The 5 Worst Marketing Failures in the History of Video Games
Earlier this week, after more than a decade of waiting, gamers around the world sat down to enjoy Diablo III. Most of them had already downloaded it the week before, but they weren't allowed to actually play it until the day it physically arrived in retail stores. After that, they weren't allowed to play it until they connected to the game's online server. When the servers were broken for most of the day, millions of frustrated fingers told the Internet how pissed off they were. Even the funny ones. However, as far as video game PR disasters go, it couldn't contend with these classics:
The Sega Saturn Launch
While psychology and elementary education majors are searching for their panties in a fraternity sleeping porch, marketing majors are doing a lot of homework. That's because launching a consumer product like a video game system is a complicated thing involving thousands of jobs. Despite careful planning and research, things always seem to go wrong. So maybe that's why Sega's idea for the Saturn was to say screw it and throw it into stores like it was a prank.
Sega told the world that the Saturn was coming out in September 1995, a week before the PlayStation. Then, surprise: In a desperate move to be first, four retail chains suddenly had the Sega Saturn in May. History has shown that a blind rush to be first is a great way to send confused monkeys and dogs into space, but it's not always the best marketing strategy. First of all, it meant that only six Saturn games were available at launch, and all of them were made by Sega. When Sega told everyone the thing was coming out in September, that included the developers making video games for it. It was like telling the shark delivery man at your door that you already jumped the tank, but he can still throw the shark on your lawn and see if anyone else wants to buy it before it dies.
So a gamer in early 1995 was looking at a Sega system that cost $399 and only had six titles.
This kind of stupid situation would have been familiar to them after the Sega CD and the Sega 32X, game systems that were designed to be less exciting alternatives to simply burning piles of money. Night Trap and Kriss Kross: Make My Video had already demonstrated that putting advanced audio/video technology in the hands of Sega is like giving a BeDazzler to a 5-year-old. Sega CD games looked like medical photos of body fungus with loading screens. And now that Sega had pissed off every retail outlet except four, and every video game developer except themselves, it wasn't looking good for the Saturn.
The Sony PlayStation cost $100 less and came out when it said it was going to come out, giving everyone time to do things like hang posters, show commercials and finish making PlayStation games. This turned out to be much better than Sega's strategy of telling all those people to fuck themselves and giving the Saturn a shorter life span than an overweight celebrity.
Jamie Kennedy at E3
At the 2007 video game convention E3, Activision hired Jamie Kennedy to host their press conference. And I know what you're thinking: the nerd-pounding alpha male coming off the Oscar-snubbed hit Kickin' It Old Skool and a room full of video game players? This is going to be a bloodbath!
That's what he thought, too. He was going to dominate these stupid nerds so hard that he didn't bother to prepare. He got wasted and went on stage with nothing more than a few talking points about nerds not getting laid. As a comedy writer, I have a lot of respect for this one:
Jamie Kennedy spent the entire night mocking the crowd. We all get that every entertainer ends up doing gigs outside their area of interest. Why, just this week I got the worst blowjob of my life from a birthday magician with sad eyes. It could have been worse, though. If Jamie Kennedy was giving it, he'd not only barely try, he'd spend the whole time making fun of me for not having my cock in a bigger celebrity's mouth.
There's a reason Jamie Kennedy never gets movie roles as the bully. Casting directors take one look at him and say, "I should remember this little guy if I ever lose an arm and become a rapist."
That could be why his clumsy bully routine fell so flat. The jokes might have worked if there was a day care at the video game convention and Jamie told them to the five meanest children there. Of course he'd have to explain to them what sex was and why it's funny when people don't have it. You know what? Maybe his jokes wouldn't have worked anywhere. My point is that they especially didn't work at E3.
His drunken train wreck got shredded in the press. Jamie didn't get this explained to him, but E3 is the biggest media event for the biggest media industry. Most of the audience members he was mocking were journalists, and dozens if not hundreds of them wrote about it. Activision found out that if you show someone the 28th Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game and then have a boozy actor disrespect their genitals, one of those events is more notable.
As for Jamie Kennedy, he got less apathetic about gamers the moment they started making fun of him. He was still lashing out on Twitter four years after the event:
This is screenwriter/PC Gamer editor Gary Whitta and research analyst Michael Pachter discussing terrible moments in E3 history. Jamie joined the conversation by telling them they don't have the business savvy to know what they saw that night. Apparently only the stars of Tinseltown know what happens when you fill a lazy dick with liquor and give him a microphone. That being said, I don't think anyone is famous enough to explain how a professional comic wrote and/or told this joke in 2007:
The best thing about working in Hollywood is that you're better than anyone not included in the first part of this sentence. That obviously makes your Twitter comebacks easier to write. I mean, can you imagine how stupid this joke would sound if this wasn't world-famous Jamie Kennedy typing it? He said that those guys were masturbating to Legend of Zelda. That would be a strange thing to bring up in this conversation even if those guys really were masturbating to Legend of Zelda.
His insults are mostly stream-of-consciousness insecurities, and he can't punctuate, but Jamie Kennedy isn't stupid. This tweet was in response to a Kotaku.com article making fun of him and how that makes him more important than you, DORKS. In the middle of this, he realized that would make the DORKS who wrote it important and the DORKS they write about important. No big deal -- he saved it there at the end. Ha ha fuck you, insignificant article that is significant enough to talk about yet doesn't matter but proves I matter! Aaargh, why am I vanishing from existence!?
It's nice that Jamie Kennedy lets his barely educated and fully schizophrenic mother tweet for him. And I think we can all agree with her that no one should have to listen to a woman unless she's attractive. Hell, I won't let a female doctor tell me the results of a blood test unless she's an 8 and it's in Morse code with Kegel exercises. Oh, and Jamie Kennedy's mom -- you know the best part about women not counting as people when they're poor or ugly? It's that when we hurt their feelings, we don't have to live with it! Bark all you want, ugly women! Jamie Kennedy's mom and I can't hear you!
The guy who played a character named Will Pillowbiter on an episode of Mind of Mencia is right! Once you're on TV, you're not only a moral authority, but an everything authority. And if he thinks it's funny when he can spot the difference between Sonic the Hedgehog and sex, that makes you the asshole, unfamous nerds!
John Romero Making Us His Bitch
In the late '90s, John Romero was as famous and successful as a video game developer could be. He had made Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake. He raced Ferraris. He had long, flowing hair. His jeans were more sizes too small than the number of jean sizes that actually exist. Then a teaser ad came out for his upcoming game Daikatana. It was a mostly empty red page that told consumers that "John Romero's About to Make You His Bitch" and "Suck It Down," and nothing else. It isn't a nice way to sell a game, but it is a great way to tell the lucky stranger on the other side of a hole that they picked the best stall.
Every person who saw the ad had the same thought: "How funny would it be if whatever game this is for turns out to be a total failure?" The universe couldn't help but overhear.
People hoping for failure weren't disappointed. It was a well-documented and epic disaster. From multiple delays to a hilariously bad demo with no enemies, it sucked in every way it could suck. We were promised genius entertainment, and in a way that's what we got, because Daikatana ran like Stephen Hawking. It was boring and tired, yet frustrating and broken enough to avoid the term generic. We figured correctly that the moment the creator invited us to swallow his ejaculate, it was never going to get more interesting. To his credit, Romero came out against the ad before it became the setup for the biggest culturally shared told-ya-so since Sh*t My Dad Says was cancelled.
The saga of Ocean Marketing began with a guy named Dave contacting Ocean Marketing about his order of two Avenger game controllers. He began a correspondence with company representative Paul Christoforo, who, over the course of four emails, went from unhelpful dumbass to legendary dick. Paul's response to reasonable questions was telling a customer that he was going to keep the things he bought and sell them for inflated prices on eBay. You should also keep in mind that these controllers are specialized for disabled gamers, and Paul had to know that there was a very likely chance that he was threatening to steal from a handicapped person. That shouldn't make it more wrong, but it does by any possible standards.
Dave responded by adding members of the media to the email exchange, including Mike Krahulik from Penny Arcade. It blew up the Internet, and if you missed it the first time, clear an hour from your schedule and click that link. In our online world of moral ambiguity and rampant fuckheadedness, Paul Christoforo was a villain everyone could finally agree on. He was a thief, a douchebag, a liar, an attention whore and a moron, and in one day we watched the consequences of all those things hit him at once. We got to witness the actual people he was name-dropping tell him they didn't know him. We got to see him literally beg for mercy right before he tried and failed to extort the company firing him. If you gave the smartest person on the planet a keyboard, held a gun to their head and told them to ruin their own life, they would have a hard time doing it any more efficiently.
Related: Inside The Black Market For Whiskey
Acclaim's Batshit Advertising
When the Internet became a thing, the advertising industry started flailing. There was this entire new frontier of attention to grab and no wrong way to go about it. Thinking outside the envelope went from being an overused phrase about nonlinear thinking to a hard policy of derangement and tits. Video game companies started doing things like disguising their ads as amateur rap videos and staging fake Christian protests. They even tried racism. Despite the overwhelming number of video game magazines and websites covering every aspect of the industry, they were always scrambling for more media attention. If there was a way that pulling a baby in half helped you remember the name Crash Bandicoot, they would do it. And of all the bizarre publicity stunts, the best ones came from Acclaim.
Acclaim was a publisher known for shitty games based on movies, so they couldn't build their publicity around design innovations or fun game play. Instead, they did things no rational person would do and hoped society's natural wariness of the insane kicked in. For example, to promote Turok Evolution, they offered $10,000 to the first parents to name their baby Turok. They weren't total maniacs, though. The $10,000 was in the form of a savings bond made out to the child, since any parent with a Turok baby also has a persuasive meth dealer.
Most of their ideas were so crazy that they weren't allowed to try them. For Burnout 2, they wanted to pay your ticket if you were caught speeding to the video game store. For Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance, they wanted to create bus stop ads that squirted blood onto the sidewalk. For Virtua Tennis 2, they wanted to paint pigeons and throw them into a Wimbledon game. Some kind of official stopped each of these things from taking place, and the only mention of them in the press came in the form of "What the shit is wrong with Acclaim?" Even for spastic attempts at telling the world you exist, I'd call that a string of losses.
One of their schemes sort of worked out. A man attempted to break the world waiting-in-line record for the release of Turok Evolution, and despite that being impossibly suspicious, it was going according to plan before he mysteriously disappeared. It turns out Acclaim paid him to be there, or more likely he was a hobo they left in a canal with a carving of Charles Barkley on his chest to promote NBA Jam to coroners.
The winner by far was their attempt to create buzz for Shadowman: 2econd Coming by buying billboard space on human gravestones. As you already know if you're a hungry coyote or a necrophiliac, disrupting a civilization's burial rituals is a quick way to piss it off. The Church of England said the closest thing to hell no that their piousness allowed, and Acclaim decided their best bet was to claim it was all a joke. I think I get it. They painted birds and built blood fountains as the setup for the punchline of how they wanted to defile graves for attention! That's still a better joke than what Jamie Kennedy is going to tweet tomorrow.