Top 5 Video Game Marketing Blunders of All Time and Their Takeaways

January 2, 2023


Game marketing is essential to the gaming industry. It would be difficult for developers to sell their products without it, but not all marketing strategies are successful. Some go horribly wrong.

The following 5 video game marketing blunders are so severe that they’re affecting reputations to this day. But with every disaster comes a lesson. Current game development studios should learn from these mistakes to avoid future controversy and potential financial shortfalls.


1. No Man’s Sky’s False Promises

To Hello Games’ credit, they were able to keep most of their promises eventually, but that wasn’t the case when the game launched. Sean Murry, the managing director of Hello Games, wasn’t media trained and a bit anxious, but he still did interviews on behalf of the team anyway.

Due to the team’s limited budget, they didn’t have much choice. Sony, catching wind of the game, provided funding for the team but allegedly said they’d take it away if the game didn’t make its release date. This was a big reason why the studio released No Man’s Sky unfinished.

No Man’s Sky was a buggy mess that didn’t play as advertised. What resulted was a slew of angry fans, and not just because of the false promises. The game barely worked at launch.


What to Learn From The No Man’s Sky Blunder

While it’s easy to say that the lesson is “be truthful about your games,” a lack of honesty wasn’t the main culprit here. Murry did overpromise, and there was no chance No Man’s Sky was going to live up to the hype, but losing funding from Sony could have made the studio close down.

So yes, be honest with what you’re advertising, hire a media personality to handle PR, and accurately estimate how long development will take. With that said, it’s hard to hate Murry. He did right by his people and continues to update the game, which can’t be said for most studios.


2. CryptoZoo Isn’t a Game at All

The evolution of mobile game monetization is an interesting topic to follow, especially in the game marketing sphere. People flock to Web3 mobile games because they produce a passive income source. While there are many legitimate games out there, CryptoZoo isn’t one of them.

Logan Paul’s NFT game allows players to purchase eggs using in-game currency. These eggs hatch into animals you can breed into rarer hybrids, which generate more coins. Or, that’s how the game would operate if it worked. While this story is still ongoing, it doesn’t look like CryptoZoo will live up to its promises, as developers aren’t currently working on the project.


What to Learn From The CryptoZoo Blunder

Second chances don’t come around often, but Logan Paul got one and immediately squandered it. It’s unclear whether Logan Paul made any money off this venture, but even if he did, his reputation took a massive hit. And when that’s gone, it’s nearly impossible to get it back.

Investors are now left with a game that doesn’t work and coins that are valueless. Influencers should value long-term profits over short-term gains, or it could cost them their livelihoods.


3. The Wii U is Just a Wii Add-On


There have been many failed console launches in video game history. The Virtual Boy, N-Gage, and PS3 are a few examples, but it was often the price that kept consumers away. With the Wii U, the issue was the name. There are still people who think the Wii U console is a Wii add-on.

While this marketing blunder did affect casual players, it didn’t fool long-time adopters or kids who want to learn more about the game. The Wii U didn’t just fail because of the name; it failed because it wasn’t as powerful as other high-end consoles and competed with the mobile gaming market. The Wii U tablet controller was out of date and expensive compared to smartphones.


What to Learn From The Wii U Blunder

Maybe changing the name would help, but a different game marketing strategy would have been more effective. Blaming it on the name sounds like a scapegoat when you compare the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance. The Game Boy Advance still sold well despite the name.

It’s easy to blame a marketing blunder on the consumer, but if the consumer doesn’t understand your product, why they need it, or what makes it different or unique, they won’t care about it.


4. PSP White Model and Racism

Sony has run its fair share of unsavory marketing campaigns. One of these included a sexist PS VITA ad of a 4-breasted woman with the tagline “Touch Both Sides For Added Enjoyment.” That was released several years after their most shocking advertisement, the “PSP White Model.”

The billboard pictured a White woman gripping a Black woman’s chin. The White woman is looking down on the Black woman angrily as she looks afraid. It is hard to imagine what they were thinking when they pitched this ad, as it can’t be described as anything but racist.

This billboard was meant to advertise the new white PSP. While the new color is nice, marketing it in such a way is unacceptable. Fortunately, the ad was pulled shortly after its release.


What to Learn From PSP White Model Blunder

This game marketing blunder is obvious, but this begs the question as to why it was approved. If we gave Sony the benefit of the doubt and said they didn’t know this ad was racist, then they don’t have a team that could tell them otherwise. All teams should have equality consultants.

For example, a racial equity consultant can help clients advance racial equality in the workplace and assess whether an advertisement, work policy, or specific behavior is hurtful or racist.


5. Splinter Cell: Conviction Role Play

To prepare for the upcoming Splinter Cell: Conviction release, UbiSoft decided to dress actors up like the bad guys from the game and walk around New Zealand. These actors wore full tactical gear and carried guns (that had orange tips, but who would take the time to look?).

What happens next is exactly what you’d expect. When the actors were in a New Zealand store, panic ensued, and 911 was diel. Police rushed to the scene, thinking the actors were terrorists. According to reports, police almost opened fire on the actors while they were trying to explain.


What to Learn From The Role Play Blunder

Guerilla game marketing tactics aren’t always a bad idea, but UbiSoft is lucky their actors didn’t get shot. UbiSoft likely pulled this stunt to attract negative press in the first place, so they got what they wanted. All press is good press for some companies, but this ad was short-sighted.

Businesses should read the cultural climate before putting their employees in unnecessary danger. At the very least, they should inform non-actors before recording any footage.


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