Having a minor crank about games PR

There’s something that’s always bothered me about games PR and marketing: some companies turn out hype copy that’s either grammatically incorrect, soulless, or nonsensical. Stuff that reads more like a frantic commercial software pitch than an attempt to capture my imagination. It’s true for plenty of products, yeah—I mean, this is the whole point of having television commercials—but it usually only bothers me when it’s for games. See, try reading the new XCOM FPS’s press release aloud:

XCOM is the re-imagining of the classic tale of humanity’s struggle against an unknown enemy that puts players directly into the shoes of an FBI agent tasked with identifying and eliminating the growing threat. True to the roots of the franchise, players will be placed in charge of overcoming high-stake odds through risky strategic gambits coupled with heart-stopping combat experiences that pit human ingenuity – and frailty – against a foe beyond comprehension. By setting the game in a first-person perspective, players will be able to feel the tension and fear that comes with combating a faceless enemy that is violently probing and plotting its way into our world.

It’s miles better than a lot of other stuff out there, but it still fights my tongue: I feel like I want to pause for a comma, but I never get a chance. The second half tends toward evocative description, but it’s not enough to make up for OVERCOMING HIGH-STAKE ODDS THROUGH RISKY STRATEGIC GAMBITS COUPLED WITH HEART-STOPPING COMBAT EXPERIENCES et cetera et cetera.

PR people sometimes seem to think that LOTS OF WORDS WITHOUT STOPPING is better than dramatic pacing. Have they been locked to a certain number of sentences? Is there some company rule commanding that “YOU ARE LIMITED TO ZERO COMMAS,” or something like that? Maybe every PR staffer contributes one ‘exciting’ phrase to a giant bucket, and their team leader stays up until four in the morning trying to figure out how to fit them all into a hundred words? I sometimes feel like these things are written by robots or Pinocchio-boys who desperately want to understand human ecstasy: they grasp helplessly at words while we pity them for their sterile alien minds. It’s almost wistful, it is.

Passion’s the thing here—why do they dance around the original game so much? Why not reference it directly? So many wonderful things have been written about X-COM that it this marketing fluff seems even more out of place to me than it normally does: ever since I started keeping up with games journalism about five years ago, I’ve been constantly impressed by the enthusiasm great writers have for X-COM. Alec Meer wrote a powerful account of his youthful collision with the game only a few days ago, and it made me want to run out immediately, find a copy, and slobber all over it. It grates against my sense of justice, this marketing nonsense does. There should have been some genuine emotion here—I mean, if any game has really grabbed people by the hearts and the brains simultaneously, it’s X-COM. There are a bunch people out there who could have made pretty words about the new game. It shouldn’t have been hard to put together a release that’s more– more on an emotional level– than just a picture and a paragraph. If they’d done that, the response might not have been so hypercritical.

I know this is not terribly important. It’s just that XCOM is the thing this week, and for once, the Thing of the Week demonstrates a long-standing pet peeve of mine. I mean, take a look at this blurb about Assassin’s Creed from Steam:

Assassin’s Creed™ is the next-gen game developed by Ubisoft Montreal that redefines the action genre. While other games claim to be next-gen with impressive graphics and physics, Assassin’s Creed merges technology, game design, theme and emotions into a world where you instigate chaos and become a vulnerable, yet powerful, agent of change.

It sounds like the kind of thesis proposal I would churn up at two in the morning on a Sunday.

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  1. Don’t have so much to say about this one, except that I agree wholeheartedly. The descriptions have been so bog standard and completely meaningless that I’ve become entirely immune to hype-machine marketing.

    The descriptions are beyond ridiculous, though, because they don’t end up describing anything at all. To describe something, the description’s inversion needs to be a sensible description as well. And to take the last example, who would ever describe their game as a last-gen game that has no innovation, no impressive game design, no emotional response, no theme, and you in no way change the world?

  2. I irks me when media properties are referred to as “franchises” as opposed to artistic/creative endeavours. It guts them of soul and stuffs them with $$$.

    I’ve started to tire of game trailers as well, which suffer the same problems. (And don’t get me started on “teaser trailers”)

    • “I irks me.” Of course I do.

    • lauramichet

       /  April 17, 2010

      oh god, teaser trailers– urgh. I hates them too, I does. As far as the evil of teaser trailers goes, I’m sure that Bioware is leading the charge at the head of the forces of evil, so to speak. Remember the rock and roll dragon age trailers? And all that Mass Effect 2 bullshit? Talk about a game that fed us nonsense cinematics for no reason! I mean, to some extent they were using that to pitch the characters independently from the rest of the gameplay, but it was excessive. It’s the most expensive kind of marketing fluff.

      • If you have a hatred of banal PR, I would love to know what you think of the Frag Dolls…

      • lauramichet

         /  April 19, 2010

        I’ve never been convinced that the Frag Dolls are anything more than a crass marketing pitch to adolescent males. I don’t know a single female gamer who gives them a moment of thought, and I regard all that stuff on their site about ’empowering’ girl gamers and so on as bullshit. That said, they’re more a symptom of the game industry’s troublesome stance on female gamers than anything else, in the same way that half-dressed cheerleaders at professional American football matches are less a cause of problems and more a sign of that subculture’s problematic gender-politics undertow.
        With the Frag Dolls, though, it’s so incredibly obvious that they’re merely a branded booth-babe squad that I don’t think they’re having much of an impact on anything real or significant in the gaming world.
        Furthermore, Kent and I saw some of them at the Ubisoft booth at PAX East. The one demonstrating Splinter Cell was pretty fucking terrible at the game, to tell you the truth, which we had a laugh at. On the other hand, Turbine’s booth was being run by some very regular-seeming, friendly, talkative people, men and women alike; nobody was being treated like a model. Just a bunch of nice people talking about their game. We actually enjoyed that one a lot more, I think, even though neither of us are interested in LOTRO.

      • Laura, please, don’t feel like you need to hold back, just let it all out. =) Lewie P had a good dig at them recently http://savygamer.co.uk/2010/04/02/fuck-you-ubisoft/ and followed up with http://savygamer.co.uk/2010/04/05/book-bitchez-lets-show-those-boys-that-girls-can-read-books-too/

        In other news, Turbine has just been bought by Warner Bros…

    • I just thhugot I’d chip in my thhugots quickly.I thhugot Spelunky was the best game out of the three because it has the better gameplay of the two since its got loads of secrets. Also, everyone’s moaning about the randomly generated level engine, but I think it works superbly, since you’re never bored when replaying it.But I won’t vote for it. Voting’s wrong, guys, and you know it.


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