You Can’t Escape

While engaged in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) over at Reddit, to promote our Akaneiro Kickstarter, I was asked about my experience working with UK-based Shy the Sun on the trailers for “Alice: Madness Returns”. You can see a compilation of the three trailers in question via YouTube. My Reddit post follows:

They are fantastic in terms of creativity and capability. If you check out the trailers they did for A:MR, all you can say is “Wow!” What was frustrating was how EA Marketing interfered – telling STS from the start that ALL creative direction and final say would come from them, not from us (the developer/creator of the story/tone). That resulted in trailers that were much darker and gorier than the game … and that was a calculated disconnect created by EA. They wanted to “trick” gamers into believing A:MR was a hard-core horror title, even though we refused to develop it in that tone. Their thinking is, even if the game isn’t a hard-core horror title, you can market it as one and trick those customers into buying it (while driving away more casual customers, like female gamers, who might be turned off by really dark trailers). It’s all a part of the race to the bottom EA, Activision and the other big pubs are engaged in. Expect to see it get worse before it gets better.

To my surprise, this ignited a firestorm of press coverage from the game media. It attracted a few pissed messages from EA. Some readers have even suggested this has killed any possibility of my ever being employed by a game publisher again.

Allow me to expand on my original post while at the same time making a correction (call it a retraction if you like). “Tricked” is the wrong word. I take that back. Apologies to EA and anyone else whose feelings were hurt. Electronic Arts doesn’t trick customers into buying things. They carefully apply proven marketing techniques to achieve the desired customer response. If they were bad at this sort of thing they’d have been crushed by their competitors long ago and you’d be playing Madden Football from Activision or Atari or something.

We live in a world full of marketing. Marketing tells us the “2013 Land Yacht” is more stylish, powerful and awesome than last year’s model. Or that a certain toothpaste is going to get us laid more often. That a wrist watch will finally force the world to understand just how adventurous and manly we are. Or that a game contains lots of blood and guts – even when the creators don’t think that’s the primary selling point. “Alice: Madness Returns” does contain a lot of the stuff you see in those trailers, but my concern was that the main character was being portrayed in a way I felt didn’t align with her character as I understand it.

Beyond that, there has always been and likely always will be tension between publishers and developers over stuff like this. Truth is, publishers are giving audiences what they want – again, if they weren’t they wouldn’t stay in business very long. Maybe I don’t agree with where gaming content seems to be going – but isn’t that the prerogative of aging creators? To complain that things are too loud, too bright or too fleshy?

At the end of the day, I’ve got (well, had) a good relationship with EA. They helped put my name on the map. They funded two of my favorite creations. And they helped me bring strikingly original content to a gaming world that often seems dominated by bullets and boobs. I can’t and don’t fully fault them or their marketing for whatever the “Alice” games might or might not have done sales-wise. As a developer, do I grumble into my beer about how it could have been different if only… ? Sure do! But I also recognize my own faults, and actions which are to blame for things not being 100%… or for inadvertently igniting firestorms.

Call this a mea culpa, an apology, a clarification or a cop-out if you like. My feelings around these topics are nuanced and complicated enough that I myself barely understand them most of the time.

The firestorm, for your reading enjoyment:

http://www.vg247.com/2013/01/21/american-mcgee-ea-tried-to-trick-gamers-into-believing-alice-madness-returns-was-a-horror-title/

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-01-21-american-mcgee-ea-tricked-alice-customers

http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/american-mcgee-says-ea-tried-to-trick-gamers-with-alice-the-madness-returns-marketing/0109592

http://gamingbolt.com/american-mcgee-marketing-of-alice-by-ea-showed-a-calculated-discount

http://www.gameplanet.co.nz/pc/news/1020691.20130122.EA-tried-to-trick-gamers-regarding-the-tone-of-Alice-American-McGee/

http://www.kotaku.com.au/2013/01/mcgee-ea-misrepresented-madness-returns/

http://www.examiner.com/article/dragon-age-3-publisher-tricked-gamers-says-mcgee

http://www.gamepolitics.com/2013/01/21/spicy-horse-founder-offers-tough-criticism-eas-marketing-over-alice-sequel#.UP3hZSdBCSo

http://www.cvgworld.com/2013/01/21/american-mcgee-ea-wanted-to-trick-gamers-with-alicemr-marketing/

http://www.explosion.com/18638/american-mcgee-claims-ea-tricked-alice-customers/

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/121620-American-McGee-Blasts-EA-Marketing

http://www.gameplanet.com.au/pc/news/1023412.20130122.EA-tried-to-trick-gamers-regarding-the-tone-of-Alice-American-McGee/

http://www.i4u.com/2013/01/customers-alice-ea-american-tricked-mcgee

http://ewallstreeter.com/american-mcgee-ea-quot-wanted-to-trick-gamers-quot-with-disingenuous-marketing-7378/

http://www.dealspwn.com/american-mcgee-ea-wanted-trick-gamers-disingenuous-marketing-127090

http://www.onlinewelten.com/games/alice-madness-returns/news/absichtliche-taeuschung-american-mcgee-kritisiert-werbekampagne-electronic-arts-118902/

http://www.gamesblog.it/post/89829/american-mcgee-critica-ea-per-i-condizionamenti-subiti-nello-sviluppo-di-alice-madness-returns

http://www.gram.pl/news/2013/01/21/american-mcgee-narzeka-na-wspolprace-z-ea-przy-produkcji-alice-madness-returns.shtml

http://blogocio.net/american-mcgee-arremete-contra-ea-por-publicidad-enganosa-en-alice-madness-returns-no-62142/

http://www.eurogamer.pt/articles/2013-01-21-ea-tentou-enganar-os-consumidores-com-alice-madness-returns

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Comments (24)

 

  1. [...] Alice: Madness Returns dev American McGee has apologised for comments he posted on Reddit. McGee said: They wanted to “trick” gamers into believing A:MR was a hard-core horror title, even though we refused to develop it in that tone.” Now, McGee has apologised in a blog post: [...]

  2. [...] on McGee’s blog, the developer has addressed the media shitstorm that followed his [...]

  3. [...] has moved to clarify his statement and amend his previous criticism.Addressing the issue on his blog, McGee responded to "a firestorm of press coverage" following his initial statement and retracted [...]

  4. [...] post completo está no blog de McGee, em [...]

  5. [...] McGeee publicó una disculpa en su  blog, tras sus declaraciones en Reddit de que EA “engañó” al público al pensar que el juego [...]

  6. Hey American, the time to complain about how your game is handled is the moment it’s being handled. Otherwise you look like an attention-seeking so-and-so.

    GG, McGee.

  7. [...] Earlier this week, game designer American McGee had some negative things to say about EA's marketing techniques during an AMA on Reddit. He seemed frustrated by EA's apparent attempts to "trick" gamers into buying a hardcore horror game…something Alice: Madness Returns is not. Later, he posted an apology on his official blog. [...]

  8. [...] Earlier this week, game designer American McGee had some negative things to say about EA's marketing techniques during an AMA on Reddit. He seemed frustrated by EA's apparent attempts to "trick" gamers into buying a hardcore horror game…something Alice: Madness Returns is not. Later, he posted an apology on his official blog. [...]

  9. [...] Earlier this week, game designer American McGee had some negative things to say about EA’s marketing techniques during an AMA on Reddit. He seemed frustrated by EA’s apparent attempts to “trick” gamers into buying a hardcore horror game…something Alice: Madness Returns is not. Later, he posted an apology on his official blog. [...]

  10. verizonwireless says:

    after having no desire to patch the bug riddled madness returns or even offer some dlcs etc or any kind of support once the game was set free, i think it’s pretty sad that anyone should apologize about anything in regards to EA.
    they really couldn’t give a crap.
    i really wish a more competent company could acquire the rights to alice somehow

  11. [...] the full blog here. GameZoneAmerican McGee apologizes for EA 'trick' commentJoystiqAlice and Alice: Madness [...]

  12. [...] he posted the following on his official blog: “Allow me to expand on my original post while at the same time making a correction (call it [...]

  13. [...] Earlier this week, game designer American McGee had some negative things to say about EA's marketing techniques during an AMA on Reddit. He seemed frustrated by EA's apparent attempts to "trick" gamers into buying a hardcore horror game…something Alice: Madness Returns is not. Later, he posted an apology on his official blog. [...]

  14. [...] Earlier this week, diversion engineer American McGee had some negative things to contend about EA’s selling techniques during an AMA on Reddit. He seemed undone by EA’s apparent attempts to “trick” gamers into shopping a hardcore fear game…something Alice: Madness Returns is not. Later, he posted an reparation on his official blog. [...]

  15. [...] Earlier this week, diversion engineer American McGee had some negative things to contend about EA’s selling techniques during an AMA on Reddit. He seemed undone by EA’s apparent attempts to “trick” gamers into shopping a hardcore fear game…something Alice: Madness Returns is not. Later, he posted an reparation on his official blog. [...]

  16. [...] Dass die Trailer allerdings zu düster waren. Daran hält McGee fest. [...]

  17. [...] the official blog, McGee states, “To my surprise this ignited a firestorm of press coverage from the game [...]

  18. [...] 2 Ban hammer includes players who have spent over $200 DiveKick coming to PS3, Vita and PC American Mcgee apologises for upsetting EA PS VIta is Japan’s most desired console Buy God of War Ascension and get early access to The Last [...]

  19. [...] with her and the material that comes with her. So I do hope someday – you know, if I can stop pissing EA off in the press – that I could work with them again to make another [...]

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