When EA first began winding up the gears on the Medal of Honor Warfighter PR machine, the company wanted to highlight the game’s realism. That’s nothing new for the first-person shooter genre, and especially not the military-focused subgenre, but EA took it a step further than most publishers had at any point previous. If you were to visit the official site for Medal of Honor Warfighter at the time of the game’s October 23 release you would have noticed that alongside the standard lists of game features and screeenshots, EA had included links to the websites of the real world companies who manufacture the weapons found in the game. Ostensibly the idea was that players would enjoy shooting virtual insurgents with a given weapon so much that they’d be unable to resist the temptation to rush out and buy a .50cal anti-material rifle of their own.
That’s a pretty ballsy marketing scheme, no matter how you look at it, but in the wake of the tragedy that befall Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, it becomes undeniably macabre. While EA didn’t immediately realize how this marketing effort would look in that light, the Internet masses (specifically the fine people over at The Gameological Society) called the company out, and EA was quick to claim that it had effectively forgotten about the links — no surprise given the financial and critical failure of Warfighter — but then removed them post-haste. Now a visit to the Warfighter site will only include overt advertising links to Zero Dark Thirty, a film based on the events of the SEAL raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound that resulted in the death of the terrorist leader. An in-game map pack based on the film may be a baffling promotional tie-in, but it’s certainly less chilling than efforts to boost sales of military weaponry via a game that is arguably more popular among teenagers than it is discerning adults.
Despite EA’s efforts to strike its ill-advised marketing efforts from historical record, the Internet never forgets and those who look hard enough will still find remnants of the campaign. As the New York Times points out, part of this effort included EA filming a promotional video with arms designer/manufacturer Magpul which is still readily available on YouTube. The video, which clocks in at just a bit over three minutes, is mostly a behind-the-scenes look at a promotional photoshoot for Medal of Honor Warfighter, but it’s quite apparent from the lingering shots focused on assault rifles and their accessories that the footage (and resulting promotional photos) could quite accurately be described as “gun porn.”
In reaction to all of this the Times published an article this morning highlighting the until-recently growing trend of games being cross promoted alongside the real-world incarnations of the weapons they feature. The piece cites games like Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 as well as EA’s Battlefield 3 as two examples, before stating that neither publisher received any monetary compensation from weapons manufacturers for including their guns within these games. Instead, it seems, the gun manufacturers are perfectly happy to license their guns’ likenesses to gaming companies purely for the exposure it provides. The article is quite illuminating, and a great read for anyone intrigued by how these efforts might change in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting — or, more worryingly, why these efforts might not change at all in the long run. As the gaming publishers point out, these companies view such efforts as no different than their titles which use other real-world people and items, such as the cars found in EA’s Need for Speed titles, or the NFL players seen in EA’s ubiquitous Madden football franchise. Only time will tell if the recent tragedy might inspire true change in EA’s advertising plans.