The Art of Selling Games: Part II

The Art of Selling Games: Part II
 
 

In my first article, I talked about the retro days of arcade cabinets back in the 70s and 80s. Since then, the video game industry has evolved significantly. The 90s brought personal computing entertainment right into our own homes, followed by the advent of mainstream consoles like the PS2 and Xbox which made gaming more accessible than ever. The game industry is now worth billions, exceeding the value of Hollywood blockbuster movies.

Naturally, the games themselves have evolved over time to match the changing hardware. Long gone are the days of monochromatic pixel blocks from Space Invaders, or the one dimensional floating Pac-Man. Instead games are now ultra realistic, delivering detailed worlds and larger than life characters to our screens. We no longer need fantastical illustrations to help paint a more exciting picture of a game, because these days, whatever can be imagined can be brought to life.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how the world of marketing and selling games has changed over the past two decades.

Misguided Marketing

With the rise of home gaming, game publishers had to resort to some pretty drastic, out-dated tactics. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, the gaming industry was heavily male dominated and unfortunately this led to a disturbing number of sexist advertisements. Take for example these two gems below, one for the Sega Saturn in 1994, and the Nintendo GameBoy Pocket in 1996.

Both these companies (who were giants in the early 90s) decided the best way to sell hardware was to show barely clothed women lying on a bed. Nintendo just decided to take it to a different level with a super creepy vibe.

You might think it was a sign of the times and that we’ve moved on from this sort of teenage boy mentality, but check out this Sony PS Vita advert that came out as recently as 2012.

When game publishers aren’t making over half of the population of the planet feel awkward and ostracised, they might instead look toward celebrity endorsements – often leading to some hilariously odd propaganda.

Back in 1994, basketball player Shaquille O'Neal was a household name – just like Michael Jordan, who went off and delivered possibly one of the greatest sports-spin off movies of all time, Space Jam. O’Neal also wasted no time capitalising on his fame, lending his name and likeness to one of the worst games of all time: the now-legendary Shaq Fu. Appearing on the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive (and plenty other terrible ports), it was a Street Fighter clone where Shaq must beat up aliens from a different dimension to save a little boy, because... well, reasons.

Yet the game sold well. Kids clamoured to not just get the latest game but also to see their favourite basketball hero beat up creatures from outer space. Even terrible games moved off shelves back in the day because without the Internet to spread the word, you would only know if a game was awful if your rich friend bought it first and then told you not to. There was no Twitch or YouTube to watch gameplay before buying, and game reviews were delivered via monthly print magazines. Marketing games with celebrities and catchy artwork resulted in thousands of little kids’ pocket money being thrown down the drain.

In that same year we saw another cash-grabbing gem, Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! For those who remember the comedy show Home Improvement, it featured Tim Allen (before he became the voice of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story) and the game had this bumbling fool run around shooting people with a nailgun. How a family game promoting the deadly use of a nail gun ever got released is still a mystery.

The Hollywood Effect

Sometimes famous names can turn a game into a franchise. Often it’s clearly just for the money and it still happens today. We have Arnold Schwarzenegger peddling Mobile Strike; Kate Upton promoting Game of War; James Franco making a fool of himself for Guitar Hero Live (check out the cringe-factor 4000 in the video below); Cara Delevingne playing Call Of Duty; and for some bizarre reason, Mariah Carey also endorsing Game Of War.

The Call of Duty franchise however has taken the whole Hollywood celebrity connection to a whole new level. The aforementioned Cara Delevingne is one example, but over the years we’ve seen digital renditions of well-known actors in the game. Kevin Spacey, Jonah Hill, Kit Harrington, Heather Graham, and Jeff Goldblum have all appeared in Call of Duty games or advertising, blending that divide between video game and movie. Just recently the franchise announced that David Tennant will be joining the cast for their upcoming WW2 Zombies spin-off.

It makes sense as video games are now able to rival Hollywood movies in terms of visuals and storytelling, except they have that extra layer of interactiveness that movies can’t deliver. “Play a game starring your favourite actor” seems like a pretty bullet-proof way to sell a video game.

Continue reading on page 2.





 

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Comments Comments (8)

 
Posted by kniteowl
On Friday 11 Aug 2017 11:12 AM
2
Fantastic read. Thanks for sharing some insights into game marketing. I think developers have to work harder to make good games now as the advent of streaming and lets plays will show off a game better than any advert or review will. Warts and all. But the flip side of the coin is that the streaming can be also free publicity for the game... good or bad publicity depends on the streamers experience I guess :)
 
 
 
Posted by Ryzlin
On Friday 11 Aug 2017 11:57 AM
1
I'm pro pre orders. At certain physical stores. Digitally, the only time I have ever considered it was for the HZD DLC, and that purely for the discount that it currently has on it. In physical stores though I've pre ordered a lot. Generally with the intention to take the game back if I don't like it and get a refund. Pre ordering, to me at least, makes sense especially if you want a collector's/limited/gold edition, or a super popular game. How many people missed put on getting crash when it came out? Or the NES?

I think day 1 patches were also in response to a change in customers and the increase in marketing. If you've spent that much money making sure that x game is coming out on y day, and that all your fans will rush to buy it as soon as they can, then you're going to want to stick to that day. After all, if mist gamers will buy a game they have pre ordered, who cares why if you push the release date back. Not to mention before it was physically impossible to patch a game. Both the systems and the internet speeds didn't allow it.
 
 
 
Posted by MadCant
On Friday 11 Aug 2017 12:05 PM
1
Another good read, though lacking most of the nostalgia of your first article.
 
 
 
Posted by drunk_monk
On Friday 11 Aug 2017 12:35 PM
1
What's the issue with the ascree unity screenshot?

I hate preorder culture for all of the above reasons, but give in regularly because of a specific edition.
 
 
 
Posted by Bank
On Friday 11 Aug 2017 2:53 PM
2
What's wrong with the Guitar Hero Live?
That was hype.
 
 
 
Posted by kiwijoey
On Saturday 12 Aug 2017 9:11 AM
2
Yep, I pre-order digital, mainly so I can get the download done overnight so I can play on "release day". I'm interested in your and readers thoughts on console and timed exclusivity....is this marketing gone too far at the detriment of groups of players that don't get the exclusive?
 
 
 
Posted by kniteowl
On Sunday 13 Aug 2017 4:18 PM
1
12 August 2017, 09:11 AM Reply to kiwijoey
Yep, I pre-order digital, mainly so I can get the download done overnight so I can play on "release day". I'm interested in your and readers thoughts on console and timed exclusivity....is this marketing gone too far at the detriment of groups of players that don't get the exclusive?
I'm so reluctant to buy digital because I have a phobia that the digital service will go down and the games won't be retrievable from digital purgatory... Whereas if its on disc it can take up space on my shelf for that "one day"... :D
 
 
 
Posted by kiwijoey
On Sunday 13 Aug 2017 8:29 PM
1
13 August 2017, 04:18 PM Reply to kniteowl
I'm so reluctant to buy digital because I have a phobia that the digital service will go down and the games won't be retrievable from digital purgatory... Whereas if its on disc it can take up space on my shelf for that "one day"... :D
Good point...I'm quietly hoping that day never comes!