GMC Session: How (Not) To Market Video Games In A Hostile Environment

Presentation by John Geoghegan, Executive Director, The SILOE Research Institute (Former VP, Global Sales & Marketing, LucasArts)

It’s a very hostile environment out there. The Utah state legislature recently passed a bill by a landslide vote lumping violent games with pornography. Do you feel like a porn merchant? I don’t.

California, Michigan, Wisconsin, DC, Iowa, and Kansas have all passed or are considering laws like the one in Utah. These laws are unconstitutional, but that’s a technicality, people. We’re not making friends. I haven’t seen this much animosity since big tobacco told congress that cigarettes are not addictive.

It’s time for us to wake up people. We are in deep doo-doo. At the state and federal level, we’re in trouble. Hillary Clinton’s pushing her Family Entertainment Protection Act. Everyone knows hillary is a liberal, but conservatives can’t stand her, so she’s appealing to centrists with the family values issue. Republican moderates and soccer moms can relate to the violent games issue. It’s a safe and smart bet for her as a politician. It worked for tipper gore with the whole rap lyrics controversy.

We’re marketing games to a hostile environment. We have a bad reputation. We’re getting banned, fined, and pulled off the shelves. They’re crushing our product. Some of you think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. This is the perfect storm of circumstances, and we’re sailing right into it.

How not to market in a hostile environment? Basically, don’t do everything we’re doing right now. To be clear, I’m not complaining about the ESA. They’re probably still mad at me about the whole booth babe thing. For the record, I think the ESA is part of the solution, not part of the problem. But it can’t stop with the ESA.

We love video games, right? So why shouldn’t everybody else? Right now, we’re in a defensive crouch, and our critics are playing rope-a-dope with us. The best defense is a strong offense. I propose a 12-step self-esteem recovery program for the video game industry. It’s time we held our heads up high, brothers and sisters. We have nothing to be ashamed of. Games are incredibly fun, creative, and artistic. We should be evangelizing!

  1. We need to promote our perfectly good rating system, put in place by the ESRB. Let’s promote the hell out of it and make sure everyone knows about it. It worked for movies and TV, it can work for us!
  2. Evangelize the benefits of video games. Read Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson. Johnson says games help kids compete more effectively, and makes them more intelligent. Games require many hours of sustained concentration and problem solving. In a world where more and more kids are on ritalin and can’t concentrate, this is a major accomplishment!
  3. We need to do more quantitative research with leading universities to prove the positive impact of video games, and to quantify the negatives. We need to do research with the Harvards and MITs and the UCLAs or whatever, and we need to share the good and bad news. When we quantify the negatives, it will help us dispense with most of the negative mythologies out there.
  4. We need to make it clear that new media is NEVER embraced at the start. It was true for movies, radio, pulp magazines, comics; for every new music wave, INCLUDING Mozart, there was controversy.
  5. We need to preach moderation and promote good parenting. Parents should be moderating their kids interaction with ALL forms of media — text messenging, internet, movies, etc. We need to get parents off our backs and onto their kids backs.
  6. We need to benchmark against sex and violence in prime network TV and movies. The corpses, blood, sex, and nudity in popular media totally outshadow what you find in games! We’re not as far on the cutting edge as many people like to say.
  7. Embrace the constitution. We have a right to make and market our product in an unregulated manner — or at least, not the manner some states are suggesting.
  8. We need to lobby. Let’s make political donations, and play the game that everyone else plays. We’re either not paying enough or we’re not getting the results we deserve, because i’m not seeing it.
  9. We need to harness our best spokespeople. People like and trust celebrities like Spielberg — let’s get people like him saying why they like and want to work on video games.
  10. We need to demonstrate our most creative games. We’re more than just GTA. We need to show people that it’s not all about guns and boobs. Games like Katamari, DDR, Guitar Hero, etc. Not a gun or a boob in sight in Guitar Hero!
  11. Put the problem in statistical perspective. “M” rated games are a minority of our product.
  12. Be proud! You’re marketing people — so show more pride. Don’t be ashamed to say you like video games; just say WHY you like video games. The depth of talent and degree of committment and the hard work going into games is incredible. You have every right to be proud, so BE proud!

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