The old saying is that “there is no such thing as bad press”. While quite possibly true in a majority of cases, you are about to see a handful where that was absolutely NOT true. Some of these public relations disasters do little more than make the parent company either foolish or negligent, and in some cases criminal! Here are what I believe to be quite possibly the dumbest public relations mishaps of recent memory in relations to the videogame industry. These are in no particular order. UK readers will enjoy that most seem to have come from over in your “neck of the woods”.
Capcom’s Dead Body Parts
For the release of Resident Evil 5, Capcom tried to emulate a trick used by the producers of the Batman Film, The Dark Knight. The Batman idea was to distribute joker cards all over a few cities to get folks excited about the movie; Capcom chose body parts instead. Imagine if you will a leisurely walk around Trafalgar Square (a.k.a. one of the bigger tourist spots in London) and you stumble upon a severed head, what bad could come of that? The idea was for the person to find the most severed limbs and other body parts was to win a trip to Africa to celebrate the game’s new locale. The publicity stunt went wrong for two reasons: many folks took the body parts and simply kept them for some bizarre reason, or even worse, mistook them for real ones and contacted the authorities. The second problem was that the parts were smeared in chicken livers and blood, making them a huge contamination risk due to salmonella and other food-borne diseases.
They got desperate due to pressure form a few groups to release a few statements like:
“The body parts are very realistic and we don’t want people to be alarmed by them. They’ve all been taken from their original positions, but we now have no idea where they are.
“If you have them, please either return them, or dispose of them in a responsible and careful manner. In addition, chicken livers were used for added gore, and, uncooked, they can be dangerous.”
To make matters worse the participants were told to stand around and nonchalantly wave the severed limbs around:
“Participants were instructed to: ‘Alert [Capcom] to your presence by standing on the bridge, holding the artificial body parts over your head and shouting “Kijuju!”. We will be there, watching you, and will approach when you make yourselves known.’”
….which caused a bit of panic.
All I Want For Christmas is a PSP
After a successful viral campaign for Halo created a LOT of internet buzz, a lot of other game developers were eager to attempt their own version of it. The problem is, you can imagine that a typical company executive doesn’t really know how to pull off a viral campaign, potentially with the stereotype standing that they are out of touch guys with suits. But let’s just imagine one of thee executives decided “I know what kids like!” and ended up producing a travesty like the following:
The company responsible, Zipitoni, talked about their original intentions:
“we started clowning with sum not-so-subtle hints to j’s parents that a psp would be teh perfect gift. we created this site to spread the luv to those like j who want a psp! consider us your own personal psp hype machine, here to help you wage a holiday assault on ur parents, girl, granny, boss – whoever – so they know what you really want.”
This viral video was widely panned by just about everyone as being “out of touch”, “off base” and fairly transparent. The Guardian newspaper even rubbed it in with:
“Gamers across Web 2.0 are shaking angry fists at the latest alleged viral marketing campaign orchestrated by Sony. Piggybacking the YouTube bonanza, the company has hired “consumer activation” firm Zipatoni to create a false video-and-blogging approach to generate interest in their flagging PlayStation Portable handheld machine. The video/blog/ads featured people portending to be authentic PSP fans creating messages of love/want for the console, but were quickly uncovered by SomethingAwful.com’s dedicated base as superficial facades shielding mouthpieces for the corporation.”
Too bad Sony was too busy being “funky fresh”:
“Busted. Nailed. Snagged. As many of you have figured out (maybe our speech was a little too funky fresh???), Peter isn’t a real hip-hop maven and this site was actually developed by Sony. Guess we were trying to be just a little too clever. From this point forward, we will just stick to making cool products, and use this site to give you nothing but the facts on the PSP.
– Sony Computer Entertainment America”
Goat Feast for God of War
In today’s world the following PR stunt is probably the worst idea to ever have for a multitude of reasons. A few years ago in the buildup to the European release of God of War II, Sony had a great idea: “let’s throw a depraved God of War Party!”. Problem was that the word “excess” was not in the party planner’s vocabulary and they basically let loose with something one-step shy of an orgy in the court of Caligula. UK newspapers had the lowdown:
“Sickening images of the party have appeared in the company’s official PlayStation magazine – but after being contacted by The Mail on Sunday, Sony issued an apology for the gruesome stunt and promised to recall the entire print run.
Critics condemned the entertainment giant, which produces scores of Hollywood blockbusters each year, for its “blood lust” and said the grotesque “sacrifice” highlighted increasing concerns over the content of video games and the lengths to which the industry will go to exploit youngsters.”
During the party a freshly decapitated goat was hauled in and party-goers were treated to the still warm goat intestines as a feast. The intestines, which were cooked, had been placed back into the goat, as if it was a huge party platter. There was even a contest to see who could eat the most meat, and the grizzly remains of the animal were showcased as a centerpiece. This would have gone unnoticed except the pictures were tossed into their very own OFFICIAL magazine.
Add in a few topless dancers, booze, and other poor choices and you can see why many found this a tad too much.
Rule of Rose Gets Cancelled (In Europe)
Ever wonder how to get your own game release cancelled? How about not taking care of misinformation in order to try to make money! This is exactly what happened with the survival horror game Rule of Rose which was banned in Europe for having game scenarios that showed “obscene cruelty” and being “profoundly shocking.” It seems that this all stems from a remark from the Mayor of Rome, Italy Walter Veltroni:
“There is no way that a violent video game should be sold and distributed in our country…this game must not enter Italian homes. […] There is no need for massive doses of horror to entertain our children. I think those who create and make such games must have perverse minds.”
Someone in an Italian equivalent to a “Focus on the Family” sort of organization planted the seed in Veltroni’s mind that no game was EVER as bad as Rule of Rose, and a crap-storm started. This remark made Sony suddenly drop all support for the title despite it not actually being that bad at all. Suddenly, papers began to run hatchet job pieces saying that the game contained adolescent rape and other vulgar acts not actually in the game. It seems that at first these comments were seen to be good for the game and were inciting shock value. 505 Games even tried to fuel the fire by making a few rumors worse, until it got out of hand. Even the folks at the rating board were confused about the media hype:
“I have no idea where the suggestion of in-game sadomasochism has come from, nor children being buried underground. These are things that have been completely made up.”
“There isn’t any underage eroticism,” added Hall. “And the most violent scene does indeed see one of the young girls scare Jennifer with a rat on a stick. But the rat’s actually quite placid towards her and even licks her face.”
Since nobody stood up the game, somehow thinking the publicity was a goldmine, others distanced themselves from it, Rule of Rose never saw the light of day in Europe at all.
It took forever for Sony’s PlayStation 3 console to gain the support and sales that it deserved, and that was largely because the launch of the very system was a mixed bag, to put it mildly. There were more than a few people that had it out for the system from the very beginning due to the hefty price tag, and a few other small problems, like the original rumble-less controller. The launch carried great word of mouth, but a large amount of fans were starting to sour on the system due to the over the top arrogance of its owner company and a few of its execs. Take our old buddy Ken “Krazy Ken” Kutaragi and a few of his “gems” of quotes that really got the fans going:
“We want for consumers to think to themselves, ‘I will work more hours to buy one.”
“I believe we made the most beautiful thing in the world. Nobody would criticize a renowned architect’s blueprint that the position of a gate is wrong. It’s the same as that.”
“With the PS3, our intentions have been to create a machine with supercomputer calculation capabilities for home entertainment.”
“[PS3] is not a game machine. We’ve never once called it a game machine. I’m not going to reveal [the PS3’s] price today. I’m going to only say that it’ll be expensive. I’m aware that with all these technologies, the PS3 can’t be offered at a price that’s targeted towards households.”
“It’s probably too cheap.”
“Cell will make possible a transformation in entertainment like that from novels to movies.”
As you can see a large amount of people were insulted by a few of these, not a good way to launch a system.
Sega Saturn Launch
Instead of doing what Sony did with its almost overexposure of a launch, Sega did the exact opposite with a “secret” launch for its Saturn system. It all started when Sega decided to release the Saturn just prior to the release of the new and untested Sony PlayStation. In a genius move Sega announced that the Saturn would launch in the U.S. on “Saturnday”, September 2, 1995. Many were excited for this release until something stupid happened. In May of 1995, Tom Kalinske, (the Sega president at that time) announced that the “Saturnday” event was a ruse and the system would arrive in may, almost four months early. The eagerness and joy soon turned sour as fans turned on Sega. Supply chain issues, angry retailers, and confused fans plagued the entire campaign right from the onset. For example, stores like Wal-Mart did not initially get the system for sale! There were many more problems with the launch including a general lack of games, due to development cycles being scheduled to end in time for “Saturnday” and not this new date. Impossible to find, and with no games to buy, you couldn’t ask for a worse release.
EA Commits Mass Felony With Brass Knux
Weapon trafficking is generally frowned upon my law enforcement, so a scenario where a company mails out a huge amount of illegal weaponry as a publicity stunt might also be frowned upon right? EA was really gearing up for the release of Godfather II, so much so that it mailed out press kits containing a genuine set of brass knuckles. In California, where EA’s offices are based brass knuckles are illegal, so simply having them was bad, but imagine being labeled as a illicit weapons dealer. Places like Colorado are VERY strict on this, for example this excerpt from Colorado state law:
“Manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives , lends, or possesses any cane gun or wallet gun, any undetectable firearm, any firearm which is not immediately recognizable as a firearm, any camouflaging firearm container, any ammunition which contains or consists of any flechette dart, any bullet containing or carrying an explosive agent….(the following is a list of illegal wepaons)”
EA Free Gas Debacle
In a similar situation, EA came up with a great idea to drum up interest for the game Mercenaries 2. In a few select cities such as Los Angeles and London, a troupe of people dressed as the game’s characters staged a takeover a random gas station to give out free gas. After the success of the event in L.A. all things on the other side of the Atlantic went well right? WRONG! The lucky few folks that got the free fuel were amazingly happy. BBC reported glowing testimonials for a few folks that went like this:
“Prince Davis, 37, who queued patiently for a quarter of an hour for free petrol, said: “This is a genius idea, whoever thought of this should be promoted.””
Although the majority of folks said things like this:
“Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, said: “Whilst a lucky few might have got free petrol, hundreds of residents have faced misery”.
People lined up for miles, and ground traffic to a halt, with scenes harkening back to fuel rationing in the 1970’s.
A Liberal Democrat said: “Trying to recreate Venezuelan-style fuel riots on the streets of London is completely irresponsible and downright dangerous.”
Acclaim Incites Reckless Driving
We all hate burdens of the monetary kind in this rough financial world, so when someone steps in as a savior on the wallet, that’s generally a good idea. Problem is that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Acclaim decided that a campaign to pay off all speeding tickets of folks who contacted them would be a great community service. This was all an idea to publicize Burnout 2, and on the surface was a great public relations idea for the troubled company. Problem is that a few folks saw it as a “get out of jail free” card for reckless driving. There was a bit of media backlash due to the rumblings of the UK Department of Transport, but the promotion was generally seen in a good way.
Many have felt the frustration of the following image:
Shortly after the launch of the X-box 360 there began rumblings of failing systems, despite this consumers were told that the failure rates were as little as 3% and simply because of over-use, this was later revealed to actually be closer to 16.4% (one in six) after a rigorous testing was set up. One source who was left nameless during an interview even said that it was closer to 30%:
“It’s around 30%, and all will probably fail early. This quarter they are expecting 1 M failures, most of those Xenons. Some of those are repeat failures. Life expectancy is all over the map because the design has very little margin for most of the important parameters. That means it’s not a fault tolerant design. So a good unit may last a couple of years, while a bad unit can fail in hours. I have a launch unit and have not had a single problem with it. And it’s used a lot. But I don’t know anyone else with a 360 that hasn’t broken, except you now. There’s no way to tell when yours might die. But the cooler you can keep it, the longer it will probably last. So stand it up, keep it in free air, etc. :Note : Xenon was the code name for the first Xbox 360 mother board.”
After a while it became evident that the problems were more widespread and something had to be done. Amidst rumbling of lawsuits and boycotts Microsoft “bit the bullet” and extended all 360 units to a three year warranty. This problem has been a thorn in Microsoft’s paw for years, and is still used as a slanderous term in fan debate.
So there you have it – WHAT WERE THESE GUYS THINKING!! I’m no public relations guy, but common sense would say that almost all of these were not a great idea in any way. There’s definitely a fine line between a big viral sensation, and causing a riot to sell a videogame!
Note: This is a slightly edited version of an article I posted on a now-defunct gaming website called Gamrfeed (in around 2010) that I wrote, as with some of this videogame-related stuff I am posting it again to preserve it. I always figure that some of this could be of some value to my new readers.