R P G A M E R . C O M   -   E D I T O R I A L S

Gaming Taboos: Why they perpetuate?

Philip Bloom

Boobies. Porn. Blow stuff up, then blow stuff up some more. Maybe toss in a bit of rape. Then toss it on a game. Gonna sell, right? It'll be a big hit even! But no, that's terrible, isn't it? It's absolutely horrible! They're selling these to kids? Heck, it's not even a good game. We have to tell everyone not to buy it. We have to ruin these people! We have to stand up and be counted that we find this unacceptable!

There's a saying in marketing that adding sex or violence to a product results in it selling better. That good or bad, you can make a game that has more appeal by adding a underdressed bit of female eye-candy. And if that doesn't work, add some blood, some gore, some explosions. Everyone likes those, right? Then bring in the heavy metal band and it'll sell like hotcakes. Now, sensibly, this sort of thing sounds pretty stupid to the average intelligent citizen hearing it. We're not that stupid. It's the other people. They actually like it! Horrific!

Marketing people, surprise surprise, aren't really that stupid either. What they do, for the large part, is study trends to figure out what works. Yeah, on occasion one of them will get up and say "I have an entirely new way of doing things that's going to blow open doors to entirely new markets", but usually, they just figure out what works and go with it. They're usually kind of good at that and it tends to make the business paying them a good deal of money, so the businesses listen to them. So why do a fair number rely on taboo? Simply put, it sells. It sells consistently.

But that's nothing new. Heck, everyone knows that. They've been told it since they were kids. "Sex sells!" "Violence sells!" Why does it though? Is it something inherent? Well, a bit, but they're all meshed around the same important attribute: they get attention. In the modern society, there are few currencies as valuable as attention. Marketing, for the most case, consists of two parts. The first is getting the attention of the customer. The second is taking the customer in and closing the sale. Sure, a few moralists will indicate that there's more to it than that, but that's splitting hairs. It really comes down to those two things, whether you are talking about a lemonade stand run by a couple of ragtag kids along their local neighborhood street or a Capcom executive sitting in the fortieth floor of their corporate headquarters working out how they are going to move the next few million copies of their games. Both of these things can be pretty hard to manage.

What jabbing at taboos does is gather attention. But wait, that's negative attention, you might say. Negative, positive; marketing people, for the most part, realize that it doesn't matter that much. Unless it goes up to the point where the product is being yanked off the walls (and even then!), it is all attention focused on the product. It's marketing. Better yet, it's free marketing. It's free marketing for a relatively low cost product! Who wouldn't want that? Unless you totally botch your product, the more people who know your product exists, the more potential customers you have. Sure, a few will be alienated by whatever taboo you're messing with, but most of those would've never seen your product anyways, so no big loss. Others will hear about it and buy it just to see what the fuss is about. Games are cheap after all. What's forty bucks? A few hours of wages to see what all the noise is about? Why not? Maybe it'll be neat. Even if it's as bad as they say, hey, just a bit of out of pocket spending. Some go to see it so they can protest. After all, it's easier to write searing letters, or better yet loud articles on how the game is ruining our children if you've bought a copy of the product. Lots of attention. Lots and lots of saved marketing money, especially when it's a low budget game that's pulling this and thus can ensure getting more notice than any amount of marketing they could afford would merit. It solves the first problem of marketing and sometimes goes as far as the second. People suddenly know you EXIST!

Yes, what I'm saying is that the reason these things sell is that we choose to give them attention as a reward for pulling these antics. We write letters to them. We write letters in magazines. We write on boards and on sites. We hear about it and go to see their pictures over a dozen or so other games that may or may not be better. We have discussions in chats, bringing it up before twenty-thirty new people who may or may not have ever have heard of the game otherwise. We do marketing for them. We go out and get the word out that their game exists in a manner wholly expected by their marketing people. Now, I could've tossed out a few examples here to justify my point. To show the very trends that marketing people follow in making that decision. Without them, the whole thing may seem a bit weak, a bit paranoid. I'm not going to trot them out, but not because I don't have them.

As I said, the problem is that we give these games undue attention. We need to stop doing so and thus stop giving encouragement for marketing people who are merely doing what they're hired to do to see that 'hey, adding taboo X to our game will increase sales'. So, in this article, I'm mentioning no names, giving no reward payoff to the games that are towing the taboo lines for the sake of gathering attention to themselves. The editorials title this week is a play on this. How many of you read the column because of the odd name that wouldn't have otherwise? Take a moment next time and realize that it isn't just the folks speaking positively that is why they do it. For a large part, the folks speaking negatively need to be aware that they're helping these guys out just as much.

© 1998-2017 RPGamer All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy