Recently, there was something shown in America that was embarrassing, by embarrassing I mean it was so cringe worthy that even the most botoxed face would have wrinkled and furrowed it’s brows in disgust. Of course I’m referring to this:

It’s easy to fall under the belief that advertising and games was a recent vile tryst but in-game advertising has been around since the early days in one form or another. These days in-game advertising is usually an unsubtle billboard in a cityscape or a Mercedes driving around in Forza 4.

A few years ago people were up in arms over the remake of Bionic Commando, partially because of the quality of the game, but also because in a post apocalyptic world all that seems to have survived a nuclear blast in a city is the Pepsi vending machines.

Relatively clever uses of billboards in games have been tried out. Skate 2 and Skate 3 both had massive posters littered around the cities but rather than letting the advertising go out of date within weeks of the games release, EA had the billboards change every couple of weeks for newer products like the release of a new Harry Potter film.

Back in the “retro-days” in-game advertising was a much more interesting affair with whole game being produced for a single product, I’ve taken a look at some of the more interesting examples;

Zool – Chupa Chup

Zool was a game that I grew up with, released on pretty much everything going at the time this was an excellent platformer. The game itself had a story that is pretty common and used a lot in gaming these days. A gremlin ninja crashes his spaceship on a hostile planet of sweets, toys and DIY kit and needs to fight to get back home to his family in the Nth Dimension, pretty run of the mill as you can see.

The game had a lot of aspects that appeared in many platform games that proceeded it. The use of a wall jump is synonymous with the Mega-Man series at this stage. The use of puzzles in a platform game hadn’t been used to this degree before either, or at the very least not this quality. And to me even little things like having collectibles hidden behind destructible walls was a novelty and joy. I’m not saying any of these elements in future games were inspired by Zool, but it’s good to see the elements done well so early in gaming history.

The reason I bring up this game is to illustrate a game which had sponsorship from a multinational company but used the license within the games world. Chupa Chup the lollipop maker has their logo all over this game, but the fact that the first in-game world is filled with evil sweets and the platforms are jelly and cake it oddly fits. There were elements which you realise were slightly foul in retrospect, like all the enemies are sweets of every kind except lollipop. Or that the logo does appear on the main game title screen. The simple point of it though is that without the Chupa Chup license this is an excellent game, and even with it, the logo’s don’t detract from gaming and at no point feel “slimey”.

Global Gladiators – McDonald’s

If anyone was going to get in on the computer game advertising fad it was no surprise that Maccy D’s rocked up to the plate to give it a go.

Their game Treasureland was a run of the mill platformer with you playing as the evergreen source of creepiness, Ronald McDonald. I’ve played this game and quite simply it’s not worth giving the time of day. However there was another game released by the “Golden Arches” on the Megadrive which is worth a mention.

Released and Developed by Virgin Games in 1992, Global Gladiators is a platformer that is confusing from start to end. Not really because of it’s game play or plot, but more because it’s unclear what motivations McDonald’s had for it being produced.

The game centres around Mick and Mack, two kids who look like they invented the 90’s with their clothing. Basically this game is an anti waste dumping game, the whole premise is based around the two protagonists taking out radio-active waste and toxic spills that have corrupted lands. To escape and save the four worlds they have to collect various “Golden Arches” which clean up the land, I have no idea how the arches clean the lands, I can’t begin to comprehend, but apparently it does so just leave it at that, lets just say magic for now.

To say this is advertising somehow feels wrong, much like the game. It seems closer to propaganda at this stage, but as I said before, I’m not sure what the end game was for McDonald’s here. Now this is not me proposing any form of conspiracy, but a company which has been accused of many atrocities (or minor naughtiness anyway) to go against waste dumping, something it’s never been accused of to my knowledge, just seems weird. And all in all that pretty much sums up this game, potentially good but confusing and weird.

Weetabix Vs The Titchies

I wasn’t alive in the early 1980’s despite my look and cynicism I am but 25. However whilst talking about games with my elder brother Dan, he mentioned off handedly that there was a Weetabix game. This alone intrigued me, but then he went on to tell me that in the 80’s Weetabix’s mascots were skinheads. I took what he said with a pinch of salt but whilst getting hold of a copy of the Weetabix game I saw that he was disturbingly accurate;

So other than using what can only be described as dubious mascots, Weetabix also released a game. This game was given away free with boxes of the dry cereal. The game for the BBC Micro was a clone of Space Invaders, but somehow a clone that had an original idea. You play as one of the aforementioned skins; some aliens, or maybe Titchies (it’s not explained what one of those is), come and try to poop on you or shoot you in the head depending on what they are. The interesting direction this goes in is that rather than just spray firing like in all other Space Invader games, in this one you have to pick up missiles and whip them at the enemy, a tactic used in Sylvester Stallone’s film The Expendables, though Sly probably wasn’t inspired by Weetabix.

One missile one shot, it’s a new way to encourage the player to move around and be forced to dodge oncoming fire in what is and was a simple premise. Obviously not many people are going to see a Weetabix game as a source for praise, but I think that for a game that was released for free to kids and other than the title barely mentions the product, we should commend this for doing game based advertising right.

Personally, I don’t feel like in-game advertising has ever had an effect on me. I have had the brand awareness put into my head (as the past few hundred words have shown) but at no point have I chose Pizza Hut over Dominos because Pizza Hut appeared in a mid 90’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles platformer.

To see how in-game advertising started in the early days with subtlety or just flat out brass balls, it’s a shame to see how badly it’s done today. There seems to be one extreme or another, either it’s just plastered into the game without consideration for location or style of game, or it’s a dirty secret that has to be put across to the gamer subliminally. I appreciate I make today’s style of advertising sound like that of the early 90’s, but somehow, to me, there was just more finesse and style with their dirty, money grabbing, sell out hands back then.

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Ruaidhri

Big-Boss of PixelBedlam.co.uk
Ruaidhri has been writing for a number of sites over the past few years, spewing his vitriol and love in equal measures on all topics from Video Games to Film and Board Games to Geek Culture. He started PixelBedlam in September of 2012. Follow him on Twitter!

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