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When games developers ridicule each other

You may have already seen this video from the makers of Bulletstorm. It’s well made and funny, but it also mercilessly skewers the gameplay, presentation and po-faced seriousness of the modern COD games. Given that particular series increasing ridiculous action scenes coupled with its lack of humour, it’s an easy yet satisfying target to see exposed to parody.

Is this kind of marketing a good thing? It certainly makes use of social media, existing on YouTube then linked to extensively from social bookmarking sites and news aggregators. It’s pretty far away from the standard model of television adverts positioned during programmes of interest to the target market. Previous attempts at this kind of marketing have not been so successful. Blur for example tried to gently mock Mario Kart and was rewarded with gamers confused as to where the game existed within the market.

To an extent it’s not even clear if these videos are made primarily as a marketing tool or if that’s just a secondary benefit for a bunch of game developers who want to poke fun at a rival. The personality of People Can Fly (the studio that brought us Painkiller) shines through in this video. I think that their criticisms of the current genre champion are honest. All of their FPS’s have had a sense of fun and they seem to be saying that some of that has been lost in modern FPS’s. If that’s there opinion then I have to say that I agree with them.

It would be easier to dismiss this video as a case of “those in glass houses” if it wasn’t for the fact that their own game, Bulletstorm, has massive potential. The demo has been hugely popular and in the week that the potentially good but preposterously dull Killzone 3 is released, it’s likely that gamers will lap up a more light-hearted, self aware FPS. It may be that the long awaited Duke Nukem Forever will in fact be overshadowed by Bulletstorm, a game with similar themes of childish potty-humour and extreme violence.

It’s not just Call of Duty that has been targeted. The adverts for Bullestorm have also parodied Halo 3’s advertising campaign.

In this case it seems like they have once again picked a worthy target. Halo’s advertising was inescapable. The advertising push was such that even my gamer-phobic parents asked me what this “Halo” thing was anyway. Microsoft made the marketing around its release into an “event”, emphasizing its release as more than just a game. All sorts of ridiculous claims were made on the import of its arrival and ridiculous (if impressive) adverts and short films made by professional film directors appeared all over the place, the most infamous of which was the Halo diorama advert. This was a gorgeous, overblown, over-serious representation of the world of Halo that had to be seen by both fans and detractors regardless of any apathy they may have felt towards the franchise. In other words, it was the perfect target for parody.

This kind of advertising is risky. While the critical mass of Halo fans has subsided, the target market Bulletstorm is aiming for will most definitely include many Call of Duty fans. Making fun of Halo is no real risk; there are as many people who hate those games as love them. This is largely down to the fact that Halo is available on only one of the major hardware platforms. Call of Duty meanwhile is currently the market leader. If Bulletstorm’s advertising doesn’t ring true to those fans then it could actively hurt their sales.

Personally I think they have made the right move with their approach. Making jokes at the expense of other games is one thing, but making valid criticisms is far more important. I agree with the fundamental argument they’re making, and I think there is president for such an approach working. I am referring to something which may at first seem unrelated: South Park’s criticism of Family Guy.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone once explained in an interview the kind of writer they would never hire for South Park. They said sometimes a guy would come in and try out for a writer’s job and he would constantly try to add gags. Every time a character uttered a line, the gag writer would say, “And then he says…” and come out with a gag. As explained by the South Park creators, South Park humour doesn’t work like that. There are no gags. Family Guy humour meanwhile is made up exclusively of gags.

When I watched the South Park episode about Family Guy, I immediately realised I had just witnessed the complete deconstruction of another shows structure. Matt Parker and Trey Stone showed us the mechanics of Family Guy; what it was made of and how it worked. Most importantly, they showed us how lazy it was. After I saw that episode of South Park, I could never watch Family Guy again without feeling a little cheated.

In the same way that one animated show was well placed to show the shortcomings of another through ridicule, Bulletstorm is well placed to do the same. It should be noted that South Park was in a position of authority from which it could critique a rival. In that case brave and honest writers tackle difficult subjects and don’t compromise with lazy gags. If Bulletstorm is going to have a similar position of authority from which to criticize, it had better be a hell of a good game too.

Published inDebate