Digital PR in Gaming - The Good, the Bad and the Regrettable

After our recent delve into the world of eSports and iGaming, I wanted to bring together two of my biggest passions: gaming and killer pieces of marketing. Gaming brands have always tried to push the limits, from ACTUAL goat sacrifices during the God of War launch and dropping giant dice from a chopper, to Ray Winstone’s lovable charm harnessed by bet365.

Today, we’re going to look at the good, the bad and the straight-up ugly PR stunts in the gaming world. When marketing to the gaming world, it’s a common understanding that developers and brands are “preaching to the converted”, which makes it crucial for brands to be new, engaging, and sometimes questionable.

  • Gnuf’s Giant Dice

For gambling brand Gnuf’s launch back in 2007, they decided to grab everyone’s attention by hurling a pair of 2m tall, half ton dice down a mountainside in Greenland. OK, so the link is a bit stretched - dice are a big part of gambling, but I didn’t really get the whole throwing them down a mountain thing. Then again, who doesn’t love snow? Punters were then invited to head to the website to place a wager on the outcome of the roll, with the results announced at a later date. Sounds good, right? It may not have given Gnuf the launch they desired; even though they were taken over by Palace Group in 2010, Gnuf closed their virtual doors in January 2014. I guess they had just had e-Gnuf.

  • Paddy Power – the gambling industry’s social shining star

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you should already know some of Paddy Power’s risqué marketing methods. There are literally too many pieces of marketing gold to mention, from pranking the nation via Amazon deforestation and flying a giant pair of inflatable pants over the Cheltenham Festival, to sending a Mexican Mariachi band (aptly called “Juan Direction”) to celebrate Donald Trump’s arrival in Scotland after his comments about “building a wall” between the United States and Mexico.

I’m not here to talk about the incredible pieces of marketing content they’ve put together - you can read through those here. It’s worth emphasising, though, that it is all of this absolute killer marketing that has placed Paddy Power in such a strong position. No gambling brand has a stronger presence on social than Paddy Power. They boast 1.4 million Facebook likes, with William Hill and Sky Bet in second and third place with 503K and 490K likes respectively. Twitter tells the same story; PP have over 650k followers, with Sky Bet securing just over 360K followers and William Hill just managing to break the 200K mark. Everyone loves killer content and when you can supply your social following with content this good, you’re onto a winner.

  • Ladbrokes' Barkingham Palace

While we’re on the subject of social media, another one of my favourites has to be Ladbrokes’ Barkingham Palace Gold Cup back in 2015. When the second royal baby was en route, Ladbrokes decided to engage with a younger, female audience (can’t males be royalists too?). They carefully selected 10 (gorgeous) corgis, five boys and five girls, each sporting a potential baby name for the new arrival. Lining up in typical dog-track gates, the Corgis raced over a special 20-metre course to help punters determine the sex and name of the royal baby.

Other than being what is quite frankly a delightful bit of content, Ladbrokes gained over 570,000 organic views on their YouTube channel, (becoming the most viewed video on Ladbrokes’ channel at the time), 2.5 million views on Reddit and a whopping 164 pieces of media coverage. It was also picked up by 11 national UK media publications including Metro, the Sun and The Huffington Post. In total, Ladbrokes’ OTS secured 2.5 billion through media and 25 million on social media. So, the main takeaway from this is clear: dogs are the best.

  • Sony’s The Last Guy campaign

It wasn’t the most successful or the biggest game from Japanese publishers Sony, but when they launched their indie game, The Last Guy, they did something really clever. The Last Guy was a top-down survival game on the PlayStation 3 that very cleverly took control and harnessed Google maps into its mechanics. The game basically consisted of controlling THE LAST GUY, navigating his way through real-life cities (14 in total from London to LA), where you had to rescue trapped civilians, take on zombies and confront huge monsters (not based on true events luckily.)

It was the launch of this game, though, that grabbed everyone’s attention. Sony enabled the mechanism to be applied to ANY website, using the site’s framework and design as a map. It spawned monsters and zombies in-browser, allowing you to demo the game on a website of your choice. As well as receiving stellar reviews from the biggest game publications, such as IGN and Metacritic, it was also picked up by MTV, The Escapist Magazine and loads of other publications from the demo version playable on your browser.

  • Your mum hates Dead Space

If you’re a gamer, you’ll know about the intergalactic horror phenomenon that is Dead Space. After the first installation’s huge success, developers EA had to think of something new to shout about for the second title in the series. The first Dead Space was widely known to be scary as hell, coming face to face with necro-morphing zombies, not to mention protagonist Isaac Clarke’s internal (and down-right messed up) demons. Everyone knew that Dead Space was scary, but how do you market the second game? Assure everyone it has more scares and even more mentally-scarring monsters? Of course not. They sat your mum down and showed her some of the new game’s content and pasted the footage all over social channels.

The original content on YouTube had over 3 million views, with individual participant videos getting over half a million each. It worked amazingly well. EA used the footage as the main arm in the game’s promotion and not only did the content get picked up by literally every gaming publication ever, but CBS News and Los Angeles Times also jumped on the hype train. You can watch the hilarious footage here.

  • Get Hitman to kill your Facebook friends

OK, so this, in my opinion, has to be one of the worst and most distasteful pieces of social marketing ever created. When developers Square Enix launched their new Hitman game, Hitman Absolution, they thought it would be a good idea to allow you to send virtual “hits” to people on your Facebook friend list. It was an in-Facebook application that invited you to set a virtual “price” on a person’s head, but that’s not the worst part. Some of the GENUINE reasons for placing said hits on your friends consisted of reasons such as the following: ginger hair, muffin tops, bad makeup, small breasts, small penis size, body weight - the horrific list went on and on.

At a time when cyberbullying was at the forefront of tabloids, it seemed that Square Enix wanted to promote this culture. It’s no surprise that the application got pulled on the same day, but it was still live for long enough to get absolutely rinsed by publications. Wired magazine posted the headline: “Square Enix Promotes Cyber Bullying with Hitman ad Campaign.” I mean, if that’s not a negative headline for a game’s release, I don’t know what it is. They say that all press is good press, but when EuroGamer, PC Gamer, Wired, GameIndustry.Biz and AdWeek slate your method and condemn your game, you have to think: was it really worth it?