13 Biggest Fails In Video Game Marketing Source:

Memorable marketing campaigns are the things businesses’ dreams are made of, but there is definitely such a thing as being remembered for the wrong reasons. Marketing in the video game industry is no different, but the unique creative diversity of gaming (and the amount of money it generates) has lead to some pretty fascinating disasters, which comes across in the following 13 instances. From PR nightmares to tone-deaf billboards, these are definitely some of the biggest fails in video game marketing history.

13. The Sega Saturn Launch

Poor Sega. After giving the then-dominant Nintendo a run for their money with the Sega Genesis in the early 90s, the company was poised to do battle again with their follow-up home gaming console, the Saturn. The Saturn was similar to Sony’s PlayStation, as both systems utilized 32 bit architecture and CD-ROM drives. Sega enjoyed some early success with their Japanese launch in November 1994. Unfortunately, Sega made a giant blunder with the console’s North American launch, as they inexplicably decided to do a surprise release in May 1995 — a full four months before the scheduled release date! This confused consumers and retailers, hurting the Saturn’s brand, and Sega soon found themselves playing a distant 3rd to the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64, which was released the following year. Source:

12. The N-Gage Flops

The Nokia N-Gage was a cell phone/handheld gaming device hybrid in the pre-smartphone era of 2003. The device was marketed as a practical alternative to Nintendo’s dominant Game Boy Advance, as it combined gaming and mobile phone functionality. Unfortunately, the aesthetics of the device were terrible, as its cumbersome layout made it terrible for games and making calls, rendering it a largely pointless device. It was also way too expensive, launching at $299, well above the price of the Game Boy. Nokia would go on to release a much-improved redesign in 2004 that addressed many of the original model’s deficiencies, but the N-Gage never really took off, and ended up being discontinued in 2005. Via GameCrate

11. PlayStation Media Briefing At E3 2006

There comes a time in every major game company’s life when a period of sustained success causes them to fall out touch with reality and drop the ball in a hilariously spectacular fashion. Sony’s media briefing at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) 2006 was one of these times. The entire conference was an unmitigated disaster, from the controversial (the extremely high cost of the PlayStation 3 – $599) to the outright embarrassing (then-vice president Kaz Hirai’s enthusiastic “RIIIIDGE RACER!” remark and the indifference of the audience). From top to bottom, the conference was a trainwreck and looking back, was an early indicator of the struggles Sony would face in the early years of the PS3. To top it all off, merely uttering the phrase “giant enemy crab” is guaranteed to elicit laughs and groans in equal measure from the Sony faithful. Via GamesMediaPro

10. The Xbox One Reveal

Sony dominated the console market for a decade with the back-to-back success of the PS1 and PS2, but as previously noted, the company’s inflated ego led to some massive stumbles with the PS3. History went on to repeat itself with Sony’s main competitor, Microsoft, who had enormous success with the Xbox 360, and then blew that goodwill with a console reveal that got everything wrong. At a May 2013 conference, Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One. Among other issues, the console would impose numerous restrictions on consumers, like requiring a constant online connection, tying games to one user, and of course, a too high price. Sony would go on to capitalize on Microsoft’s mistakes by emphasizing the PS4’s commitment to NOT doing any of those things, and Microsoft was forced to backpedal and fundamentally change the Xbox One’s branding to win back their audience. Source:

9. Dead Space 2 Hates Your Mom

To promote the sequel to their popular survival horror game Dead Space, the game’s publisher Electronic Arts launched a campaign that they hoped would make the game more appealing to a teenage crowd. Dubbed “Your Mom Hates This”, the various videos showed reactions from mothers watching the game in action and being mortified at the game’s violent content. EA undoubtedly were shooting for a comedic tone with this campaign, but the whole thing comes off as stereotyping all moms as being uncool and out of touch. Going one step further, the campaign was also criticized for being sexist, as it perpetuates the myth that only men play games and women don’t understand them. On the bright side, at least Dead Space 2 turned out to be a pretty good game. Source:


8. Balloons Pollute San Francisco Bay For Homefront Launch

Back in 2011, the now-defunct game publisher THQ hired PR firm TrashTalkFCM to promote their upcoming modern war game, Homefront. The firm proceeded to launch 10,000 red balloons in the San Francisco area, which unfortunately ended up in the Bay. City water officials had to be called in to remove the balloons, which posed a threat to birds and aquatic animals, and THQ was given a hefty $7000 fine. At least THQ had the sense to clog up the San Francisco Bay with biodegradable balloons and not the latex variety.

7. Dante’s Inferno’s Fake Protest

Prior to the launch of Dante’s Inferno, an action game inspired by Dante Alighieri’s famous 14th century epic poem The Divine Comedy, a protest was held at E3 2009 criticizing the game’s depiction of religious content. While protests targeting video games are nothing new, it’s a bit uncommon to see a protest organized by the creators of the game being targeted. After the event, the game’s publisher Electronic Arts revealed that the event had been staged to build publicity for the game. While the company definitely succeeded in their aim, making light of real criticisms and using them for your own interests is not in good taste. Source:

6. Acclaim Offers To Pay For Speeding Tickets

The now-defunct gaming publisher Acclaim had an assortment of crazy ad campaigns in its heyday, including offering $10,000 to the first parents to name their kid “Turok” to promote a game of the same name, and painting pigeons to look like tennis balls for the launch of Virtua Tennis. Many of Acclaim’s campaigns were bizarre, but offering to pay for UK speeding tickets on the launch day of Burnout 2 was positively reckless. That’s right — if you received a speeding ticket in the UK on the day of Burnout 2‘s release (a game that fittingly depicted fast, reckless driving), Acclaim had your back, essentially giving permission for motorists to drive recklessly. It seems Acclaim’s poor decisions extended to their finances as well, as the publisher went out of business in September 2004. Source:

5. God Of War II Launch Party

Sony’s God of War is a popular video game series set in Ancient Greece and is well-known for being extremely violent. Sony seemingly had the right intentions in the lead-up to the 2007 release of God of War II, as the launch party in Greece was given a proper mythical theme in reference to the game’s setting. Unfortunately, the festivities went too far and landed Sony in some hot water. A decapitated goat was used as the centerpiece for the party and patrons were invited to reach inside the goat’s carcass, pull out its insides, and eat the raw meat. While this gruesome display was no doubt in keeping with the tone of God of War II, animal rights activists and general purveyors of common decency were none too pleased. Sony rightfully apologized for the event and subsequent God of War launch parties have thankfully been decapitated goat-free. Source:

4. Splinter Cell Conviction’s Gun-Toting Promotional Stunt

Here’s an idea: if you were about to launch a new multi-million dollar video game, what would be the best PR stunt to get people excited? If you said “hire a guy to put on a mask and wave a gun around in a crowded bar”, you probably work for the boneheaded PR team behind Ubisoft’s 2010 video game, Splinter Cell Conviction. Yes, to drum up anticipation for the game in New Zealand, Ubisoft hired an actor to dress up like an enemy from the game, enter a popular Auckland bar, and wave a fake gun in people’s faces. The cops were inevitably called and the actor was almost shot. As far as ill-advised PR stunts go, anything that warrants a 911 call probably shouldn’t make it past the pitch stage. Source:

3. Butcher Sells Human-Shaped Meat To Promote Resident Evil 6

The Resident Evil series is well known for its creatively disturbing monster designs, but it’s difficult to think of many people looking at undead corpses and finding them appetizing. Well, the forces behind Resident Evil 6 thought very differently, as the game’s publisher, Capcom, decided to open “Wesker & Son Human Butchery” in East London in the lead-up to the game’s 2012 release. Patrons were invited to walk into a butcher shop and purchase meat made to look like human carcasses.  While everyone involved was quick to emphasize that the meat was not actual human, the fact that this had to be stated to begin with should have clued Capcom in to how foolish this marketing stunt was. Source:

2. Sony PSP Black Or White Campaign

It seems like a no-brainer that having a racist ad campaign will probably lead to some controversy. In 2006, Sony put up a series of billboards in Holland to generate buzz for the imminent launch of the ceramic white PlayStation Portable (which was only available in black at the time). The billboards depicted a white model aggressively holding the mouth of a black model (you can probably guess which avatar represented which PSP model), with the tagline “PlayStation Portable White is Coming”. Sony was rightfully called out for the inappropriate ads and while the company emphasized that they did not intend to convey any racist sentiments, it’s difficult to ignore the subtext of racial superiority that the ads portrayed. Source:

1. Hitman: Absolution Wants You To Kill Your Facebook Friends

Using apps as a marketing tool is a relatively recent development in the advertising world, but employing good taste is still a relevant concern no matter what method you’re using. For instance, the marketing geniuses behind Hitman: Absolution, a game where you play as an assassin, decided that creating an app where people could hire a hitman to “kill” their friends on Facebook was a completely logical and uncontroversial strategy. As if an app that simulates the act of calling hits on your friends wasn’t bad enough, it also drew criticism for its use of offensive descriptors to identify friends by their physical attributes. The game’s publisher, Square Enix, promptly pulled the app only hours after its launch. Source:
Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)

Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)