Bloody Boobs: Does Controversy Sell a Video Game?

How does a game developer actively promote the gaming equivalent of a B-movie? By getting people to talk about it.

It’s this simple answer that doesn’t surprise me to see the recent uproar over Dead Island: Riptide and its controversial promotional campaign.

Dead Island Riptide PS3

In the two days since the special edition of Dead Island: Riptide was announced, we have seen Riptide proclaimed as the latest example of misogyny in gaming. Not only that, but Riptide has also been used as a platform for freedom of speech, artistic expression, jaded gaming journalism and social rights movements over content in video games.

Do you know how I see this tsunami of press? Free marketing.

Look at movies like Hobo with a Shotgun or Grindhouse. These are movies that showcase overly glamorized violence, objectifying women and overall insensitive behavior. They would’ve KILLED for the level of PR that Dead Island: Riptide is receiving right now. And trust me, the developers behind those movies wouldn’t think twice about including a bloody bust in a collector’s edition of their movies if it fit the source material.

The fact is, this marketing campaign was thoroughly thought out and designed to hit all of these sensitive issues. Don’t believe me? Think about all the effort and work that goes into designing a video game. Millions of dollars are spent in producing the games content, along with pre-promotion, marketing, reviews, packaging and included perks for pre-orders.

Bloody Boobs advert

This clearly wasn’t one person who suddenly decided “Hey, lets include a bloody boob statue with our game! That would be awesome!” The creation of this marketing campaign would have been a concerted team effort by marketing people, public relations and upper management to decide how this game would be promoted. There would have been production value for commercials to take into account, along with the cost for the box casing the special edition and the bloody boobs themselves. Marketers would have also performed risk analyses to see if there is enough return on their investment for this marketing campaign.

Judging by the amount of press this game is receiving, the campaign accomplished exactly what PR wanted. Check out articles here, here, here, here and here.

As for Deep Silver’s public apology issued over Facebook, you need to think about this as another element of advertising. Honestly, have you ever seen a game developer release an apology that fast for anything before? An apology was released on the company’s Facebook the EXACT SAME DAY that the special edition package was announced.

Now think about the last time you saw a game discussed in the same publication twice in one day? Riptide accomplished that on multiple websites around the world, simply by issuing a press release about their pre-order bonus and then writing a Facebook post about that press release only hours later?

Are the actions that Deep Silver took to promote their game in good taste? Of course not. But would you expect anything less from a movie that’s basically about a zombie outbreak at a beach party? Absolutely not. This is the gaming equivalent of a Slumber Party Massacre or even House of the Dead (which is actually a bad remake of a Sega video game.)

But this discussion isn’t about defending the actions of Deep Silver or condemning their marketing campaign. Today, we are looking at the profitability of controversy.

You have to realize that something that is controversial is much more likely to sell. Remember the old saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity?” Bad publicity, good publicity; all manners of press will draw attention to the game, the brand or the company behind the game. The point is, this publicity stunt has got people talking about Dead Island: Riptide.

Dead Island Cover Art

What do you remember about the original Dead Island? Other than the fact that the game was released by Square Enix in North America in 2011, this game fell through the cracks for me. There were simply much better games on the offering plate when this game came out and much bigger names in survival horror making their way to consoles in the near future (The Walking Dead and Resident Evil 6, anyone?). Despite this, Dead Island scored pretty well in most publications and sold quite a few copies.

Now look at the media landscape today and the fact that Dead Island: Riptide received two solid days of discussion, making for over five pages worth of articles accumulated on the Google News feed (Type in Dead Island: Riptide and check it out for yourself). Did the game get this attention because of revolutionary gameplay? A thrilling and gripping story?

boobs focused

Not even close. It was all because we got to see a mangled corpse with breasts.

This isn’t the first time gaming media has been set ablaze because of a controversial marketing campaign in video games. Look at the discussion around this year’s new Tomb Raider game when the thought of Lara Croft being raped was included in a trailer of the game? Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics are still defending themselves against allegations on that one.

hitman-absolution-nuns

Speaking about Square Enix, how about all of the controversy surrounding the marketing campaign for last year’s Hitman: Absolution? While you are reading that article, check out the discussion on an early PS Vita marketing campaign. That campaign compared the new system from Sony to a woman with breasts on her back. That one definitely didn’t go over too well either.

The thing is, even though these were clearly negative campaigns and would be considered a black mark on any of these products, the PlayStation Vita still sold millions of systems, selling over two million systems by June 2012. Hitman: Absolution has also sold over a million copies since its release at the end of 2012 and it hasn’t even been released in Japan yet!

gta-san-andreas-game

And if we want to look at controversy, there’s no better place to look than Grand Theft Auto. Every time a new game came out for this franchise, it seems some civil rights group would jump up to declare war on video game violence. When I was a kid, anytime I heard about the controversy surrounding GTA, it made me want to play the game even more! 

So does the end justify the means when it comes to promotion and advertising? Certainly not. Even though both of the items mentioned above sold in the millions of copies, did they necessarily reflect the brand they were targeting?

ps vita back boobs

Sony’s marketing team promoting the PS Vita as a woman with four breasts is clearly insensitive and rude. Not only that, but it has nothing to do with what this system is all about, loosely referencing the unique interface the system has. In short, it was meant merely as an effort to draw attention to itself without considering the fact that many of the people buying this system are female gamers or mothers of children. This was clearly targeted at a boy’s only club of  gamers. The only way they could have generated worst press would have been having the four-breasted woman eating Doritos and drinking Mountain Dew.

In the case of Hitman: Absolution, having the main character of the game get in a brawl with a group of latex-clad assassins disguised as nuns may seem insensitive, but not outside of the norm for the Hitman series. You are playing a game where the purpose of the work is to hunt down and kill people, regardless of career or allegiance. Fighting against a group of nuns doesn’t seem out of place for this line of work.

boobs focused

Such is the case of Dead Island: Riptide. Giving gamers a bust of, well, a bust, is definitely crude and appealing to the lowest common denominator, but its nothing outside of what you would see in the game itself. There are women in bikinis, there are zombies and there is dismemberment. All of this is commonplace for the setting of the game and the subject matter present. Would there have been this much of a reaction if the game had included a severed zombie head or a zombie hand with the game’s special edition content? Probably not.

But then again, the idea of bloody boobs probably wouldn’t have become the conversation piece of newsrooms and gaming editorials around the world, now would it?

I wouldn’t be surprised if this game sells over a million copies.

the author

Jeff Johnson is a Canadian journalist and the host of GameOn here at GameNTrain. He was born in Ontario, but moved to British Columbia to learn what it's like to be attacked by deer on a regular basis. If you've got an idea for a feature story on GameOn or would like to be featured as a contibutor, simply e-mail gameongamentrain@gmail.com. You can also find Jeff on Google+ at http://www.gplus.to/jeffjohnsongnt

  • http://twitter.com/LukeShooty Luke Siuty

    Yeah… female representation not only in games but in the industry (developers) has been at an all-time low. Respectable female voices are few and far in between. This is a great summary of all that’s been happening. The Dead Island thing is definitely a new low. I do remember that Vita ad too – I think I was just confused at first… seriously? I haven’t played Dead Island and probably won’t.