Tune into the Super Bowl on Sunday and you’re likely to see an ad promoting Electronic Arts’ “Dante’s Inferno,” an M-rated game that releases next week for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable.
Sunday’s spot comes on the heels of two-and-a-half-minute ad promoting EA’s “Mass Effect 2” that aired during the NFC Championship game. With that title already having hit 2 million units sold, you can bet the publisher is hoping to achieve similar results for its “God of War”-style action title inspired by “The Divine Comedy.”
But before the ad has even aired, it’s already generating controversy, sorta.
A minor hubbub broke out earlier this week when it got out that CBS had rejected the original “Dante’s Inferno” ad, which concluded with the tagline, “Go to Hell.” EA quickly resubmitted, with the offending phrase changed to “Hell Awaits.”
I’m calling shenanigans. EA had to have at least suspected its promo, which is airing during the same program as an anti-abortion ad starring Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and his mom, wouldn’t go over well with CBS and its legion of decency. In fact, the entire publicity campaign for “Dante’s Inferno” seems to have been centered around calculated, mild shocks, placed at semi-regular intervals.
In June, EA stirred up its own fake controversy by hiring actors to pretend to be religious conservatives picketing outside of the E3 video game expo in Los Angeles. After folks saw through the fairly transparent charade, a few actual religious people softly chided EA. Then, at July’s Comic-Con in San Diego, a promotion in which gamers could “commit an act of lust” with a “booth babe” drew fire for its prostitution-inspired overtones, leading to the cancellation of the stunt.
Color me suspicious. All three of these mild outrages came amid what was otherwise a fairly clever media campaign.
I’m willing to bet that in this post-Hot Coffee world, in which “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” was recalled for a hidden sex scene before becoming one of the biggest selling games of all time, we’re going to be seeing a lot more manufactured outrage.
So long as game publishers don’t go as far as “GTA” developer Rockstar Games and end up having to defend themselves from lawsuits, there’s a lot of money to be made in courting controversy. Late last year, the “No Russian” scene in Activision’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” drew TV and newspaper coverage because it let players take part in a terrorist attack, but the game ended up having the biggest launch in history, anyway. If the “No Russian” controversy had an effect on sales, it’s hard to argue it was a negative one.