From the badass cover art on old-school Atari games to basically all major review sites, video games have always relied on lies to get you to buy them. And the same way the graphics advance every year, so too does the level of deception. We're reasonably sure that the most ingenious "video game plot" these days is the one designed to scam you. Here are six outrageous examples.
One of the toughest moments in every gamer's life is when they have to decide which of the near-identical versions of the near-identical sequels to the near-identical video game franchises they'll buy. Well, in 2011, Electronic Arts made that decision a lot easier for fans of first-person shooters: They announced that everyone who bought the PlayStation 3 version of Battlefield 3 would get another game, Battlefield 1943, completely for free on the same disc.
Except for gamers.
When Battlefield 3 was finally released, fans noticed that the promised extra game wasn't included. No notice, no apology, not even a crude IOU note -- it simply wasn't there. The angry masses took to Twitter to ask what exactly the fuck was going on (because Twitter is the modern equivalent of torches and pitchforks), until EA finally addressed their concerns. Their response: Instead of Battlefield 1943, PS3 owners now had the exclusive right to buy all the downloadable content a week earlier than on other platforms!
A right they already had.
To recap: Electronic Arts advertised a full, free game as an incentive for buying Battlefield 3, and didn't bother telling anybody that they had changed their minds until millions of copies had been sold. And to make up for that, they generously invited players to spend even more money buying extra content for the game, at full price. In unrelated news, EA won the "Worst Company in America" award the next two years after this.
Unfortunately for EA, it turns out that PS3 owners are the kinds of ungrateful bastards who would look a gift horse (or rather, an opportunity-to-buy horse?) in the mouth. It took the threat of a class-action lawsuit for the company to finally fulfill their promise and make Battlefield 1943 available for free download on the PlayStation Network. To this day, EA executives patiently await the flood of "thank you" letters that are surely incoming.
When Ubisoft was launching Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's The Division earlier this year, they had tough competition in the form of Bungie's already established Destiny. Luckily, the critics were on their side:
Too bad those quotes were bullshit. For starters, the full headline of the GameZone article was "The Division blows Destiny out of the water with 6.4 million beta users." They were talking about Ubisoft's game having more beta players (probably because it was also on PC, not just consoles), and not referring to quality. As for the IGN quote, they did declare this the "Best New Franchise" ... to be shown at E3 2013, three years earlier. Back when the game looked much slicker than it ended up being, because that's how Ubisoft rolls.
Speaking of IGN, check out what they had to say about Dead Island: Riptide, according to the game's launch trailer:
Again, IGN did technically say those words, but the full quote was: "If you're committed to Dead Island already, you're in for a treat." They also warned that, while fans of the original would probably like this sequel, "the plot is still paper thin, the cutscenes are still wooden, and the game doesn't look great or run all that well." The review was essentially saying, "Riptide is more of the same shit, but if you like how shit tastes, go for it!"
But it's more than ads. It's been several paragraphs since we've given you a reason to hate EA, so let's look at the cover of NHL 09 next:
Wow, that had to be the greatest fucking hockey game ever, to win seven awards before even being released. Of course, it didn't. The previous game in the franchise did, and it seems even EA thinks they're all pretty much the same.
But perhaps the most egregious example comes from the official website for Edios' Kane & Lynch, which boasted five-star reviews ...
... which weren't five-star reviews. Eidos stuck a five-star graphic on each quote, when in reality, GameSpy gave it a 3/5, Game Informer gave it 7/10, and Kotaku didn't even give it a score, because Kotaku doesn't score games. The last time we let somebody invent five stars out of thin air, we ended up with One Direction. Did we learn nothing?!
When Microsoft announced the Xbox One console in 2013, they ran into a tiny little problem: Everyone somehow hated it already. Reports that it required you to be online 24/7, blocked used games, and took photos of your junk and sent them to your own mother angered gamers everywhere. Microsoft dialed back the creepiness, but as launch day approached, there was still an air of negativity around the console.
But then the tide suddenly changed. Hundreds of YouTube users posted videos mentioning how hyped they were for the Xbox One and how dope all three of its launch games looked. One thing they didn't mention (because they legally couldn't) was that they were getting paid for saying this.
It turns out Microsoft had hired game-centric YouTube network Machinima to promote its console. Machinima, in turn, paid five popular YouTube personalities up to $30,000 to say they were "looking forward" to the Xbox One and "[showcase] Microsoft products in positive light" -- which seems like a lot of money, until you find out that said products included the critically ambivalent Ryse: Son Of Rome. Phase two of this plan involved paying lesser YouTubers to produce similar videos, promising $1 for every 1,000 views (at a $25,000 cap). As part of their contracts, the YouTubers were prohibited from discussing the agreement, including the part about getting paid. In other words, their videos made it look like everyone really loved the Xbox One and whatever it crapped out on launch day.
There's a reason even those shady TitleMax commercials on TV disclose that their testimonials are "actor portrayals" -- in the United States, presenting a paid endorsement as though it were somebody's real, uncompensated opinion will incur the wrath of the Federal Trade Commission. In this case, the FTC investigated the campaign and determined that Machinima had engaged in deceptive advertising.
Yay! The system works!
They reached a settlement that involved the avoidance of a fine and Machinima's promise to totally never do this again, while never admitting to any wrongdoing. Yay! The system works ... for the corporations!
Action 52 is an infamous NES cartridge which offered 52 crappy games for the price of ... 52 crappy games. Despite playing like a disgruntled programmer's resignation letter, the game retailed for $199.99. You could buy a Super Nintendo for that much, or like 50 copies of Ninja Turtles. Why the hell would anyone willingly spend their money on this thing? Well, to make more money, mostly.
Active Enterprises, the company responsible for this turd, announced that anybody who could beat Level 5 of Ooze, one of the games in the collection, would be entered into a drawing to win $104,000 ($52,000 in cash, and $52,000 in the form of the most embarrassing scholarship ever). Ooze was as clumsy and plodding as every other game in the set, but the possibility of winning more than a hundred grand merely for suffering through five levels made it all worth it, right?
Nope! Not even a little bit. Because those who managed to master the game's frustrating controls and clear the first two levels were treated to this:
Clearing the second level causes the game to crash to a black screen. Every time. There's nothing you can do to avoid it, and there's no way to proceed past it. Action 52 actually did it: They managed to make a more frustrating Nintendo game than Ghouls 'N Ghosts.
When publisher Sega and developer Gearbox began showing their upcoming title Aliens: Colonial Marines at gaming shows and expos, it gave gamers a bizarrely misshapen, Giger-esque fang-boner. Featuring beautiful graphics, dynamic lighting effects, realistic AI, and intense gameplay, it promised the ability to live out an Aliens movie without having James Cameron cover you in rancid milk and yogurt.
And then it was released.
The graphics were now pedestrian at best, the lighting made your office fluorescents look appealing, and the only two actions the AI characters knew were "RUN" or "EXIST QUIETLY." Sega and Gearbox hadn't just stretched the truth -- they had tied its limbs to four separate horses and smacked each horse on the ass.
Through review embargoes, Sega effectively blocked media outlets from warning gamers about the incoming disaster. You don't ban reviews of your game because you want everybody to be surprised by how great it is; you do it because you know it's a shit typhoon and don't want anybody to take cover before it makes landfall.
A few months later, two pissed-off gamers filed a class-action lawsuit seeking damages for anybody who bought the game on or before release day (if you were dumb enough to buy it after that, you were on your own). Sega settled for $1.25 million, but Gearbox refused to budge. A judge eventually had to deny the lawsuit class-action status -- not because it was without merit, but because there was no way of knowing how many people bought the game because of the trailers. Let this serve as a lesson for all shady corporations: If you're going to fuck people over, make to sure to fuck over all of them, so that even judges can't sort through the massive flood of fuckees.
Critically-acclaimed game developer Peter Molyneux can't stop lying, and even he admits it. In his long and storied career, he's never been part of a project he couldn't overhype.
Now, we expect a little slip and shuffle from the guy whose current gig is ripping off crowdsourcers to fund human experiments in boredom, but Molyneux goes above and beyond. Even back when he was designing good games, he would still over-promise so much that it amounted to self-sabotage. For example, there was the time he wowed reporters by telling them the billboards in Syndicate Wars could play back DVD movies -- even though it was 1996, and computers didn't have DVD drives. He might as well have promised it would interface with your holographic party chamber. In a 1994 interview, he promised that customers who were injured on a ride in Theme Park would become patients in Theme Hospital. Cross-title play, years before we realized we didn't actually care about that!
But Molyneux saved his biggest, most ambitious lies for Fable. He claimed, for instance, that the game would cover your character's entire lifespan and that you would be able to have children (and presumably spend most of your gold paying child support). It was so expansive that you could knock an acorn from a tree and, over the course of many in-game years, watch it grow into a new oak. Finally! Finally, our acorn-planting dreams would be granted ...
Alas, it was all lies. Again.
Molyneux himself has openly admitted to having "slightly over-promised on things" to "stop journalists [from] going to sleep." Rather optimistically, some team members speculate that he makes these features up during interviews in the hopes that his team will follow through on his promises. For a fun little experiment, try that the next time you're put in charge of anything. See how long it takes for your employees to eat you alive.
Jeff Silvers is a freelance writer who had to endure hours of "Action 52" to research this article. He has a blog at jeffsilvers.com.
For more reasons the video game industry is just chock full of shitheels, check out 6 Video Games That Failed Before You Pressed Start and 5 Video Game DLC So Bad, They Should Be Considered Scams.
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