I’m not a fan of product placement in media. Whether it’s movies, television, video games or whatever, I think it’s nothing more than a way of making people pay twice for content. Sometimes it’s done tastefully and understated and other times you have things like the Transformers movies or Entourage which often seem like little more than informercials with fiction. Many don’t mind it, claiming that they don’t really notice it or that when something it trying to portray a modern setting, it actually adds to the realism somehow. Personally, I think it’s ridiculous to make me pay for a product (be it a movie ticket, a game or the Blu-rays of a TV show or movie), only to shove ads in my face through either the background or worse, by writing them into the script. Most non-media products come with some form of discount for putting up with ads (see most web sites or the new Amazon Kindle models) but in this case, you’re just paying for a product and in a sense paying again while getting no added value from it. That said, I also know this is the reality now and for the most part, my fears of how prominent and wide spread the phenomena would go have not been realised. Then this weekend, I read about how Activision has partnered with Pepsi to include codes on their products that give double XP bonuses in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Oh, I also saw this:
This takes my beef to an entirely new level. Drake doing Subway ads isn’t really that big a deal, it just looks really stupid as Subway ads have for years now. However, having Drake appear in-game with Subway clothing items on that give the players an unfair advantage? Or buying Pepsi products in order to level up in Modern Warfare 3 faster than the rest of the players who had the gall to only pay $60 for the game alone and maybe don’t want to buy a bunch of sugar water as well? I’m sorry, that goes too damn far. Both of these deals stink but I’m definitely more offended by Uncharted 3’s implementation. While someone who is a total pop fiend (like me back in high school) could theoretically gain a significant unfair advantage in Modern Warfare 3 with their double XP codes, most of the codes only gain advantage for short periods of time and in high-level play, that will barely be noticeable. From what I understand of the Uncharted 3 promotion, players who wear their Subway branded items will have them appear on the character for all other players to see and the stat bonuses they provide will be permanent. In other words, if you’re willing to turn yourself into a running and gunning billboard in the game you already paid $60 for after you’ve also bought some horrible food from Subway, you’ll get to play with bonuses that disrupt the gaming experience for everyone else who either can’t afford to participate or simply doesn’t want ads all over the multiplayer game about fighting treasure hunters in ancient ruins.
This is an example of publishers just not knowing how much is enough. These are two wildly successful franchises (Call of Duty in particular sells more units than several of closest competitors combined on a yearly basis) and yet they have to strike these ridiculous cross-promotion deals which in reality probably aren’t going to net them that much more relative revenue. I understand full well how thin the line is between success and failure in the AAA games industry right now. But both of these franchises are already making buckets of money and turning your players into billboards and diluting the experience that made your franchises popular in the first place isn’t how to endear yourself to your customers. These are hardcore franchises and they have their share of devoted players who will likely buy anything related to the series but these same people are the ones who buy all the DLC and will likely sign up for the laughably overpriced Call of Duty Elite service. These are your most loyal customers, surely you’re already making enough from them and do you really think you’re going to sell a lot more copies of a hardcore focused series like Uncharted because Nathan Drake is on Subway cups? After all, this promotion means nothing to people who don’t own the game but I don’t see a soccer Mom buying a PS3 and Uncharted 3 in order to get the “foot long taunt”.
I know businesses have to make money but I’m sorry, you’re already making money and yes, there is a point where something is earning you enough. Don’t give me that crap about how promotions like this for the big franchises enable the publishers to greenlight new IP and riskier projects down the line. A quick look at Activision’s lineup in recent years and current business model proves that’s a load of crap and while Sony does occasionally release some unique titles, they were doing that long before this type of thing came along. Can I please just pay for my games, get the immersive escapism they’re supposed to provide and leave the out of control product placement for HBO and Michael Bay films? For $60 plus DLC, I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.