Perfect Dark, a first-person, spy-based shooting video game, was scheduled to be released by Nintendo in May, 2000. The follow-up to GoldenEye, another first-person shooter rated “T” (for teens 13 and older), Perfect Dark was rated “M” for Mature Audiences, meaning only teens 17 and up could purchase this title.
Our mission: To convey Nintendo’s “responsible” marketing campaign behind its first M-rated game while preserving the company’s reputation as a family-friendly game creator. Two formidable challenges stood in our path: One, external, the other within our own ranks. The outside challenge was the U.S. Government, which had begun cracking down on violent video games since the Columbine disaster. To compound this challenge, Perfect Dark was being released near the one-year anniversary of Columbine, so there was renewed media scrutiny of violent games. Finally, we faced the internal challenger: Rare, one of Nintendo’s top development teams that made Perfect Dark and GoldenEye. While a world-class creator of video games, Rare also had developed its own intrigue as a media recluse, refusing countless interview requests as they toiled stealthily within their compound’s walls in the English countryside.
While most of our editorial outreach mirrored Nintendo’s advertising/marketing campaign – targeted to men’s, GenX, college and alternative media outlets – we sought to place the more challenging, strategic “responsible marketing” story in a major, mainstream national media print outlet such as USA Today, Time or Newsweek.
Before embarking on our responsible marketing mission, we surveyed the media landscape to determine the best scenario for our story. A story in a major, mainstream national newspaper or magazine was important, but the end article had to be positive or at worst, balanced. A negative Nintendo story surrounding its entry into the adult video game market could damage its reputation as a developer of children’s video games.
With these parameters set, we approached reporters who were knowledgeable enough about the video game industry to be able to put violent video games in their proper perspective: A mere four per cent of total video game sales. After many weeks of persistent pitching, Newsweek and one of it’s top tech editors/writers, N’Gai Croal, expressed the most enthusiasm for the story.
To prepare N’Gai for his Perfect Dark mission, we provided him with the following:
- Distributed game information and marketing campaign elements to him
- Coordinated a visit to Nintendo of America to preview Perfect Dark a full month prior to launch
- Unlimited access to Nintendo game experts to facilitate knowledge of Perfect Dark and its unique features, e.g., artificial intelligence, “simulants,” etc.
- Extensive interviews with Nintendo marketing and technical executives to gain insight into both the strategy behind the game and the m-rated marketing program
The final and essential element – interviews with Rare executives – proved to be the greatest challenge. Not only were final Perfect Dark game details being completed at this time but Rare was also preparing their other key titles for the video game industry’s major trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), in May (just a week before Perfect Dark’s release). In the end, NOA and G/H convinced Rare to conduct an exclusive interview during E3.
Mission accomplished! On Monday, June 5, a two-page lead feature story appeared in the Science and Technology section of Newsweek Monday, June 5 (the issue date was June 12).
This story exceeded both Golin/Harris’ and Nintendo’s expectations. Not only was the responsible marketing message clearly delivered in the article but Nintendo’s “family-friendly” focus was also prominently presented through mention of other key E-rated (for everyone - people six years old and above) Rare titles, such as Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. In this “win win” article, Nintendo managed to receive kudos not only for the M-rated Perfect Dark but also a number of E-rated titles, thus shifting attention to the quality of game development, Nintendo’s most important message, and meriting strong consideration for a media “home run.” This positive story on Nintendo’s responsible M-rated marketing of this title was especially noteworthy and critical at a time when video game companies were under increasing fire from the government for violent content.
In addition, this story generated Nintendo responsible marketing features in other national outlets, such as MSNBC News with Brian Williams and Associated Press (the latter resulting in more than 50 stories in newspapers around the country).
Other highlights of the story in the Newsweek include:
- The headline: “The Art of Darkness” was a nice play off of Conrad’s famous novel, “The Heart of Darkness,” and set the tone for a citing new, darker, “racier” Nintendo direction in game development
- A nice client quote from Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo of America’s marketing director, as to the reason Nintendo entered the growing M-rated market: “Given Nintendo’s ability to create such wonderful pieces of work, we think we can do the same for younger kids and for adults.”
- The quality of this title, reflecting Nintendo’s reputation for creating the best games in the business: “And, as far as videogames go, Perfect Dark is in a league of its own. The countless little details … showcase an appetite for perfection that’s almost unmatched in the game industry.”
- Establishing the character’s persona and the sales success of Perfect Dark: “Rare describes her as ‘beautiful, intelligent and lethal.’ She may not have Lara Croft’s figure, but with 250,000 copies sold in its first week, who’s complaining?”
- Rare quote emphasizing the strong relationship this second-party game company has with Nintendo: “It’s about associating with a partner that who understands that it’s all about quality, Chris Stamper (Rare co-founder) says, “We’re a games company, and that’s what we love to do.”