Lair Reviewers Guide

Released in 2007, Lair was one of the early batch of PS3 exclusives. Created by Factor 5 -- the team behind the amazing Rogue Squadron games on N64 and Gamecube -- it was a flying game where you rode a dragon into battle. While superficially a great concept for a game, the whole experience was crippled by Sony who insisted that the developer utilise the PS3′s stillborn motion control support -- Sixaxis.

Shoehorned in at a late stage of the Ps3′s development cycle, this awkward motion control was included to help Sony compete with the then-vibrant Nintendo Wii. With less control fidelity or responsiveness than a Wiimote and far less a control stick, the Sixaxis was mostly used for gimmicks and one-off minigames within full retail titles. Lair meanwhile was one of the only games that forced this awkward control system on the player throughout the whole game. It was reviewed accordingly and suffered a low metacritic score as well as a legion of angry gamers who demanded control stick support be patched in.

Rather than admit the mistake and, you know, listen to what the fans said, Factor 5 instead sent out a "Review Guide". Despite that rather happy looking picture of Greg Miller of IGN above, it seems that for some reason, Reviewers didn’t like being told how to play games. The PR debacle continued when advertisements ran in magazines featuring a stern headmistress chastising gamers for playing incorrectly.

Just to clarify, when every single gamer and reviewer said it would be far better if one small change was made to the game, the developer refused to make the change. The developer then called them stupid, blamed them for failing to understand how to play the game and prepared a huge two-page advert and expensively printed booklet explaining why they were wrong. Month’s later control stick support was added to a game no one wanted to play and the developer went bust. Bravo. Bra-vo.
GTA4 tattoo is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Top 10 Embarrassingly Bad Moments in Video Game Marketing
Photo: via Imgur

GTA4 tattoo

Perhaps not the most egregious case of bad marketing, Peter Moore’s temporary GTA tattoo was still symptomatic of how embarrassingly bad Microsoft was at PR back in the early days of the 360.

Back in 2006 Microsoft was still struggling to win over the developers who had a lingering affection for Sony. The announcement of GTA4 appearing on Microsoft’s console was seen as a big deal back at 2006′s E3. There were still a number of problems with how it was presented though. A temporary tatoo is certainly one of the least cool things in the world, but on a middle aged man? Perhaps if he was nine years old he could have pulled the look off, but the bravado and shamelessness that Peter Moore showed as he paraded his GTA4 tattoo -- like an embarrassing uncle chaperoning at an N-Dubz concert -- showed just how far Microsoft were from achieving the effortless street cred Sony had always exhibited.

Back in the early days of 360 marketing Microsoft tried everything to make their console appear cool. From converting J Allard from techie geek to suave, hairless messiah to covering old men in temporary tattoos, there was nothing they wouldn’t try to compete with Sony. Little did they know that all they had to do was wait and Sony’s marketing would collapse spectacularly of its own accord.

John Romero’s about to make you his bitch

Daikatana was one of the most delayed, overhyped games of all time. Shifted from one game engine to the other repeatedly, its collapse is such a compelling story that books have been written about it. Conceived by one half of the creative paring responsible for Doom, hope couldn’t have been higher for the revolutionary FPS back in 1997. It was three years later before the game was actually released though. The end result was a game that finally answered a question PC FPS gamers had asked for a long time. Back in the early days of PC FPS’s, it was never clear whether the success of Doom was down to the creative genius of John Carmack or John Romero. After Daikatana, everyone knew it was John Carmack.

While I encourage you to go out and read all about the collapse of Ion Storm and their rock star lifestyles, Playmate games designers and bust ups with disgruntled employees, its one particular advertisement that really derailed the train. With gamers angry both at the delays and the stories of lavish excess amongst developers clearly not working hard enough, the marketing around the game focused on mocking those angry gamers. Claiming that "John Romero’s about to make you his bitch", and inviting the furious masses to "suck it down", this reference to Romero’s gaming smack-talk was lost on the fans. Like an overexposed celebrity that the public has grown tired of, everyone wanted to see Romero’s overblown project fail. They would have to wait a long time, but eventually Daikatana was released to a world of gamers united in a collective "m’eh". Badly designed and technologically superseded by its competitors, Daikatana was a failure. In one way the advertising was right. Those who were unlucky enough to buy the game had no choice but to "suck it down".