Game Marketing is Getting Out of Hand

As gamers, we are often excited to see our favorite titles hitting the shelves. Many of us even scour the market for memorabilia, toys, and posters among other things to not only show our support, but to get our hands on cool merchandise.

Things may be getting out of hand, however, as the creation and sale of toys marketing violent games to children is on the rise. Specifically, the lines of construction toys that Mega Bloks has been releasing.

Recently, as the fall line of their Call of Duty sets were released, their new Assassin’s Creed line followed suit.  Games like the Halo series, Call of Duty and World of Warcraft have all been getting this kind of treatment, each receiving their own releases of detailed, in depth toys (as construction sets go) through Mega Bloks. This leaves a lot of today’s gamers caught saying “damn, where were these when I was younger?”

“For big IPs, smart brands are the best partners … [Assassin’s Creed] do a line with Mega Bloks together. On their side, it’s nice because toys are looking for the hype around video games. And we are looking for a new audience: kids, children, it’s more like that,” said Yannick Spagna, a brand manager at Ubisoft, on a panel at a recent Toronto conference.

Unlike the other sets pertaining to Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, for instance, the Assassin’s Creed line is the first that they wish to market to kids. The others are labelled specifically as “Collector Construction Sets.” That said, you can see any of these sets in the toy department of your local Walmart. The point is, one of the more violent of the concepts (a game based almost entirely around giving hidden blade fueled naps) is now being marketed towards children.

The topic of whether violent games actually effect the behavior of youth regarding things like aggression, irritability and violence has seen much debate. Many studies suggest that there are short-term effects on children’s behavior, but there are no real long-term effects. Although a topic for debate, depending on your standpoint, this can be considered a thorn in the side of Ubisoft’s marketing plan.

Later during the conference, Spagna attempted to clarify his previous quote by saying: “this quote is not about Assassin’s Creed the game. It’s about Assassin’s Creed the brand. It’s the same way you have The Lord of the Rings brand, the books, Shadow of Mordor, the LEGO. It’s a huge franchise, a brand, and within that you have different experiences that are tailored to specific audiences … If you think about it, we could even do an Assassin’s Creed game tailored for kids.”

The problem here, is that people who are aware of the source content and subject matter of both The Lord of the Rings and Assassin’s Creed understand that violence exists in both mediums, and even a LEGO (or similar) adaptation doesn’t necessarily fix the problem. What is scary, however, is that the people who are unaware of the subject matter may buy their kids these toys for the simple sake of the fact that it looks cool, or they asked for it as a gift.

Another thing that is concerning, is that this method of marketing a brand is a bit strange. Introducing these big names in mature-rated gaming to households through toys makes it that much easier to bypass the rating systems that are in place to warn parents as to what they may be exposing their kids to. According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s website, “the ESRB ratings were developed to serve as a guide to help consumers make informed decisions about which games might be appropriate for their children and family.” The ESRB ratings have been respected and easily adhered to since the 90’s and this is one of the first real instances where a company is (knowingly or unknowingly) subverting the system.

Even though the ESRB ratings specifically say that they are a guide, the law enforces the restrictions that are put in place around mature content. In Canada for instance, if you are not 17 or older, you can’t purchase any mature-rated games. Now, there are workarounds through both digital download (as age checks are easily lied to) and simple ignorance. For the parents that are unaware of the content of games nowadays, the marketing of toys like this Assassin’s Creed line give games just one more “in” to households.

The idea of selling or openly marketing Assassin’s Creed toys as a further attraction to their brand may end up turning most parents off too. Many young families today live in gaming-friendly households, which means that many people know where to draw the line in terms of buying games for their kids. Even those unfamiliar with the games may see holes in the point Spagna tried to make.

The point is, marketing products inspired by popular video games is, and has not been a bad idea. What may prove to be, however, is trying to market products based on titles that are so blatantly associated with violence. Whatever the increase in popularity or sales is seen thanks to the new Assassin’s Creed line of Mega Bloks toys, it is ultimately up to the parents to educate themselves on what they allow their kids to experience.