Fueled by Mountain Dew


(This is another edition of , a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)

Earlier this week, heads were turned and eyes bugged open when it was discovered that Halo 4 had launched … for the iPhone. Naturally, this was no ordinary game, but a bit of cheap tat given away to promote 343 Industries’ upcoming videogame. Oh, and a soft drink, which was also being advertised. And a particular brand of corn ship. And a chain of convenience stores.

Halo 4: King of the Hill Fueled by Mountain Dew is an actual thing, a “game” in which you fight to proclaim dominion over your local 7-11 by scanning barcodes of Mountain Dew bottles and Doritos bags. Yeah. It’s real.

Videogame promotions are nothing new. In fact, in the 90s, it was perfectly acceptable to have full retail games made to promote a completely non-game-related product. Cool Spot was a title in which you played part of a 7-Up logo. Yo Noid! was, of course, an enthralling adventure brought to us by the fine folks at Domino’s Pizza. Even games already made to advertise a product could advertise another product within, as seen with Biker Mice From Mars, a game promoting a cartoon that promoted toys, and was full of promotions for Snickers bars.

We’re part of the older generation now, wiser to marketing ploys and rendered harshly cynical through years spent on the callous Internet. We react more strongly to blatant product placement than we used to, which is part of the reason why promotions like these are accepted less graciously. Even with that in mind, there’s no denying that Halo 4: King of the Hill Fueled by Mountain Dew is a particularly tacky proposal, perhaps the zenith of indulgent corporate back-rubbing and companies shoving their goods brutally down the throats of their customers. It’s so guileless, so over-the-top, and so perfect an example of the shameless mire that is incestuous sponsorship dealing.

There are arguments on both sides as to whether or not something like FUELED BY THAH MOUNTING DOOOZ actually matters or not. Those against it have a strong case when they say it could legitimately hurt the brand — overexposure can always be damaging when left unchecked, turning the audience off through familiarity and the contempt it so famously breeds. There’s also no denying that it’s hard to respect Master Chief as a character or Halo as a creative endeavor when we see the stoic Spartan surrounded by friendly logos for soft drinks and snacks. Then again, many have rightfully said that marketing is marketing, having no bearing on the final quality of the product. They also point out that nobody is being made to download an app like this. It can be ignored if you prefer, and those who do use it must clearly get some enjoyment from the whole thing, so what’s the harm?

Personally, I find it too funny to hate on its own. The sheer over-saturation going on is amusing, and it’s very easy to parody and mock. However, one element to this whole situation does make me angry — when developers and publishers of big AAA games plead poverty, and use it as an excuse to justify pulling intense amounts of consumer-unfriendly bullshit.

Just thinking about the amount of money Microsoft must be making from Halo 4 and its associated products is staggering. When you break it down, we have the basic sales of a $60 game, one that will easily be among the biggest releases of the entire year. We must also include the special editions, which will net extra cash. Then we have the Mountain Dew/Doritos/7-11 promotion. Worldwide, Halo 4 is also in  bed with Pizza Hut and V-Energy. Add onto that the inevitable slew of Avatar Items (that will sell) and downloadable content. Let us also not forget action figures and specific, Halo-branded peripherals. All of this will amount to more cash than you could conceivably picture in your head. What’s more, it is all going to revolve around a service that serves advertisements to millions of consumers a day, with some companies expected to pay up to $344,000 to control an ad spot for a single day. A service that, also, can charge developers up to $40,000 to issue a single patch.

A service that, ultimately, we as consumers are supposed to pay to access in order to play the original $60 retail game.

Don’t get me wrong — Microsoft has every right to make a shit-ton of cash with its good friends at Pepsi and Frito-lay. It can release any sort of peripheral it likes, it can serve ads and it can charge developers for patches. It can, does, and will continue to demand an annual toll to access a service that’s already seeing buckets of cash from advertisements. It has a right to do all this.

But fucking give us the real reason, Microsoft — you like the excess. You enjoy the insane profits. Greed, to you, is good. You do this shit for no other reason than you simply can.

Don’t tell us you can justify the cost by offering such great apps as Facebook and Twitter — apps that were recently retired in favor of another app that we can enjoy far better for free on our phones or computers.  Don’t tell us your “exclusives” justify the price of the subscription. They don’t. That’s not a justification, that’s a ransom. It’s not a benefit to the end user, it’s you gating off content in exchange for another wad of cash. Most importantly, don’t you fucking dare claim you need the money to fund your apps, and online service, and exclusive little map packs. That’s bullshit. That’s absolute fucking bullshit. I cannot be expected to believe that you can’t afford your exclusivity deals with Activision without the Xbox Live subscription. Not with the vast, unimaginable, unchecked wealth you’re pulling in from literally every single aspect of a single videogame.

Charge as you will, reap what you want, but do not for a second hide behind your informed inability to afford to sell things, because when you’re getting your customers to scan Doritos barcodes for you, I simply am not going to believe it.

Naughty Dog similarly offended my intelligence when it attempted to justify putting online passes in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception by acting as if developers would go starving thanks to used game sales.

“We have to pay for servers and all this different stuff to maintain it, and so at some point, you know, games have to make money,” said Naughty Dog’s Justin Richmond to TSA. “It is a business, and we just wanna be able to continue to provide that kind of content. If Sony ever comes to us and says ‘You’re not making enough money on this, you need to cut it’ or whatever, that’s not something that we want. We want to be able to maintain the level of quality of the product that we’re giving out.”

Because, of course, the PlayStation 3′s biggest release of 2011 was simply never going to make much money, was it? It’s not like it sold three times as many copies as the sans-pass Uncharted 2, is it? Oh wait … it did!

Of course Uncharted 3 was going to make money. Used sales were never going to stop that. Did they stop Uncharted 2 from making money? No. No they did fucking not.

But then, Uncharted 3 was already spinning cash thanks its Taste for Adventure campaign. Oh yes, while Sony was preparing to launch the game, Nathan Drake was chowing down on tasty Subway Sandwiches and urging consumers to do the same, all in order to get their hands on fantastic exclusive in-game goodies and beta access. Eat fresh, and enjoy the great taste of PlayStation gaming fun, all at the same time! Meanwhile, the money just keeps spinning round and around and around.

“At some point, you know, games have to make money,” said Justin Richmond.

At some point games have to make money.

When is that point, if it’s not the day the game launches? When is that point, if it’s not when game pre-orders are through the roof? When is that point, if it’s not DLC? When is that point, if it’s not when restaurants, snack companies, convenience stores and drink manufacturers are greasing the wheels of marketing?

At some point games have to make money.

Isn’t it funny how it’s always the AAA games that are the ones using online passes, rather than the unknown IP that might need the extra help? Isn’t it funny how it’s the super-rich likes of Ubisoft and Electronic Arts who have such a thorn up their ass about piracy, and are so obsessed with ensuring not a single customer gets away with a single saved penny? Isn’t it so fucking amusing that the developers pleading poverty are the ones making the biggest, most sponsored, most protected videogames on the market?

At some point games have to make money.

If your games aren’t making money at any of the aforementioned points — sales, pre-orders, DLC, sponsorship deals — then I can only assume you’re fucking incompetent at business. How can you be making so much money without … without making any money? Hell, with manuals eradicated, box plastic reducing, and even safety information being printed inside game labels these days, even the cost of manufacturing physical packaging is cheaper than ever. Never have the savings been greater, the opportunities to rake in cash more abundant, and you’re still telling us that, at some point, your game needs to make money at the consumer‘s added expense?

Fuck you.

Your games are making money at so many points, and if you’re not making enough to justify your insane marketing budgets or bloated dev costs, that is your fault. It should not be our tab to pick up.

At some point games have to make money. That’s true. But it’s also true that you want to make far more money than you need to keep making games. Which is fine, actually. That’s cool. You keep doing that. But don’t hold an upturned hat out, like a hobo clown, and beg for our cash like a destitute little orphan. You’re not that. You don’t need as much cash as you’re bringing in — you want it.

Just have the balls to say so.

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10 Comments on Fueled by Mountain Dew

beema

On November 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm

One of the best editions of /RANT yet. I want to scream this article from the mountain tops.

jello

On November 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Oh, . This Halo app is indeed sanctioned by Microsoft?! O_o I thought it was a “We’re making fun of something here” joke, and not a “Oh, you can’t be serious!” joke… I was about to say something along this line and congratulate on your first /RANT I didn’t like. Glad I checked beforehand again. Or rather not glad, since it’s now a joke of the latter variety, which is just sad. this industry.

[I did wonder how they could use the Halo brand w/o problems, though.]

Loveless

On November 2, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Good article. I am biased though, you mentioned Yo Noid! My all time favorite platformer. I didn’t even have a Dominos Pizza in my town growing up but by god did I play the crap out if that game when I was a kid. I can still remember getting so frustrated playing that game trying to hit the enemies with that Damn Yo-Yo and constantly falling into pits trying for that perfectly timed jump. It might have been blatant advertising but it was at least well done. I fire my copy up from time to time and wonder how I was ever able to beat games like that as a kid.

Zach

On November 3, 2012 at 9:46 am

Five bucks says most of the money earned in this industry goes to a few guys at the top who are the “brains” of the operation. I know for sure it’s not going to the people working on the damn thing since the average paycheck in the games industry is around 30,000 a year.

VIvid8

On November 4, 2012 at 8:21 am

You sir, are a master. I’ve been on this rant for YEARS! I’m almost at tears knowing I’m not the only person enraged by this! And I agree, I understand humanity is lost and greed is god, but don’t ing lie to my face and insult my intelligence. The used game market only hurts sales in the aspect of a few board members won’t get that new half million dollar luxury car or island they wanted. ’em. Other than a few franchises, I don’t buy anything new anymore. Games in general today suck, the bastardization of turning gaming into a pure profit ad system ruins the entire experience. Nothing kills my enjoyment of a game faster than having some needless ad shoved in my face after I’ve already paid for a product. It’s like paying for a demo… a demo is meant to entice you to buy the final product, hell no am I going to pay you just so I can see if you made a product that doesn’t suck so that I can pay you more. And marketing DOES ruin the product quality, why? “Sell the sizzle, not the steak..” That’s a true motto in the marketing world, the idea? Why make a good product that sells well when you can make a pet rock and market it till you brain wash enough people to buy it? Seriously, it’s not a joke, it’s the reality of the market. Why would companies spend more money making a good game when they can just advertise you to death instead? Excellent article. I hope, pray, that the majority of the gaming community someday (soon) realizes this situation and begin to rectify it.

Kevin

On November 4, 2012 at 6:07 pm

I remember when an increased price was a tradeoff for increased services, whether that was a product or government spending. What you got in return was worth the increased price.

Anyone think the 60 dollar games are better than games 10 years ago?

Dan Miller

On November 4, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Buy 50 shares of Microsoft stock – it pays roughly $1 per share a year as a dividend, so, voila, you just earned your Live membership back! Had you bought 50 shares a year ago, you would have also earned another $200 bucks on the stock price over that time, enough to pay for 3-4 new games (though that’s pretty bad portfolio diversity).

I’m not saying the profit whoring is “fine”. I hate paying for Xbox live every year. But there ARE ways to align yourself with Microsoft’s interests. You just have to kill your padawan mentor…. err I mean go to the dark side… errr wait I meant buy some stock.

Ross

On November 5, 2012 at 8:49 am

Great article – go ahead and add “stone-walling modders” to the list of dev crimes in the names of “at some point games have to make money”.

Jarin

On November 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Is /Rant always just a transcript of the Jimquisition?

Kami

On November 7, 2012 at 2:56 am

I saw much the same on the Jimquisition, no?

But thing is, Halo 4 WILL be profitable on its first day. This is a huge game release, and looking at Halo 3, we heard reports from experts and analysts that it cost $60 million to make (including its advertising budget). Not chump change, granted, but in the US alone it took a reported $170 million on its first day according to CNet.

Basic math suggests that’s $110 million. I can assume that Halo 4 will have cost a bit more, but will also make more than that. The numbers will speak for themselves, I am sure of that. And I am sure Halo 4 has already made a profit. Kind of hard not to with all the regional companies desperate to pay Microsoft to cling to the coat-tails of Halo 4.

It’s the dishonesty, pleading poverty whilst you climb into a Rolls Royce Phantom filled with a selection of gorgeous half-naked Showgirls wearing outfits made out off hundred-dollar bills.

No-one likes a hypocrite.