The Art of Video Game Commercials

Video games are very different from other forms of entertainment. Like movies. Because when you watch a commercial or a trailer for a movie, the intention of the ad is to have you thinking: “I enjoyed watching that sooo I’ll probably enjoy watching the movie as well.” But with video games, you’re not just gonna watch it, you’re gonna play it. Potentially for a long-ass time. And there’s no way that you can get a taste of what the game actually feels like to play, with the controller in your hands, by just watching a video. And this is why advertisements for video games can vary so much and be pretty unique, because instead of trying really hard to convey what the actual second to second gameplay of a game is like, they tend to take a more erm… “What the fuck is this!?” “Fuckin’ spongecake!?” [guitar riff] … how you say, creative approach. It’s all about conveying an experience and emotion that can entice the potential consumer so much that they’ll be like: “Wait is that Heidi Klum playing Guitar Hero and having fun? She’s so hot I like her! I want to be fun and hot as well!” And while gaming existed long before the 90s, the naughty-naughty grunge era is definitely where video game commercials started going apeshit. Because the most popular approach back then was this live-action, aggressive, shocking, “In your face, man!” kind of attitude that was essentially the video game equivalent of: “If you don’t chew Big Red then fuck you.” Most of the Sega Genesis ads just focused on calling you a loser, taking a dump on the Super Nintendo and then screaming: “SEGA!” And then PlayStation basically took the same approach with Crash Bandicoot and proceeded to dump on Nintendo. And even Nintendo, who is typically known for its family-friendly games and cutesy characters… got into some shit. I mean, the slogan for the N64 was …fuckin’: “Get N or get out.” But I’m not trying to say that there weren’t any memorable or effective commercials during this time, ‘cuz there totally were. Like the Mortal Kombat one where everyone ran through the streets screaming: “MORTAL KOMBAT!” Yeah that’s, that’s where that comes from, it comes from the friggin’ commercial. But eventually, by the power invested in Drake Bell trading Pokémon on his Game Boy over a power line… to some other fuckin’ kid, video games would slowly start growing out of their naughty teenage years and become a little more creative with the commercials, while still holding on to the tactics that worked. A key tactic being humor, which is the first category I want to talk about. Everybody likes to laugh and a positive relief isn’t the worst thing to have someone associate with a product or a company. Whether it’s the Snuggle Bear running away from a tank to promote BattleTanx on the 64, Nintendo cosplayers beating the absolute living shit out of each other to promote Super Smash Brothers, or a mouse in a lab just absolutely raw doggin’ a Game Boy Micro. Humor can be an extremely effective way to win over the heart of your audience, as long as the joke lands and doesn’t suck ass. Like, while I personally love them, I think Sony made the right call when they replaced the creepy ass baby doll ads for the PS3 with a more lighthearted and humorous approach to the commercials, like, I genuinely believe that the Kevin Butler ads for the PS3 stuff played a huge role in turning around the fate of the PlayStation, like that… that man is a gift. “Dear PlayStation, I got a tip that you were making the PS3 $299.” “Confirm or deny.” “$299? Bernie, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” “That’s how World War 1 got started.” Music can change the emotion of any situation, and when you can’t directly give someone a controller and let them feel how the gameplay is supposed to make them feel, music can help to maybe… simulate a sense of that feeling. Like, let’s watch some of this Assassin’s Creed 2 commercial but without any of the music first. It still got some really cool visual effects and editing, but it doesn’t really make me feel anything, like there’s not… there’s not a whole lot of connection going on here. Alright, now watch it with the music. [ ♪ Justice – Genesis ♪ ] ♪ Okay, I will take five copies please ♪ ♪ I will take them with my knees ♪ ♪ I will take them in the trees ♪ ♪ I will take five copies please ♪ I had to derobe myself of my sweater because um… I was getting very hot. [sniffs] [wretches loudly] Even in commercials where the footage shown is neither live-action or actual gameplay footage of the game, but instead a cinematic CGI movie, which a lot of fucking games do this, see exhibit A, B… … fuckin’ 12, music still has so much impact. Like, the only reason I even remember that the game Dante’s Inferno even exists is because I liked the commercial so much. And while it has some very pretty and stylish visuals that show what the game’s story is gonna be about… … it’s the Bill Withers that is really speaking to me. ♪ Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone ♪ ♪ Only darkness everyday ♪ ♪ Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone ♪ ♪ And this house just ain’t no home ♪ ♪ Anytime she goes away ♪ ♪ Anytime she goes away ♪ Grand Theft Auto IV could have shown all of the crazy and exciting gameplay moments that people have come to expect from Grand Theft Auto games, but instead this commercial just shows Niko walking through Liberty City, changing outfits, going through so many different locations that makes the game world feel huge, all set to some LCD Soundsystem, and then he just steals a car at the end. Bada-boom bada-bing Grand Theft Auto IV everybody, pre-order at GameStop and… get… get a fuckin’ toad, you get a brand new stepdad. It’s subtle, it’s clever, it’s stylish and I’ll allow it. [Law and Order DUNDUN] However, there’s one commercial in particular that I remember seeing on TV at a friend’s house that simultaneously made me feel emotions of intrigue, excitement, sadness, terror and… probably just an all-around enchantment spell, and that of course is the Mad World commercial for Gears of War. The visuals are obviously the foundation for this ad, um, showing off the, especially at the time, amazing graphics and lighting of the Unreal Engine, and also showing off the Rescue Hero inspired characters. But it’s the Gary Jules cover of the Tears for Fears song Mad World tied with that terrifyingly beautiful ending shot of the giant alien creeping out in the darkness that could make any gamer girl or gamer boy immediately get on their knees and start praying for an Xbox 360. ♪ The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had ♪ ♪ I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take ♪ ♪ When people run in circles it’s a very very ♪ ♪ Mad world, mad world ♪ And this commercial is a nice segway into the last category I want to talk about which is the emotional, nostalgic… I don’t know man fuck it I got feelings and shit category. Commercials that tap into the emotional investment people have in the games they’ve played and spent time with. The PlayStation 3 ad where all of these iconic Sony mascots meet together at a pub to talk about and celebrate Michael, the dude who plays all of their games. Robin Williams talking about Zelda while also simultaneously Talking about his daughter Zelda, who he named after Zelda, to promote the remake of Zelda. The live-action commercial for God of War Ascension that reminded people why Kratos is called The Ghost of Sparta, spoiler alert he is cursed, and his skin is white because he is forever covered with the ashes of his dead family… if that ain’t sad then I’m your dad. But the most emotional, effective, and just painfully gorgeous ad in all of videogames, I think Has got to be the ‘believe’ ad for Halo 3. You fucking saw this coming, I saw this coming, that’s in my script, but I saw it comin’. The ‘believe’ ad campaign for Halo 3 consisted of a bunch of documentary style interviews with fictional survivors of the human covenant war talking about the Master Chief aka the guy you get to play as in Halo 3 But the standout of these ads showcases this meticulously crafted, gorgeous, diorama of an enormous battle in the Halo universe accompanied by Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude. I already talked about this commercial at length in my Halo videos but just know that I personally think this commercial is the perfect combination of presentation and emotion and it’ll make anyone believe. Yes, games are just games, Yes, these action figures are just action figures, but it’s the stories and feelings that we associate with this fictional stuff that makes it real. Just watch the damn commercial, try not to cry. I hope we had some fun today If you get tired pull over okay? Call me back. Love you. Bye. [Piano from Believe Ad]


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