Gaming is in a very awkward phase right now. We want to be seen as cool, adult and serious but we’re still incapable of shedding those old habits and childish attitudes that we’ve had for so long. Essentially, we’re being every pretentious 13-year old ever. Problem is, we’re doing far more damage than a pretentious 13-year old could ever do and it’s thanks to our stubborn refusal to grow-up. Whether it’s down to unprofessional games journalists, rampant homophobia, horrendous marketing tactics, witch hunts, entitled/legitimately-concerned gamers not getting their opinions across well enough, developers trying to pull a fast one or that old chestnut of sexism; 2012 was a pretty damn shameful year for gaming.
Consider the following list, then, spread over the next five days, as a sobering wake-up call. The kick up the backside to get us all to genuinely try to start bettering ourselves for once. Do not, however, take these articles as a huge “I’m superior to all of you for pointing this stuff out” piece that kicks well-known controversies in the teeth whilst they are down, for that is not the intention. They will be negative and they will be vengeful and they will, at times, be uncontrollably angry, but that’s because I care. I want us to grow up as a medium and become halfway respectable in the eyes of people.
To do that, however, we must first accept responsibility. And in 2012, we as an industry and a medium, let the following five acts occur.
5] Hitman: Absolution’s marketing targets an audience that doesn’t exist; shames and disgusts pretty much everybody else
The Hitman series is known for three things: extremely free gameplay that allows a degree of choice just not possible in most stealth games, a rather frank asexual approach to all of its characters that’s reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s films, and an extremely dark yet extremely clever sense of humour. Absolution managed to break every single one of these three key features in one foul swoop. It all began with last year’s initial demo, in which developer IO Interactive went about smashing most fans pre-conceptions of how the game would play by releasing footage that looked a lot like Splinter Cell Conviction. Mind, the damage was only limited to the Hitman series and a collection of fans (myself included) bitter over a change in direction. Nothing major.
For 2012, IO and Square Enix decided to go in a whole different, much more troublesome direction. Not content with just pissing off Hitman fans anymore, they refocused and redoubled their efforts into pissing off everybody else with one of the worst marketing jobs I have seen in years. Take two and a half minutes out of your day to re-watch the Attack Of The Saints trailer again. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Back yet? Now, what the f*ck is up with that trailer?! In theory, it’s nothing too different to how Hitman Blood Money handled certain elements of its dark humour; a bunch of assassins in crazy get-up trying murder 47. Except that here, the tone is all over the friggin’ place. What’s with the overly dramatic music? Why is everybody kung fu fighting? Why do we need the extreme slo-mo close-ups on the violent fates that the Saints befall? What’s the point of them arriving in nun clothing if they’re going to strip into S&M wear a full minute before they even reach their target?! And what, in the name of all that is holy, the f*ck is going on with that shot of 47 mournfully closing that Saints’ eyes?!
When people complain about this trailer and start throwing accusations of sexism and offensiveness around it, it’s not because of women being the ones on the receiving end of the violence and it’s not for the blatant sexualisation and it’s not for both being used at once. It’s because the tone is wildly over the place. Are we meant to take this seriously? The ludicrously over-the-top costumes and highly choreographed Waif Fu seem to indicate no, but the fetishism of the brutal violence coupled with the overly-sincere music and that f*cking shot would contradict the parodic tone. It’s so confused and muddled that it comes across as horrifically sexist, even if (and especially if) that wasn’t the intention in the first place.
But Absolution’s marketing team didn’t feel the need to stop there, oh no! Witness the disaster of a Facebook app in which you advertise the game by putting out hits on your Facebook friends. And just why is 47, world-renowned assassin who typically murders mob bosses and paedophile senators, going to accept the hit that you put out on your friend? Well, for such dastardly reasons as their “skinny frame” or “cheating on their spouse” or “having ginger hair” or, most despicably of all, “having small tits”! What horrible people that completely deserve to get a menacing video of 47 gathering intel on them (yeah, allowing the app to access your info when you receive said message gave it license to take as many of your pictures and info as it damn well likes to use in its video) and then sniping them from afar(!) Cyber bullying is perfectly OK when you’re selling a videogame, guys(!)
Yes, the app was taken down not one hour after it went up and the story broke and the appropriate apology from Square Enix was issued, but read into that for a second. Within one hour of the flames starting, Square pulled the app and issued an apology. That statement had to have been pre-prepared, which means that they had to have known that the app would cause controversy which brings me to my point: If they knew that the app was going to cause such a negative and controversial response, so much so that they had a contingency plan ready to be deployed at the first sign of trouble… then why the f*ck did they green-light it in the first place?! And don’t give me that crap about how it was done by an outsider advertising agency, because Square would have had to have approved the app for it to go up! Unless they’re all drunk or have that little control over the marketing for their own game, and, if it’s either of those reasons, that just makes the whole thing even worse!
The Hitman: Absolution ad campaign is just one extremely poor decision after another and proves that marketers clearly have no clue how we, as an audience, should be pitched to anymore. They still think that, if the trailer is shiny enough and the marketing strategy is seemingly different enough, their campaign will be a success. We, however, have grown past that now. They are trying to sell their products to a target audience that no longer exists and in a way that alienates and insults pretty much everybody else whilst, to the outsider, re-enforcing stereotypes that, for the most part, just aren’t true anymore.
If anything positive can come from this, hopefully this complete catastrophic failure convinces everyone involved in marketing and selling a game, be they the developer themselves or a third-party agency, to step back and re-evaluate their position and strategy. Update, modernise, try and go for the gaming audience that exists today rather than 3 years ago. Hopefully the battered and bloody corpse of Hitman: Absolution can deter people from going down this road again and, consequently, next year, I won’t have to talk about the complete failure of a poorly judged and offensive ad campaign.
That, or Square Enix should just fire their entire marketing staff right the hell now. I mean, you people have seen the Tomb Raider E3 trailer, right?
Number 4 on our countdown of the Worst Things To Happen To Gaming In 2012 will appear tomorrow!