Marketing Militainment in a Post-bin Laden World
by Matthew Thomas Payne and Derek Frank — University of Alabama; Independent Scholar
October 31, 2012 – 00:00
It’s common practice for game publishers to tempt consumers into preordering their titles in exchange for access to “limited-edition” content. Typically, these add-ons take the form of character skins, in-game items, or – as is advertised in this video – special multiplayer maps. Yet two things are striking about Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s offer: (1) the maps’ real-world locations; and (2) the game’s tie-in with the film, Zero Dark Thirty.
EA recognizes the need to differentiate this year’s Medal of Honor installment from similar titles in a marketplace awash in first-person shooters. More precisely, EA needs to combat Microsoft’s Halo 4 and Activision’s reigning juggernaut and this year’s presumptive sales leader, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. EA’s first salvo was to schedule their game for release before Halo 4 and Black Ops 2 with the goal of siphoning off sales from their competitors. But the maps teased in the ad represent the game’s more meaningful point of contrast from other shooters, distancing it from the future combat and dystopian spaces depicted in Halo and Black Ops.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen shooters set in the contemporary period move their firefights from non-specific locations to named locales, and an increased willingness to invoke historical events in motivating their narratives. Although EA’s decision to reference “hotspots” is not entirely new, it remains a risky choice that is not always well received. Indeed, one need look no further than Six Days in Fallujah for an object lesson in these matters. By striking the right balance of military realism, EA hopes it can generate publicity and sales before Microsoft and Activision steal the spotlight in November.
The game’s tie-in with Zero Dark Thirty seemingly shores up its claims to realism by piggybacking on the film’s true story of the mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The un-redacting of the title suggests the film’s unveiling of some classified story, and by association, that the game too may reveal hidden truths about US military operations. Still, this relationship remains a curious one given the recent subpar performance of combat films at the box office. Does living in a post-OBL world change EA’s calculation about how it depicts military realism, and how it conducts its partnerships with other militainment properties? And is EA betting that consumers want more grounded fare when its biggest competitors are headed in the other direction?
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