I remember when TV ads for video games used to be good, or at the very least memorable. Who could forget “Genesis does what Nintendon’t”? Or the Zelda rap? Or the amazing ad for Super Mario 3? Not every old video game ad was great, but it seemed like most were at least trying to be as creative, unique and catchy as possible. During the 16-bit era in particular, a new ad from Sega or Nintendo was an event.
No longer. I can’t remember the last time I saw a truly memorable video game TV spot. I spend hours every damn day playing, writing about and obsessing over video games — I can get excited over the tiniest scrap of gaming info, and yet I mostly just tune today’s TV ads out. Why? Because they’re all the same.
These days game publishers are either incapable, or too scared to make TV ads that don’t fit into one of five or six strictly defined templates. If the video game industry ever wants me to pay attention to one of their TV spots again, these are the ads that have to go…
The Call of Duty
This is by far the most common style of video game TV ad right now, which isn’t surprising considering everyone wants their game to be the next Call of Duty.
These ads are made up of quick-cut snippets of in-game footage featuring dudes shooting, kicking, punching and flying through the air. Also, lots of stuff blowing up. The ad usually starts with a deep/sinister voiced narrator, saying something ominous or badass, yet largely meaningless. You know, stuff like this…
“War isn’t won by following the rules. Our job is to win by any means necessary. When you’re outnumbered, fighting fair just isn’t an option.”
Heeeeavy man. Once the badass/bad guy platitudes are done, the quick-cut footage ramps up even faster while rap/metal or generic action movie music plays. One final big explosion, cut to black, then we get the logo.
It’s not just shootery war games that use this template either — these type of ads have been used for everything from Batman: Arkham City to Uncharted 3.
The Gears of War Pretension Overload
If there’s one style of video game TV ad that really pushes the bile to the edge of my throat, it’s this one. Of course it all started with this ad for the original Gears of War featuring Marcus Fenix wandering around a post-apocalyptic landscape to the strains of “Mad World”…
Oh man, so artsy. The original commercial was, honestly, pretty cheesy, but at least it was a unique idea. If it had ended there, I’d have no beef, but unfortunately for the past six years the Gears of War commercial has been imitated time and time again to diminishing returns. The worst offenders have been the makers of Gears of War themselves. Whatever effectiveness that original Gears of War commercial had is completely missing from the ads for Gears of War 3.
Aren’t Our Cutscenes Pretty?
Many games today have some very pretty cutscenes — as good, or better looking than many of the big budget animated films in theatres. So hey, why even bother showing any gameplay? Let’s just throw together a minute of cutscenes and call it a day!
Of course this has been going on forever — Square-Enix has been trying to fool people with ads made of nothing but cutscenes since the Playstation era. I dunno, I guess I just figured with gaming becoming so mainstream publishers would stop trying to pull such an obvious bait-and-switch. Silly me, assuming the video game industry actually has a sense of shame.
Here Are Some People Using Motion Controls!
Multi-ethnic groups of people ranging from age 9 to 99 smile intensely as they really, really enjoy the wonder of motion controls. High kicks, arm flailing, big loopy motions — these people are expending about 20-times more effort in than they have to, and they’re lovin’ it!
A couple half-second shots of the TV screen are shown to remind the viewer that these people are in fact, playing a video game and not merely stricken with a frightening case of mass hysteria.
Bland People Enjoying Things in a White Room
This describes around 90% of Nintendo’s advertising from the past half-decade or more. Blandly attractive people derive moderate enjoyment from Nintendo products in an antiseptic white room, we see a few seconds of gameplay footage, the end.
I actually have some hope Nintendo might retire this style of ad soon — I mean, once you’ve done one about how f–kable Mario looks in his tanooki suit, where else is there to go?
Video Games? Nooo, We’re a Movie!
This is the latest trend — forget gameplay footage or even in-game cutscenes, do a live-action ad that looks like a movie trailer! Because looking like a cheesy, low-budget movie is still preferable to being some lame-ass video game. Ugh.
Make sure everything is really grim with lots of people running, dying and crying because that’s what good movies are all about. Maybe put some religious imagery in there too, and make sure everything’s all desaturated and gritty looking. Yeah, this’ll make Roger Ebert love us!
So, am I just an old crank who hates everything? Have there been no recent video game ads I’ve liked at all? Not quite. I dug this one…
How about you guys? Any recent video game TV spots you’ve actually enjoyed? By all means, point me towards ’em and help instill in me renewed hope for the video game industry. Or, you know, just make your own grumpy comments about the current state of video game advertising, and tell me how right I am. Either will do.