Courtesy of Deep Silver/Gamespot

Deep Silver, the publisher of Dead Island and its followup Riptide, use a controversy to spark a conversation about their game. And fans fall victim into another fake conversation.

Stunts in the video game business are nothing new. Anything to get leagues of fans talking about your product, risking reputation and sometimes sales to push a game or console forward. Before becoming known as Kinect, Microsoft kicked off their E3 2010 festivities with a Cirque du Soleil show to advertise “Project Natal”. At that time it was considered strange, but report after blog post after Facebook message got word out. Microsoft used a notorious technique in the advertising world, the stunt, and everyday people came to see the spectacle. The eventual target audience of Kinect.

Boosting interest in a product is difficult, especially in a competitive climate, because every game company looks for that last-minute push. In the midst of an ongoing (and everlasting) debate, though, bring out something which defies that ongoing argument and everybody talks. That is exactly what Deep Silver did to advertise Dead Island: Riptide.

In the European “Premium Edition” of Riptide, included inside is a statue of a decapitated bikini-worn women’s torso. Publisher Deep Silver called it a ”grotesque take on an iconic Roman marble torso sculpture”. Expectedly, outrage commenced over Deep Silver’s marketing ploy, seemingly directed toward the dominate male audience. The company would end up apologizing later after a barrage of negativity.

The press’ role in growing a controversy

Any paraphernalia released alongside a game is meant to entice people to buy. It is the “shiny thing” effect which makes a product more noteworthy or more attractive, and it worked horrifically for Deep Silver. It would appear that the publisher blatantly used the female struggle for acceptance among gaming folks, knowing the sensitivity of the topic, to garner interest in a game desperate for attention. Only to apologize after to get in the community’s good graces. Correcting their mistake so to speak.

But, ultimately, they achieved their goal. The sequel to a mediocre Dead Island would not generate enough buzz without some kind of event beforehand, like the first game’s incredibly emotional trailer, and Deep Silver knows this. And now there are articles everywhere announcing and denouncing the publisher’s actions. (This blog post would not have occurred to me if not for their apology afterward; I am suckered in as well.)

Suckered into the trap further is Kotaku, mocking Deep Silver’s apparent audacity by posting this article. Spotty PhotoShop work, though the point remains the same: create a controversy, let the media indulge in that controversy, and everyone leaves a winner.

Misguided anger

Personally, I wonder if a male statue would have achieved the same response. Not even for the fact that as a community, we are overly sensitive to gender-based issues due to the ruthless and unabashed treatment of women. But because the industry needs to see women not as advertising for a male audience, but as an audience itself, and for us in the male crowd to not play into attempts by studios and publishers to be riled by such controversy.

In the hostile environment, a scantily-clad women’s torso is asking for anger. But ten years from now, when I hope women are generally accepted as “gamers”, the same torso will not be an issue. And that is where these gender-based arguments enter muddied territory — the original Dead Island had female NPCs and playable characters on an island paradise, where those women would likely wear two-piece bikinis. To imagine Deep Silver purposefully used a female model as advertising is not outlandish–anything to make their product more attractive, perceivably to a male audience–but to say they used it strictly for that is misguided.

What it all means

Riptide will not see store shelves until April, but to have much of the blogosphere discussing it is a win for Deep Silver. It remains unclear if the torso will see release. But Paul Nicholls, sales and marketing director for Deep Silver, said before the controversy that the statue was “utterly Dead Island” and would ”make a striking conversation piece on any discerning zombie gamer’s mantel.” Maybe another controversy will arise before April that us in the blogosphere can dive into with our grubby little hands.

To the readers: Do you feel the anger surrounding this controversy was misguided, or another feeble attempt from the industry to market to its male audience?

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  • http://ingamestories.com MattN

    This is such a weird thing. I’m not sure how much to think this is just another example of ignorance on the part of Deep Silver, as their country’s cultural norms differ from other countries, a marketing ploy from the beginning, or another example of the gender issues that are prevalent in gaming. It could be a little of all, I guess. I am interested to hear what Deep Silver does next…

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