Perhaps my friend Dan Golding, over at Crikey, put it best: "The sophistication of Assassin’s Creed III’s “do free advertising for us and we’ll give you more advertising” online campaign is amazing.”
He’s right, it’s truly amazing. In fact… it’s sublime.
In case you missed it — yesterday Ubisoft gave gamers all an important task. It was our responsibility, as fans of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, to spread the word about the Assassin’s Creed 3. Our reward? Access to an all-new gameplay trailer — another piece of marketing which, presumably, we will also be encouraged to share.
“Join in the united effort to reach 1,776,000 posts, tweets and shares to unlock the Assassin’s Creed III World Gameplay Premiere!” announced the webpage. Just 24 hours later the progress par shows the united effort is almost half way there.
And guess what! Well done — pat on the back — we're now well on our way to having another piece of marketing beamed directly to our eyeballs. If we’re lucky, we might even get a chance to see the super cool pre-order bonuses!
Honestly — why do we, as gamers, make it so easy?
Why are we so willing to become conduits for marketing? Why are we so quick to fall hook line and sinker for hype driven campaigns that promise us nothing but more products for us to purchase and consume?
Here is the situation: as a collective, our enthusiasm for a product is being manipulated and masterfully funneled in an attempt to inspire a similar enthusiasm in others; in people who couldn't care less about the new Assassin's Creed III trailer, people who'll behave like normal consumers: they'll either buy the game when it's released (if it interests them) or ignore it (if it doesn't).
We’ve seen everything over the last couple of years — countdowns for countdowns of announcements, gamification for early game unlocks, massive scrambles for pre-order bonuses. Ubisoft is hardly the only offender here — everybody’s at it, and why wouldn’t they be? An engaged audience is a paying audience, and targeted campaigns like the Assassin’s Creed III campaign are like a strange alchemy — they turn social media lead into gold. It's a bold new frontier and it's the job of smart marketing campaigns to embrace and exploit that audience.
It’s difficult to blame Ubisoft for picking the low hanging fruit that is the dedicated gaming consumer.
But I think the important question here is: ‘do we have to hang so low?’ At time of writing almost 1,000,000 gamers have been willing to bother their friends and family — to tweet, post and share essentially nothing, a bland marketing message, duller than dust — all for the alluring promise of yet another marketing message.
What does that say about us as a group?
It probably says that we are probably a little too invested in the video game brands we love. That we’re a little too far gone; that we love our games a little too much, that we’re knee deep in a collective hype. So deep, in fact, that we're willing to shunt that enthusiasm onto others for more of the same.
And I’m part of the problem. Actually, maybe I am the problem. So quick to post new trailers, because I know people want to watch. So quick to inform everyone of the awesome new Art Book you can get if you pre-order Call of Duty/Assassin’s Creed/Bioshock Infinite right now. So quick to get excited, so quick to share that excitement.
Perhaps I’m overreacting, but sometimes I wonder — is our behaviour as a collective that predictable? Are we the all-conquering 18-35 year old male? Eating Domino’s pizza, watching The Avengers at the cinema, guzzling on Mountain Dew in our oversized video game t-shirts, figurines on the shelf, branding inexplicably glued to every aspect of our lives.
I’d like to think we’re capable of more that. We’re older and more savvy. We’re more critical of what we consume and we should expect better — if we’re the low hanging fruit perhaps we should be a little more robust. Maybe we shouldn't allow our passion to be taken for granted.
There's nothing wrong with being excited about new trailers, and there's nothing wrong with being engaged with marketing material — but is it our job, as a group, to spread that advertising message so succinctly? Should we really be allowing our love for video games to be exploited so easily?
I say no. Video games are just another thing we do, something we happen to be engaged with, it shouldn't define us. And it shouldn't be used as marketing collateral.
Ubisoft, kindly present your no doubt well-put-together video for our consumption, sans all this protracted, manufactured nonsense. As consumers, we will then decide if we want to watch it. And if we like the material, we may even decide to share the video with other like minded people. That's how this marketing thing works or, at the very least, that's how it should work.
We are not billboards, and we shouldn't be treated as such.