Sin to Win?: Video Gaming's Most Ridiculous Marketing Stunts

This Tuesday marks the release of Visceral Games' Dante's Inferno, a game loosely based on Dante Alighieri's epic poem Divine Comedy. This video game perversion “re-imagining” of the fourteenth-century poem features a scythe-wielding badass who battles hordes upon hordes of demons and the undead as he traverses the nine Circles of Hell in order to find his lady, Beatrice. With such a controversial use of its source material, Dante's Inferno without a doubt will be the subject of a lot of headline news, which is exactly what publisher Electronic Arts wants. There is no such thing as bad publicity, they say.

In order to get as much attention as they can onto what they hope is their next cash cow, publisher EA Games won't stop at anything to get people talkin'. They have recently spent $2.5 million in order to secure an ad during this year's Superbowl. They've given away women as prizes for contests. They've staged protests against the game's release. The list goes on and on!

However, controversial marketing schemes aren't new to the world of video games. Game publishers have done some ridiculous things in the past in order to grab the attention of potential consumers. Here, we look at some of the most outrageous (and often silly) things that game publishers have done in order to publicize their game.

1. Headless Goats and Topless Women During a Party for God of War II

In order to celebrate the release of God of War II, Sony organized a Greek mythology-themed party for members of the press. The theatrical party had a decapitated goat as the centerpiece, along with topless women who fed grapes to party goers. A few reported that party guests were even offered to dine on entrails and organs directly out of the goat's carcass. The bloody display outraged numerous animal rights groups, criticizing the act as a representation of the industry's lust for blood.

Sony has issued a press release, apologizing for falling short of their “normal high standards of conduct.” Bad call, Sony!

2. Capcom's Severed Limb Scavenger Hunt Ends… With Missing Limbs!

To promote the release of Resident Evil 5, publisher Capcom organized a scavenger hunt in which contestants had to search for realistic-looking disembodied limbs around Westminster Bridge in the UK. After obtaining all of the the required body parts, the winner would have to yell “Kijuju!” at the top of their lungs.

The problem, however, started even before the contest even began. Most of the body parts were reported missing even before the contestants had the opportunity to find them. Imagine the face of some elderly woman as she finds a severed leg in the bushes! To make matters (much) worse, undercooked chicken was used in order to create the gore effects of the limbs. Salmonella–delicious!

Capcom issued a press release and apologized for the incident (surprise, surprise). They warned the public about the dangers of undercooked chicken and asked the public to dispose of the fake body parts.

3. Black Cats in Jackets Used to Promote F.E.A.R. 2

The Friday the 13th release date of F.E.A.R. 2 may be considered bad luck for the superstitious. That didn't stop publisher Warner Bros. from their silly attempt to draw attention to their game, though. Promoters of the game released a handful of black cats to roam the streets of London while wearing cat jackets featuring the game's branding. Scary!

4. Name Your Baby Turok, Win $10,000

In a press release explaining the rules of Acclaim Entertainment's contest to promote Turok: Evolution, Senior Brand Manager Tom Bass had this to say:

Knowing how hard it is for parents to decide on a strong name for their child, we thought of an innovative way to solve this dilemma and help jump start their savings for the future,” said Tom Bass, Senior Brand Manager at Acclaim. “While names like Michael and Hannah are very popular, they hardly instill fear in the hearts of playground bullies and closet monsters, and we're thrilled to give one lucky child the bold power of the Turok name.

In order to ensure that the child remains known as Turok, Acclaim Entertainment awarded the lucky parents (and conversely, unlucky child) with a savings bond written out to “Turok.” What if the parents want to change their child's name after the contest? Too bad, they wouldn't be able to cash that savings bond.

Poor kid. Let's hope he grows up to be the great dinosaur hunter that he's named after.

5. A Fake Protest and a Chance to Win A Night With Hot Girls for Dante's Inferno

Without a doubt, Dante's Inferno will go down in video game history as the game with the sleaziest, most offensive marketing. They not only have one, but two controversial marketing schemes to shock and awe the public.

During the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, EA decided to create their own controversy by staging a fake protest. The 20-plus people involved in the protest, who clearly intended to portray religious zealots, brandished creative and cute signs, such as “Trade in your Playstation for a PRAYstation,” and “EA = Electronics Anti-Christ.” The event was supposed to fire up easy publicity for the game.

Months later, at San Diego's Comic-Con, Electronic Arts somehow managed to outdo themselves by hosting the “Sin to Win” contest. According to the terms of the contest, contestants must perform an “act of lust” with any one of the female booth attendants and post the picture on Twitter or Facebook. The grand prize winner, handpicked by EA staff, wins “a night with the hottest girl at Comic-Con, dinner, booty and more.” Yep, they actually said booty.

Ironically, the “real” rules listed in the fine print disqualifies any of the contestants who actually commit any acts of lust. How confusing! This didn't stop the predictable uproar, however. The PR for EA offered the following as an apology, possibly prepared before the contest even took place:

We understand there's a lot of debate right now around our “Sin to Win” promotion at Comic-Con and wanted to clarify a few things. We created this promotion as part of our marketing efforts around the circle of Lust (one of the nine sins/circles of Hell). Each month we will be focusing on a new Circle of Hell. This month is Lust. Costumed reps are a tradition at Comic-Con. In the spirit of both the Circle of Lust and Comic-Con, we are encouraging attendees to Tweet photos of themselves with any of the costumed reps at Comic-Con here, find us on Facebook or via e-mail. “Commit acts of lust” is simply a tongue-in-cheek way to say take pictures with costumed reps. Also, a “Night of Lust” means only that the winner will receive a chaperoned VIP night on the town with the Dante's Inferno reps, all expenses paid, as well as other prizes.

We apologize for any confusion and offense that resulted from our choice of wording, and want to assure you that we take your concerns and sentiments seriously. We'll continue to follow your comments and please let us know if you have any other thoughts or concerns. Keep watching as the event unfolds and we hope you'll agree that it was all done in the spirit of the good natured fun of Comic-Con.

Video Game publishers know what gets the industry talking, and they'll do just about anything to grab our attention. As long as we continue talking about how horrible these marketing schemes are, then they've accomplished what they've started. Besides, there is no such thing as bad publicity, right?  

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