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We Hate This Ad Campaign

By Jeff Buckland, 1/17/2011

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EA's latest ad campaign for Dead Space 2 may sell a few more copies to rebellious teenagers, but what damage will it do in the long run? There's a website as well as a whole big playlist of videos on YouTube, all from EA, centered around this "Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2" campaign. The premise is this, as described by one of the videos: they put together a focus group of mothers in the middle of the Bible Belt, showed them lots of footage from the game, each alone in a room, with 3 monitors way too close to their faces all showing the same footage. They filmed these women the whole time, and the idea behind it all was to create an ad campaign about how your mother would disapprove of you playing this video game.

As if any of us were even remotely wondering whether middle-aged mothers hated violent games.

These ads prove to us that yes, the game is scary and violent (something that anyone who had seen Dead Space games before was already probably pretty sure of), but whatís worse is that it may wind up erasing at least some of the goodwill and progress the game industry might have made with the rest of the world - at least, in the few years since the last big controversy. Not only is this game actually quite scary and violent, just like EA showed us, but it also tells people that publishers - or at least one of the major ones, which the rest of the game industry will likely get lumped in with - are perfectly willing to trick unsuspecting people into watching footage they didn't want to see, make them uncomfortable, put a slight condescending tone to it all, and then feed them a few hundred bucks each to sign a release so that EA didnít have to blot out their faces - and then slap it all up on the internet as a way to promote the game.

It's not so much about the violence, it's about the attitude behind EA's campaign that really seems to be off. Of course women this age, likely with either kids or young grandkids at home, are uncomfortable seeing content like this. And of course it's an M-rated game that young children shouldn't be playing. EAís not telling gamers anything they donít already know. But we also know that kids likely will wind up seeing this game, especially if it becomes popular, and while it might be a good thing overall to sit parents down and show them the games their kids are playing, doing it like this as an ad campaign, showing us their reactions as if young gamers are supposed to want to buy this game to rebel against their parents, is really off-putting. Or at least, I think it should be, and I hope you agree.

One of the big issues that noted hater and lawyer Jack Thompson had with game publishers was that they were marketing these products to minors despite the M ratings from the ESRB. Well, don't these videos seem like they're trying to sell the game to kids? I mean, if you're twenty-something and living on your own, you donít need to care whether your mom approves of you playing a violent game anymore. To me, this footage is mostly targeted towards teens, possibly those who are too young to actually buy the game. Then thereís the fact that this footage, seen in the videos and reacted to by the mothers, is available on YouTube without any kind of age gate or age verification - thatís in direct violation of what the ESRB demands of the publishers they work with, and itís in violation of what the ESRB has asked of us at AtomicGamer directly (specifically, in regard to posting all-ages footage and trailers of a game whose final product was rated M).

Even if the ESRB canít really tell Google/YouTube what to do, the fact that publishers are making sites like YouTube, without age gates, the home of their ad campaigns should spring the ESRB into action against those companies directly - if they actually really cared about putting their warnings up in front of promotional videos, that is. Yes, itís likely that the ESRBís age gate system is really just a legal cover-your-ass move and little more, especially since a 13-year-old can figure out pretty quickly how to lie to pose as an adult, but combining all this together shows us at least some disregard by EA not only for the system, but also for the reasons why the system, flawed as it is, was put together.

Then thereís the lasting damage to the industry. As you may know, the Supreme Court is in the process of ruling on a law restricting the sale of violent video games in California (theyíre expected to make that ruling this coming June). The gameís content itself isnít so surprising, but when the ESA and ESM go up there to defend the video game industry and stop censorship in California, do you think that their case would be helped or hurt if snippets of this particular ad campaign were shown? It gets even messier when you realize that EA is actually a member of the ESA. Either way, arrogance like this by overzealous advertisers shows that the biggest players in the game industry donít care what image they send out, and that they may even be trying to advertise directly to the people theyíre not supposed to be selling violent games to.

Watch one or two of the videos for yourself (start easy, with this one) and tell me which you feel more: a desire to buy Dead Space 2, or discomfort at watching someone who doesnít want to see violence have it shoved in their face, up close, Clockwork Orange-style on three TVs. (As if thatís somehow representative of how gamers would play it.)

Itís of course possible that EA is lying about that disclaimer at the front of the video and these people actually are actors, but itíd still likely be damaging. Why would a video game publisher purposely play into the hatred that will be thrown at them? Are they trying to manufacture something like the Hot Coffee controversy in the hope that itíll generate more sales for them in the long run? Or maybe just the short run? Will that effect even work when itís so blatantly trying to be created?

Finally, it occurs to us that of all the violent action games out there, Dead Space 2 probably doesnít require marketing like this. The two games released so far have been rated M, but itís not for that ďimmatureĒ brand of ďmatureĒ weíve seen from many games carrying the same rating. Generally, these games have put on an intense, mildly emotional, enjoyable story despite all the violence and horror elements. Weíd expect a third-rate publisher with some half-baked game thatís way too violent and desperate to get sales to put on a campaign like this, not EA with one of their most promising young franchises. Hell, even a different AAA game like, say, Saints Row might fit in better with this kind of advertising. But Dead Space? This franchise is much better than EAís own advertising team is making it out to be. This will be EAís most eye-catching campaign for this game by far, and all we get to see in it is violence and gore, not the story or scary atmosphere that leads up to all those bodily fluids flying around.

Hell, the advertising does seem to be working somewhat, as thereís a lot of debate on social networks and forums - unfortunately, itís mostly about the advertising itself rather than the actual game. This article isnít meant to dissuade you from buying Dead Space 2, because itís likely to be as least as good as the first one - and with so many mediocre (or worse) games being made, it might be silly to refuse to experience a fun game only for a vain attempt to fight against the actions of a multi-billion dollar corporation. But weíre hoping someone out there from EAís marketing departmentís listening: this advertising could very well do more harm than good. Not all press is good press, especially when the legality of your product is waiting to be ruled on at the nationís highest court.


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