A little over a year ago, controversy began stirring over a game called “Hatred,” which was little more than a top-down spree killer simulator as pretentious as it was bland. The mere context of the violence was enough to get this game plastered all over the internet, however, and spawn hundreds of debates about the merits of the game. Now, “Hatred’s” creator, the appropriately named Destructive Creations, is about to release their next game, “IS Defense,” which features the player defending Europe from an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, invasion. By the time you read this, the game will already be out, so now is a great opportunity to analyze the role of controversy in marketing.
Ever since “Death Race” advertised that you could run down pedestrians in the 1970s, we periodically get a developer that knows its game isn’t quite good enough to sell based on merit. Thus, they concoct a scheme to generate controversy surrounding their game. The makers of “Call of Duty” have done this in several of their games, from the airport massacre in “Modern Warfare 2” to blowing up a little girl in an explosion in “Modern Warfare 3.” “Mass Effect,” intentionally or otherwise, received a bump from the media over the controversy regarding its sex scene. The industry has gotten better about it, though, and we’ve come a long way since the incident regarding the marketing of “Dante’s Inferno,” in which Electronic Arts promoted the game by hiring fake protesters to stand around the Electronic Entertainment Expo and “protest” the game.
That left something of a scummy vacuum, however, because apparently the industry is never allowed to be too decent or respectable at any one time. Destructive Creations generated a great deal of controversy with “Hatred” last year, in part because they were helped by Steam and a series of large media outlets. When Steam pulled the game from Steam Greenlight, a means by which users could vote on games to bring to Steam, the game became a huge news story. Major gaming personalities and journalists began commenting and writing on the subject, all while promoting the game itself. After just a day, “Hatred” returned to Steam with a formal apology from Gabe Newell. The game went on to be a best seller on Steam and the developers released a poorly edited, self-congratulatory statement, which is both too long and too smug to reprint here.
That brings us to “IS Defense,” a shameless rip-off of games like “Beach Head,” where the player controls a stationary turret as they defend various European environments from ISIS invaders. The game’s trailer implies that ISIS will grow to control all of the Middle East and will push into Europe, with only the player to stop a parade of suicide bombers and Humvee’s with black flags. Gameplay-wise, there is nothing special or unique about this game. From all the promotional materials released thus far, the game looks like any turret section from a modern shooter stretched out into multiple hours of gameplay, because in the developer’s minds, that never gets old.
The point of this column is not to draw attention to a game that has basically gotten no major media attention, but to point out that controversy is a part of the industry that developers know about and try to exploit for monetary gain. I’m not going to tell you not to play “IS Defender” just because it’s controversial. Since I haven’t even played it yet, I can’t even tell you not to play it because it’s bad, no matter how stupid the trailer looks. The point of this column is to emphasize that controversy is a tool that can be used by unscrupulous developers, and it’s up to us as consumers to recognize when developers are trying to push our buttons. Don’t bother getting into a debate over “IS Defense,” because from the perspective of Destructive Creations, it’s far worse to be ignored than yelled at.
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.