Using video games for product placement is hardly a new practice, but the current trend of trying to integrate advertisements into games like Death Stranding and EuroJournal 2K22 is cowardly compared to the old standard of games made explicitly to sell other products. The line between product placement and a cross-promotional event can be somewhat murky today, as games like Fortnite promote a wide variety of movies and TV shows while benefiting from the novelty of crossover content. Many mobile games are supported by in-game ads, while PC and console releases also see commercials for various products and services worked into the games themselves. Some fans found Death Stranding especially blatant, with its Monster Energy drink power-ups and banners for Ride With Norman Reedus displayed whenever the hero took a shower.
Although the Death Stranding Director’s Cut removed Monster Energy drinks, it retained the promo for the AMC television series, likely due to licensing agreement expiration. While its overt product advertisements bothered some players, Death Stranding was subtle and tasteful when compared to earlier generation “advertisement games,” where the game’s hero might be the mascot for a fast-food chain or a brand of cola. The NES hosted games like M.C. Kids, a platformer that promoted the McDonald’s restaurant chain, where children named Mick and Mack help Ronald McDonald recover his magical bag from The Hamburglar. The 7-Up mascot Spot starred in multiple games, and the platformer Cool Spot surprisingly holds up well as a quality 16-bit game, despite its subject matter.
The Domino’s Pizza Mascot’s Advertisement Game Redrew The Sprites On An Existing Game
While most of the advertisement-focused games were commissioned as original titles, there were also cases where a company made the clever move of simply licensing an existing game and re-skinning it into a playable commercial. Jake from State Farm appearing in EuroJournal 2K22 is irksome, as it distracts from the game itself, where a game focused on a company mascot is at least honest about its goals. The NES title that starred the Domino’s Pizza mascot, Yo! Noid, was originally Capcom’s Masked Ninja Hanamaru. Capcom changed the graphics and sound for the Domino’s-backed US release, but retained all the original gameplay, and the game included a coupon for Domino’s Pizza. Chex cereal contained a full Doom conversion called Chex Quest in cereal boxes at one time, which was recently remade as Chex Quest HD.
While the 16-bit consoles saw advertising games continue, with multiple Chester Cheetah platformers, games like Coca-Cola Kid, and other commercials in video game form, the longer development times of the 32-bit consoles made such releases less frequent. Similar games were still released periodically, and the trio of Burger King-themed Xbox 360 games was one such notable throwback. Some Elden Ring players recreated Sneak King, the most memorable of the Burger King promotional games, using a crown and mask with a fixed facial expression. The other two Burger King games were vehicle games, but Sneak King was a bizarre take on a stealth game, where the menacing Burger King himself would sneak up on unsuspecting people to give them burgers.
Most of these commercials in video game form were mediocre at best, although a few like Cool Spot and Yo! Noid were quality platformers for their time. Much of the appeal of these games starring mascots that advertise fast food, chips, or soda, is the sheer absurdity of the endeavor. Gaming fans can enjoy the irony of playing a version of Doom where the hellish imagery and gore has been replaced with Chex and milk, in Chex Quest. The most genuinely laudable aspect of these games was their honesty.
Centering On Advertisement Openly Is Better Than Product Placement In Video Games
When Burger King promoted the size of the PS5 there was no hint of deceit, any more than there was with Sneak King‘s aim of selling burgers. Efforts to add advertisements to games with less openness, like the State Farm mascot appearing in a basketball game, come across as more duplicitous in their intent.
Video gaming is already a for-profit industry, and the games that try to sell other products push this further. They should look to the past, and own up to what they are, as many gaming fans would rather see a dedicated Monster Energy drink game than have it distract from Death Stranding, or give Jake from State Farm his own title and keep the insurance advertisements out of EuroJournal 2K22.
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