So here I sit at a standstill – I’m waiting on about fifty things before I can continue here at work, so here’s another longish post. BTW, I think the post Moe was referring to was either this one or this one.
There’s a game developer named Acclaim. They’re a somewhat uneven game developer. Sometimes they do good games (the first two Nintendo 64 Turok games come to mind), but more often than not, their games aren’t very good. They’re especially notorious for the “quick cash-in licensed game”. Every South Park game has been terrible and Acclaim did them all – Comedy Central, who owns South Park outright, just told Acclaim to come out with some games and quickly. South Park’s creators publicly criticized the games – didn’t matter, they sold well anyway. Acclaim is also the maker of any bad Batman game you ever rented by accident.
Recently Acclaim has embarked on some rather questionable advertising practices. For all the criticism of the American audience, most of these techniques are practiced in the UK, where people are supposedly even less easy to enrapture. For the game Shadow Man 2, Acclaim bought advertising space – on headstones in cemeteries. To promote Turok: Evolution they offered the first five people in the UK to change their names to “Turok” $1,000. The hundreds that came in late probably weren’t too thrilled. For their game Burnout 2: Point of Impact, they offered to pay the speeding tickets of anyone who was on their way to buy the game. I wonder – if you speed on your way to get Burnout 2 and die, will they advertise the game on your tombstone?
Of course, what they really have here is the cheapest (and some would say lowest) forms of advertising possible – press coverage. I would guess no one at a cemetery is interested in becoming aware about a video game where you kill other people, but the mere mention in newspapers (along with a mockup of what a tombstone would look like with the ad on it) got Acclaim tons of free publicity. I presume Acclaim never actually took out the ads on tombstones – who would they pay for it? The same thing for the other promotions – there’s no such thing as bad publicity, don’t ya know? I view Acclaim as the Troma of the game industry – more known for their hype and bad product than their actual contributions.
But now they’ve got a game coming out called BMX XXX. When the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater clones starting coming out from all over, Acclaim came out with a game called Dave Mirra’s BMX which was a servicable but hardly revolutionary game. For the sequel they dropped Dave Mirra (who dropped who from what is in dispute) and decided to go for a more “adult” feel – namely nudity and profanity. I’m not completely sure how it works (if you have to unlock the boobs or what) but it appears this game will have more in common with a Motley Crue video than a sports game. Much the same way PC Accelerator decided that “titties sell” (and other magazines, like Total Movie, still adhere to), Acclaim is going for that mature audience that’s still a bit juvenile.
My first reaction was this: this cements the notion that Acclaim is pretty much a turd in the game industry pool. My second reaction was this: this stupid game might actually sell. Worse than that, it might spawn off a long list of copycats. We’re just now seeing the end of the trashy tunnel that was the Deer Hunter legacy, and now this.
However, despite the fact that the game will carry an “M” rating, many chains, including Target and Wal-Mart, refuse to carry the game. Best Buy is carrying a cut down version of the game. The part of me worrying about the game selling well and creating a trend were allayed. But then I started to wonder – how is this game worse than a violent game? Or a violent movie? Or even a pornographic movie? Best Buy sells lots of violent games, violent movies, and even dirty movies (not that I know anything about that). I don’t think Wal-Mart or Target carry “dirty” movies, but they do sell violent movies and games, plus they already have systems in place to keep “M” games and “R” movies from being sold to minors. Hell, Wal-Mart even sells guns and ammo.
And the “dirty game” isn’t unprecedented, either. No sooner had pornography made its way to the Internet than people started making pornographic games. The only place I can think I’ve seen them for sale is at Hastings (who, to their credit, doesn’t seem to discriminate at all). The ESRB system even has an oft-unused “AO” (Adults Only) rating. Some 21 games have used this throughout the years, most from one particular company trying to make their works seem more legitimate – most games worthy of an AO rating don’t bother with ratings. Story goes the game Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh, a game from the FMV-fad era featuring frontal nudity, was set to be the first game from a major publisher to garner an “AO” rating, but then Sierra decided to go for the RSAC rating, which used 3 “meters” for sex, violence and language. Bizarrely, subsequent re-releases of the game label it as “M”.
Now Acclaim is crying to the press that they’re being falsely discriminated against. My gut reaction was: this needs an “asinine” tag from FARK. I mean come on, you made a game that was not only extreme for the sake of being extreme, but then you complain that you ventured into uncharted territory and got hurt. Of course, that was a trap – they want people to think that. They want the media to cover the story. They want the media to cover the story that is Acclaim complaining about the story. And the game is going to sell. Like the out of the way theater that shows the movie you want to see, people will now go out of their way to get this game.
But then I got to thinking – what if all of this is real? I mean, what if Acclaim wanted some controversy and clamor over it, but what if they realized what they were getting themselves into? I mean, no Wal-Mart sales is often seen as a death-knell. Wal-Mart is so big that these guys are the ones who demanded and got smaller game boxes. And these are the stores they make “non-stickered” versions of albums for. Since Best Buy is carrying the pared down BMX XXX obviously such a version exists, but Wal-Mart, Target, et al declined even that.
So how is this game worse? I mean, we have all these systems in place – the rating system, the enforced ages, the precedents in the other products in the stores. How is BMX XXX worse than an R-rated movie? I mean, as far as I know there’s no death or actual sex, just some swearing and some naked bikers. Perhaps it’s because of the “XXX” in the title – if you don’t carry “real” pornography then you could make the point that it falls into that category. But then again we’re about to have a movie called xXx hit DVD, so there goes that argument. Perhaps they want to keep it out of the hands of children, but they do that already. Perhaps they don’t want the bad publicity, but then again people protest Wal-Mart for selling (or not selling) abortion pills, guns and bad maps, so they’re used to controversy. Plus when you have as many stores as they do, someone slips and falls in your store and sues you several times a day. I can’t believe that they’re scared of one video game.
The bottom line in all of this is that Acclaim ventured into uncharted territory and not only looks to be getting a bit stung, but now they can become more than a game developer. My gut reaction was “they shouldn’t be able to do that!”. I have had similar opinions of other games (Postal 2 and the Hitman series come to mind). I figured for sure I’d feel the same about Grand Theft Auto 3 but not only was it a good game, it wasn’t any worse than the Godfather series or Payback, violent movies where you root for the bad guys. I realize I’m no better than the people who say that all violent video games should be banned, or those people who want art to be censored. Acclaim is going to wind up a free speech martyr. I’m not sure if this means we’ll look on them more or less fondly, but then again we made a movie about the struggles of Larry Flynt.
But then again, Luther Campbell was an exhonorated free speech martyr but that doesn’t mean the 2 Live Crew was any good…