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Dead Space 2: Video Game Marketing Fail?

posted Jul 28, 2012, 10:19 PM by Douglas Sun   [ updated Aug 1, 2012, 10:57 AM ]
Originally posted: February 3, 2011

So I’ve seen this commercial for Dead Space 2 several times now, on two different channels. Maybe you’ve seen it, too: It consists mainly of horrified reactions to the game from “moms” and ends with gameplay clips to reveal just what they’re getting so worked up about. The message is about as subtle as a chain gun fired at point-blank range: “Kids, this game rulez! Check out your mom, she is fucked up over it!” The target audience is kids (boys, specifically), the appeal is rebellion against the authority figure to which they are most intimately related. Taking this message a step further, the address of the website for the game is www.yourmomhatesthis.com.

Geddit? ‘Cause your mom will, like, hate this game. Cool, huh?

All of this suggests that the target demographic for Dead Space 2 is 12-15 years old, the age at which that sort of juvenile idiocy can actually get your pulse racing. But is that who will really buy this game? The first thing that came to my mind is that CDC study from a couple of years ago that concluded that the average age of a video game player in the US is 35 — much closer to middle age than middle school. And, to be honest, Dead Space 2 looks to me more or less like an average FPS for this day and age, so I’ll make an educated guess that it’s going to be bought by average video game players.

The second thing that came to mind was a remark that Matt Colville once made to me about his time at Pandemic Studios (where he was, among other things, the Story Editor for Mercenaries 2). He said (by way of post-mortem, after the company basically folded up and laid him off) that top management persisted in the belief that their typical player was only 15 years old — this in spite of everything that their market research was telling them. In short, no matter what publishers may believe, the audience for video games is getting older in lock-step with the first generation to truly grow up with them, and no matter the news media-fed popular perception, they are by no means a thing just for kids anymore. I would bet that the real audience for Dead Space 2 is far too old to care about what their mothers would think of it.

So is this campaign a major misjudgment, an epic marketing fail? Dead Space 2 is published by Electronic Arts — hardly a tyro at video game publishing, and the very last company I would suspect of ignoring good advice from their market research. I hope it’s not giving them too much credit to suspect that they’re employing a bit of intellectual jiu-jitsu here, hoping to generate a non-plussed reaction among commentators (like me), who will then write about the game and generate some viral buzz that it wouldn’t otherwise receive. Where did EA actually buy time for this commercial? I saw it twice on Adult Swim, which, despite its name, draws a fair number of teenaged viewers. But I also saw it a couple of times on A&E, which is not exactly known as the tween and teen sets’ network of choice. In fact, the show it helped sponsor was almost certainly “The First 48,” which is pitched more to the moms and dads who are supposed to abhor the game than to their kids.

In the end, maybe I shouldn’t care which is the right answer. The ad got my attention, and it got me to write about it. But I’m not going to buy Dead Space 2, no matter what. Because I suck at shooters. I have always sucked at shooters. And I will suck at shooters until the end of my days. I still believe that someday I will live out the old Woody Allen joke about how his reflexes are so bad that he was run over by a car with a flat tire being pushed by two guys.

BTW, my favorite video game commercial of all time came and went during the fall of 2009. It’s the “hockey moms” commercial for NHL 2010 for Wii:

I never got tired of watching it, and not because Jack Johnson is a rising star on my favorite hockey team, the Los Angeles Kings. I remember the timing being a little more crisp than it seems in this YouTube clip, but just about every detail seemed pitch-perfect, from the dialogue to the actress’ mannerisms and accents. It’s funny, the characters are adorable, and most intelligently, it doesn’t ask too much of its celebrity talent (unlike the NHL 2011 commercial and the hokey thought-bubble lines that Duncan Keith had to read for it). Notice that Johnson and Ryan Kesler have no real dialogue except for the random greetings when they enter. Otherwise, they just have to look good, which is what they can do most easily in this context. Brilliant all around.