People always say that first-impressions are key in many ways. This is part of the reason why I think the advertisement/commercial side of marketing is a fascinating area of business. It fascinates me because it’s interesting and amazing to see what companies will do in order to win you over with the roughly 30 seconds they have at their disposal, whether it’s right or wrong.
It was 2007 and for me September 25th couldn’t arrive sooner, because every day that passed meant I was one day closer to Halo 3
. Yes, I am a Halo
fan and I don’t regret it because it’s a fun sci-fi series that not-too-quietly pays homage to things like Aliens
and Starship Troopers
. I was pumped for the arrival of Halo 3
, perhaps it was the idea of Halo
in high-def or maybe just the desire to clean Halo 2
’s terrible not-ending from my pallet. Obviously I wasn’t the only person in the world who was excited for this game & the team of Microsoft-Bungie knew this too, because there were promotional campaigns all over the place for this game. Mountain Dew cans had Master Chief all over them, Halo 3
’s beta was pretty much the entire reason I bought Crackdown
, and television commercials were flung out left and right.
Out of everything the Halo 3
hype machine produced it gave us one truly amazing gem of a commercial – the “Believe” commercial. It’s probably been a while since any of you have watched this ad, the game it promotes is four and a half years old now, so let me point you to it now for your own viewing pleasure.
Click the image for the link
It really should go without saying that after seeing this my hype for the game shot into the stratosphere, because this was, and still is, a damn fine commercial for a game. The “believe” promotion really had everything I was wanting in Halo 3
; the music and general setting set a tone of dramatic desperation, all of the marines’ faces had a sense of chaotic desperation to them, the entire setting was in a massive Return of the King
sized battle, and in the center of it all we had a Brute holding a seemingly defeated Master Chief like a trophy. My thought process probably went something like this:
OH MY GOD I WANT TO PLAY THAT RIGHT NOW!
Microsoft could have saved themselves a few bucks and just not bothered to advertise the game anymore after that because my money was pretty much already theirs (as I type this with my Halo 3
Legendary Edition Master Chief helmet looking at me). I was sold.
Eventually September 25, 2007 came and I got my copy of Halo 3
. After dipping my toes into the multiplayer first, like all good Spartans should, and then charged into campaign to finish the fight (a slogan that never quite gelled with me). Halo 3
's campaign wasn't anything painstakingly long, roughly around the same length as the other Halo
titles, and before I knew it I had saved humanity and life in the universe as we knew it. However, there was one glaringly wrong with my whole experience.
That totally sweet battle you see in that commercial never fucking happened
In fact, that “Believe” commercial is probably more dramatic and awe-inspiring than anything in the actual game itself (maybe aside from when Chief finally gets Cortana again, that admittedly was a cool moment). Factor this in as well; Halo 3
begins immediately after Halo 2
and the rest of the game continues on in one continuous event leading up to Master Chief getting stranded on half a spaceship leading up to the start of Halo 4
. This means that the totally sweet battle you see in this commercial not only doesn't happen in Halo 3
, this glorious battle doesnt even exist at all
. So can you imagine how upset I was to find out that the main thing that hooked me into this game amounted to absolutely nothing? It's like the equivalent to taking a hot babe to prom and not getting any at the after party (okay, maybe not that bad but it did suck).
What doubly inflated my anger about this was the fact that so many people seemed to let this slide. I mean this is USDA quality choice “Jimquisition” level stuff here, and it got seemingly passed on by. Was I the only person who was truly upset about a commercial advertising something that wasn't actually in the product? It goes without saying that my appreciation for fancy artistic commercials such as this one were forever tainted after that.
This brings me to a more general issue I have with this growing amount of live-action video game commercials we have been seeing in recent years. While I appreciate the effort that goes in to them, I really think these things do not have a place as they currently are. You get rare exceptions where the live-action commercial works, such as the Halo: Reach Deliver Hope
advertisement that served as a prequel to show how Kat got her robot arm and how original Noble Six died. However, generally these ads serve to help the actual game in little to no way and even depict things that aren't even remotely possible in the game.
Did the ads for Metroid: Other M
really benefit from wasting 40 seconds showing some model cosplaying as Samus recapping the events of the previous Metroid
games, or would it have been better served by showing more gameplay footage from the game to get more people hooked in? I don't entirely see the point of recapping what people know in favor of denying people what the don't know, thus depriving them of the things that might hook their curiosity. Plus, when you consider the Wii's general audience it seems to make even less sense to me why you'd want to dazzle your audience with blonde eye-candy when most of the gamers that would actually appeal to likely reside on other consoles.
Another great duo of time wasting examples with pointless promotions are the recent ads for Call of Duty: Black Ops
and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
. Both are, admittedly, very fun and well put together commercials from an entertainment standpoint however both do absolutely terrible jobs at properly conveying what Call of Duty
is, aside from a bunch of people shooting at each other. They also, like the Halo
advertisements I mentioned before, feature zero gameplay in them what so ever.
Need another example? Too bad, you're getting one anyway. Jonathan Holmes has recently been talking about Mass Effect 3 advertisements that have been running during AMC's The Walking Dead
and talking about how they don't entirely mesh with what Mass Effect
is about. I would think that Holmes and I are probably on a similar wavelength when it comes to the usefulness of these commercials. Now while I understand that fancy action-oriented ads generally are better hooks for bringing in outsiders, a proper way to show off Mass Effect
would be to show off how much your own decisions and such affect the relationships with the people around you and ultimately large aspects of the game itself. Pretty, fancy, well-done commercials are nice and all but I'd rather be tantalized with things that are actually relevant to the product that's being advertised instead of being treated to some eye candy by people who wish they were working in a different industry.
Yes, I know, most of these examples I'm using are for sequels and people already have a general idea of what they're about, but what if you saw a trailer for The Dark Knight Rises
or The Avengers
and it showed you footage of a bunch of shit (and people) that had nothing to do with the movie what so ever? You'd probably be pissed because you wanted to know something about the actual movie, not some bullshit featuring Jonah Hill dressed in a Batman suit. If this formula that we see used in game promotions was used in other forms of entertainment people would have huge
problems with it, I don't understand why our industry doesn't have an issue with it.
These big budget game advertisements you see also bug me because I would much rather see all of the money used to make this go into making the actual product better. A general rule I have had for years has been to avoid games that have too much
advertising, as it generally seems like a red flag that more money wasn't spent on making the game better instead. It's not a full proof rule, but it has served me pretty well.
I understand that video games are trying to appeal to larger audiences these days, but this simply isn't the way to go about it. I'm all for fancy big-time promotional campaigns as long as it properly advertises the actual product, not just the name on the box. And generally these kind of ads concern me because it makes me start to think that the people making these games would much rather be working in other areas of the entertainment industry, another problem that I think has crept into video gaming in recent years. You want people to buy your sweet new video game? Put something in the actual video game that will make people buy it and put that into your commercial instead. Please, make the commercials be about the games again.