Caught in the Undertow: Drowning in Dead Island Riptide Marketing
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A publisher releases a game after a long wait to at least moderate enthusiasm. The game is extremely buggy and not quite the masterpiece it was promised. Sales fall and then the publisher relies on marketing gimmicks to move more copies of the game. It’s a scenario that plays out a bit more often than you think; only not all of them come with the same controversy as Dead Island Riptide publisher Deep Silver.
The publisher announced a special edition of the game called Dead Island Riptide: Zombie Bait Edition for Europe and Australia, featuring quite a “collectible” for their game: a severed, decapitated torso in a bikini, implying an attractive woman had been ravaged by zombies but maintained what was left of her figure. It’s something that someone came up with and thought would be a grand addition to the Collector’s Edition. Who wouldn’t want such a prize gracing their bookshelves or desk?
The announcement was met with instant outrage by people who disagreed with the publisher’s misogynistic approach to marketing. Deep Silver should have known, because plastered right there on the image is the warning “Includes Content That May Cause Offence.” Granted, it was likely put on there with a little wink, wink, nudge, nudge, but still. To the credit of Deep Silver, the publisher has since apologized, but why do it in the first place?
Dead Island Riptide is a game that thrives on shock value. It relies heavily on melee combat and graphic depictions of a world overrun by zombies. Not quite a post-apocalyptic world, as the outbreak unfolds in real-time on the island. If Left 4 Dead was rated M, Dead Island Riptide would be rated NC-17. Despite the more graphic slant, the game had its shortcomings, prompting less than desired sales.
Primarily, it was extremely buggy and never quite took hold with audiences as it appeared it originally would. Poor sales are never promising for a publisher, prompting them to resort to a crass and classless selling approach relied on the same shock value inherent in the game. It makes sense to an extent, in that using such a marketing tool definitely got people talking about the game again months after its release. The conversation wasn’t good though.
Women were the most upset and rightly so. Eroding a woman’s worth to the point of sex appeal ravaged by zombies is in poor taste, as the statue showed that even though the woman was killed in a horrible fashion, she should still be ogled for her body. The biggest problem lies in the presentation, as it’s likely there wouldn’t be as much outrage if there was a male equivalent offered as well. Therein lies the proverbial rub.
Deep Silver predicted (incorrectly) that their target audience for the game was men of any age really. After all, aren’t all men strangely attracted to well-endowed cadavers missing their limbs? There seems to be a disconnect between the publisher and the consumer, where it turns out consumers don’t want such an object alongside their other proud trophies of video gaming. That’s not the case for everyone.
One person on Twitter went so far as to say “the game is set in a post-apocalyptic zombie world. Get over it.” Well, that’s not quite true considering that the “post-apocalyptic” descriptor implies the apocalypse has already happened, in which case the chances of you finding a woman as depicted are virtually non-existent. Yet that’s what the game bills itself as, and obviously there are some people have who have no problem with such a marketing gimmick.
Everyone loves clever marketing, but doing a campaign that insults a good chunk of your audience is now way to sell a game. It speaks to the larger divide that still exists in video gaming, a belief in some circles that the only tie to video games women can have involve being booth babes. That probably wasn’t the case with Deep Silver, yet the implications of making the “trophy” part of the package more or less says the same thing: if you’re a woman in gaming you’re only worth is to be looked at with lust.
The sad reality of the situation is that the game failed to meet whatever expectations were foisted upon it by the publisher, media or fans. Resorting to such a ploy to sell the game generated a discussion about the game, but that discussion got swallowed by a much larger discussion about gender equality and the treatment of women. Women who happen to be a large part of the core gamer audience, some of whom likely played or–gasp!–bought Dead Island Riptide.
There’s a fine line between smart marketing tied to a game and this. Smart marketing would be the Halo 3 commercials, pitching the game as depicting real events and connecting with the gamer. Campaigns like this pitch the game as something you to play where men are strong, women are weak and their only purpose is to be gory eye candy. It’s not a smart way to sell a game and clearly isn’t appealing to the masses like Deep Silver had hoped for.
Calling out beautiful women as being the prize for both men and zombies is a little baseless. If zombie stories have taught us anything, it’s that we all look like dinner to them, regardless of any differentiating characteristics. Wearing a Union Jack bikini shouldn’t be cause for getting eaten any sooner or later.