Back in the day, before we had your new-fangled “World Wide Web,” most of us had to get our news from games magazines. And we liked it, dagnabbit! Of course, these supposed tomes of gaming knowledge were basically little more than advertising fed directly into our eyeballs, often absent of genuine criticism or any other concerns other than letting consumers know what new games were coming out and when. At some point, any and every asset of these magazines might have only existed as thinly-veiled promotional material — from the developer-supplied cheat code sections all the way down to bought-and-paid-for reviews.
In a shocking turn, the actual as-advertised print ads themselves might have been the most genuine parts of some of these magazines: At least when you were staring at a full-page promotional panel, you were aware you were looking at marketing material. Of course, sometimes even these adverts might be misleading, as advertising is wont to be. In some scenarios, they seemed to care less about selling you on the games themselves and more about simply grabbing your attention. I mean, you don’t actually need me to explain any of this to you, do you? Kind of the nature of the beast here, innit?
Anyway, this list is dedicated to some of the worst print ads ever run to promote individual game releases. To be clear, I’m intentionally eschewing print ads to promote consoles / hardware accessories / companies in general, as that’s a list for another day.
This entry is somewhat obligatory, insofar as it’s one of the most well-known game adverts of all time and pops up on pretty much every list of this nature. Romero continues to get flak for this ad to this day, and it’s understandable why: The ad places his name front in center, and seems to directly threaten the reader. However, if Romero is to be believed (which, yes, he generally is), the ad wasn’t even his idea to begin with.
Mike Wilson is a man whose career in the games industry begins in 1994, and continues to this day with his involvement in Devolver Digital. Before that, he had spent time with id Software, Gathering of Developers, Gamecock Media Group, and of course, Ion Storm. Over the course of these years, Wilson was responsible for a number of brilliant marketing decisions, including the idea to distribute the original Doom as shareware.
However, he’s also responsible a number of more outrageous / ill-advised marketing stunts, including; burning money on providing free barbeques and beer to attendees in GoD’s E3 lot space, encouraging Gamecock employees to rush the stage during Ken Levine’s speech at the Spike VGAs in 2007, and buying a BMW with thirty thousand dollars of Ion Storm’s company money and proceeding to crash it within two months. Yeah, that last point isn’t actually a marketing stunt at all, but I needed an excuse to mention it here.
Anyhow, the “John Romero’s About to Make You His Bitch” ad was Wilson’s baby, according to Romero. After placing the blame on Mr. Wilson, and further accusing him of having a penchant for hard partying, Mike did what any level-headed marketing executive would do: He sent an incredibly inflammatory ten paragraph e-mail to Kotaku, where he launches a series of personal attacks at John and generally comes across like a gigantic asshole. Especially gross is where he disparages Romero’s love life, and mockingly suggests buying a Russian bride for him in the event that his then-partner were to leave him.
Romero has since gone on to express regret over allowing the ad to come to print, blaming the “culture of smack talk” as the inspiration for the campaign, but not downplaying the fact that it crossed some number of lines. No word on if Mike Wilson is still an unrepentant asshole or not, or if Volkswagen is still his preferred brand of vehicle manufacturer. And while I’m not sure if the differences between the two men were ever settled, I think we can all agree on one thing: If you’re going to run a video game print ad, you should at least include some screenshots in the stupid thing.
4. Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc
Back in 2003, Ubisoft wanted the world to know that Rayman has a huge cock. However, in doing so, they neglected to clear up one very important detail: Is Rayman’s gigantic dick detachable?
In the games, Rayman is capable of tossing his fists like boomerangs, knocking enemies out from afar and grabbing onto floating rings and all other manner of cool tricks. But what inquiring minds would like to know is, can he toss his penis around like a boomerang too? Like, if he were sitting down on the couch in his apartment watching a movie, and didn’t feel like pausing to go to the bathroom, could he theoretically toss his junk in the general direction of the bathroom and take care of business that way? Or is his wanger simply attached to his torso, preventing him from accomplishing such feats?
On that note, how does food and drink that Rayman consume make its way from his disembodied head to his floating torso? We can gather from the fact that Rayman needs to urinate that his body needs to excrete waste, leading one to assume that he requires sustenance. But if there’s no digestive tract leading from his floating head to his floating torso, are we simply to assume that the contents of his mouth make their way into his stomach by the same magic that allows his other appendages to float in the first place? If this is the case, then there’s no reason Rayman’s genitals and linked excretory system should have to be attached to his torso either. In that case, perhaps he can also detach his butt at will as well? How is it that having one question answered can raise so many other questions?
Time Killers was an ultraviolent fighting game released to arcades in November 1992 — just a month after Mortal Kombat hit the scene. Naturally, the phenomenon surrounding MK would quickly bury Time Killers, subsequently squashing plans to release a Genesis conversion of the game the following year. Funnily enough, work on the Genesis version had already been completed some months prior to cancellation, with Electronic Gaming Monthly actually publishing a rather middling review of the soon-to-be-shelved game in a December issue.
Obviously feeling some resentment towards Mortal Kombat, developer Incredible Technologies and publisher Strata decided to strike Midway where it hurt: By recruiting Daniel Pesina – the former motion-capture actor of Johnny Cage and the various ninjas of Mortal Kombat I & II – to endorse their new fighting game, BloodStorm. Now, by this point, Pesina had already lent his likeness and stamp of approval to two other fighting games: Tattoo Assassins and Thea Realm Fighters. Fortunately for BloodStorm, neither of these games ever made it to market, making Pesina’s involvement a still unique selling point. Even more fortunately, negotiations to secure Daniel for a day’s work went quite smoothly:
“One day, [a guy from Incredible Technologies] asked my brother, ‘Hey would your brother do a thing for one of our games?’ Whoever arranged to give his number was like, ‘Just charge him a lot. He’ll pay it.’ And I was like, ‘Really?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, don’t worry – make some money’ … So, you know. I told him a price, which was ridiculously high, and he was like, ‘OK.’ And I was like, ‘For two hours, you’re going to give me that much money?’ I think it was like, I worked like an hour and he gave me $1,500 or something like that. Not bad. And maybe even 40 minutes.” ~ Daniel Pesina
Now, revisionist history and the rumor mill would like to suggest that taking this part was what lead to Daniel’s falling out with Midway / losing the Johnny Cage gig. Of course, this is entirely untrue, as Mr. Pesina had already left Midway in the wake of a lawsuit against the company over what he felt was underwhelming payment for his work. Surprisingly, the use of the Johnny Cage name and likeness in the ad did not inspire any further legal action, and the whole stunt went off more or less without incident. It’s fair to assume that Midway knew as well as even Daniel himself did that the ad wasn’t going to have any tangible effect on Mortal Kombat’s sales: “I don’t really remember the ad having a huge fan reaction – there weren’t as many social media outlets then – but even so it became pretty apparent that the vocal die-hard MK fans weren’t going to jump ship on their favorite game because of it.”
BloodStorm would go on to underwhelm in the arcades, with plans for a sequel and home conversions soon scrapped. Strata would go out of business in 1995, while Incredible Technologies would continue to pump out Golden Tee Golf games (as well as developing Street Fighter: The Movie [The Game]). Daniel continues to teach martial arts at the Chicago Wushuguan School, and seems to be a generally cool dude. Oh, and the home console version of Time Killers eventually got released… Four years after the fact, to universal critical panning. Personally, I would love to know who (if anyone) won that BloodStorm arcade cabinet?
2. Hitman: Blood Money
The Hitman franchise has never been a stranger to media controversy, what with its premise centered entirely around assassinations and the potential for “collateral damage.” And while I’d love to talk about the hideous Facebook “Kill Your Friends” campaign, or that trailer for the 2015 film that featured Agent 47 graphically slaying a number of D-list social media personalities, I’m going to have to save those for another list. Instead, we’re here today to talk about the “___ Executed” series of print ads, which ran in such magazines as Maxim.
The most “notorious” print ad in this set is the one pictured above, featuring a woman with revealing lingerie and a bullet hole in her head underneath the caption “Beautifully Executed.” I’m honestly a little surprised that the “Shockingly Executed” ad spot wasn’t the one to receive more scorn, as it features a wholly nude woman (albeit covered up by a bubble bath)? But the “Beautifully Executed” ad was the one specifically that Eidos Global Brand Manager Kathyrn Clements felt the need to get in front of / defend to GameDaily in 2006. In responding to the charge that the ad is a “dangerous cocktail of sex and murder,” she had this to say:
“That really wasn’t the intention at all, and being a woman it is something I would feel very strongly against portraying (as would all men at Eidos or that I choose to work with!) It is representative of a female character who wanders about the level drunk in a bikini. She actually tries to seduce Hitman and invites him to her bedroom. We took artistic license on the bikini and switched it to underwear as we thought it may confuse people; i.e. why’s that woman on a bed in a bikini. We took those photos in the middle of December in a freezing warehouse – that poor model was so cold.” ~ Kathyrn Clements
Welp, I reckon that’s that cleared up, then! Certainly nothing additional to be criticized here about the presence of a female NPC who exists to wander around drunk, scantily-clad, and in search of sex! I mean, whatever: The presence of a stereotypical cheating wife character is honestly one of the least “problematic” elements in a game that rewards you for getting away with murder. But watching executives pretend like they weren’t deliberately attempting to drum up some amount of controversy might be the single most insulting part of this whole charade.
Still, you have to wonder who exactly visualized these ads to begin with? Luckily, we can actually trace this concept back to its original creator; one Gus Nwanya-Aliyu. Gus is so proud of his work as to take full credit for the campaign on his company website, where he offers the shortest of explanations behind his creative vision:
“Hitman Blood Money was one of the largest global game launches of 2006. As part of the creative team I idealised and crafted POS and packaging material. I also worked across a series of teaser ads featured in popular game magazines. Each teaser ad depicts the death of and [sic] individual that has had the misfortunate [sic] of being on the Hitman’s list. Coldly Executed. Classically Executed. Beautifully Executed.” ~ Gus Nwanya-Aliyu
In case you were ever curious how cushy a gig it is to work in marketing, that man still gets work to this very day. Anyhow, the ad didn’t actually stir up quite as much controversy as you might think, with most of the outrage contained to the Internet rather than mainstream news outlets. I have reason to doubt this ad campaign had any effect on the games’ sales numbers in either direction, but then again I also believe that print advertising was basically obsolete by 2006 to begin with. I’m sure some ad exec could point me at some chart or something to try and convince me otherwise, but I also don’t hold marketers in the highest respect either: Not to make too fine a point of it, but these marketing folk don’t exactly seem to hold women in the highest regard.
1. Davis Cup World Tour
Look, I could’ve gone with any number of “Sex Sells”-style ads for this number one spot, and God knows I’d certainly have my pick of ‘em. But in terms of pure, unrestrained, blatant disrespect of consumer intelligence, this print ad for Davis Cup World Tour takes the cake in my book. That I felt compelled to put a mosaic censor over this woman’s fully exposed ass should really be all I need to say about this one. But, because I know there exists a portion of the games market dense enough to want to buy video games based on the merits of titillation alone, I’ll go on a little longer.
I’d like to ask what – if anything – this ad tells you about the game at hand? Is it a BMX XXX-grade sex romp through the world of tennis? Actually, I think a more fitting point of comparison here would be Outlaw Tennis, which does legitimately attempt to mix vulgar sexual / racial stereotyes with the sport of tennis. In either case, the answer is “No”: The actual video game of Davis Cup World Tour (or simply Davis Cup Tennis as it was marketed in North America) is a bog-standard 16-bit tennis title with no “Tits ‘n Ass” value to speak of.
CORRECTION (9/24/17): As reader @LanceBoyle94 has since informed me, there is a bit of historical tennis precedent to this image. British photographer Martin Elliot was the man responsible for a photo of his then-girlfriend Fiona Butler which would come to be known as “Tennis Girl,” and which quickly became something of a pop culture icon in the UK. The Davis World Cup ad is a clear homage to this image. That being said, the inspiration here is trashy as all hell, and so too is the game advert.
Also, can we talk about the “Take Advantage” header? Like, yeah, I get that it’s a tennis term, but there must be better puns that could have been made here that don’t allude to full-on sexual assault? Why not something with “Love,” or even “Pairs” if you wanna be crude about women’s breasts or whatever? At least that’s simply sophomoric rather than outright creepy.
Fittingly, the game was intended to receive a sequel, but it never came to fruition. You might say they avoided committing a “Double Fault” by not putting out a second game? Eh? Anyway, sexy ads for video games suck, and so do the marketers responsible for them.