Greatest videogame ads of 2008

Love it or hate it, advertising is a huge part of the society and culture we live in. Though so many adverts seem to be little more than the malevolent machinations of corporate bigwigs trying to squeeze every last uninspired penny out of unwitting consumers, there are some real gems of genius and creativity out there that cut head and shoulders above the rest.

This article started out as a “Top 10 Ads of 2008” kind of piece. However, part way through writing it, I realized that there has been so much quality advertising over the past 12 months that even the decision of what to include, let alone what order it should go in, would be utterly arbitrary (not to mention unfair). As such, here is the list, in no particular order, of our favorite game advertisements from 2008 – and we’ll leave it up to you to decide which the best are.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

Plain a simply, this ad is just a big hunk of fun — which is good, because the last thing anybody wanted from Mercs 2 was another pseudo intellectual, Anglo-American deconstruction of modern warfare practices. Instead, we have in front of us a game with its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek. All elements of this advert go against the grain and undermine expectation. The song is unusually light hearted for the genre (not to mention infuriatingly catchy), furthermore the actual content of the ad captures the good-humored carnage of the game and the visual execution of it all is flawless.

What is also nice about this ad is that it uses pre-rendered CGI that is obviously beyond the capabilities of the game itself but that doesn’t actually seem to matter. The quality of the composition is such that it’s possible to appreciate what else the ad is trying to do – rather than just seeing it as a lie about what the end-product is will do.

Left 4 Dead

Valve have proved through Left 4 Dead that it not only knows how to make great games, but great advertising too. Like so much of Valve’s other work, this advert manages to be dark and sinister while also undeniably comical and refreshing. I defy anyone to read the tagline “It’s the zombie apocalypse. Bring friends.” and not feel just that teensiest bit of Shaun of the Dead excitement.

Valve spent the best part of $10 million advertising Left 4 Dead and building its brand, which arguably it needed. Any game that relies on multiplayer to the extent of Left 4 Dead needs a strong community and a powerful brand for said community to rally around.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09

From the famous advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy (who have been responsible for a great deal of EA’s best advertising in recent years), this advert is not just noteworthy for its wit or humor, nor its clever use of the game’s namesake, Tiger Woods. No, this advert really pushed the boat out through its use of the internet and social media. Originally stemming from a YouTube video that highlighted a glitch in a prior Tiger Woods game, the resulting real-world re-enactment from W+K spread through the viral video-sphere like wildfire.

Resistance 2

Resistance 2 had the odds stacked against it at launch. Surrounded by the likes of Gears of War 2, Far Cry 2, Fallout 3 and Mirror’s Edge, it was going to take some real magic for it to assert itself and stand up to each of these other quality titles. Sony’s answer to this challenge was one of the most unique, innovative and ground breaking advertising campaigns the medium has ever seen.

Not only was the scale of Fall of Man’s sequel well represented through giant, literally building sized advertisement in LA but the game also took brave steps across the line between the real and the fictional. A six page wrap-around advertisement in the Metro newspaper scared the life out of commuters in Dublin with a story of the invasion of America at the hands of the Chimera.

Fallout 3

If we’re going to discuss Resistance 2‘s real-world, retro adverts then we can’t leave out Fallout 3‘s either. However, where Resistance 2 went with the all out invasion of Earth, Fallout 3 barely even references the fact that what you’re watching is an ad for a videogame. The ads consist of retro style commercials for characters, items, locations and even gameplay mechanics found in all of Fallout 3, but they’re all based before the apocolypse occurs. Instead of focusing on the 1,000 pound gorilla in the room (the end of the world as we know it) the Fallout 3 ads create a deeper and richer history for the game itself.

The footage that was showed during E3 in particular showed this idea off best. For all the fans of the Fallout series, it also established that Bethesda wasn’t taking the franchise away from its retro/futuristic roots. Still, the true genius behind this campaign is the fact that the ads for a game that takes place after a nuclear holocaust are set before the death of the world ever occurs.

Mirror’s Edge

Earlier in the year, there was a lot of talk of how DICE had created a first-person free-running game that was vastly different from anything the Battlefield-developer — or anyone else for that matter — had done before. The select journalists who had been shown Mirror’s Edge behind closed doors did a good job of whetting everyone’s appetites for some tangible footage through the first previews, and when that footage arrived, we were glad EA and DICE had the balls to skip the pre-rendered designed-to-create-hype trailer in favor of introducing the parkour-inspired game to the public through 100% in-game, actual real-time gameplay footage, and nothing else.

Prince of Persia

It’s not often that a trailer makes us want to kick back with a bag of popcorn and watch it on repeat, but that’s just what the über-awesome story trailer for the new Prince of Persia accomplished. Sporting production values that rival some of the biggest-budget Hollywood movies, the over-five-minute video provides a ridiculously in-depth back-story that leads so perfectly into the game itself, it should be mandatory viewing before enjoying the hands-on experience itself. With excellent narration, gorgeous story-telling sequences and just a touch of the dark vibes of the game, it may just be the best trailer of the year. In fact, the trailer is so amazingly well-made that you might start to feel guilty watching it for free. Don’t worry, there’s a remedy for that — buy the game, as it’s sure to be the best way to spend those leftover Holiday giftcards you forgot to give.

LittleBigPlanet

One of the biggest challenges facing Media Molecule and Sony was making sure people actually “got” LittleBigPlanet. The tri-pointed fork of Play, Create, Share is admittedly not the most accessible of philosophies, especially for a generation of gamer whose experience of the medium doesn’t extend that far beyond Wii Music or Mario Kart, yet this is LittleBigPlanet’s core audience.

The ‘Play with Everything’ adverts were great because they put LittleBigPlanet in a real human light. They show the game as a form of expression, not just passive consumption. In many ways they take the idea of Play, Create, Share and change it from a sequence of activities into one big mess and show that the creations and sharing are all parts of play and not mere afterthoughts.

World of Warcraft

There is an undeniable charm to these ads for World of Warcraft, featuring celebrities that are not only brilliant choices by the quirks of their character but also by their broad cultural influence and appeal. What is most interesting about these adverts is not that they are so entertaining, or that they feature icons of popular culture, but that they mark a shift in emphasis for the game. World of Warcraft is no longer just a game; it’s a fully fledged brand with its own associations, heritage, economy and traditions.

Arguably, one of the reasons why the PC has seemed to falter in the last few years is that the PC as a platform itself has been unable to stand up to the powerful brands of PlayStation, Xbox, iPod etc. in the eyes of consumers. With no one actually out to represent and defend the platform it has created a void for strong software, like World of Warcraft or The Sims, to expand into and fill.

Wii

There has been one brand which has loomed large over all others in the game advertising world. Since their launch, the Nintendo Wii and DS have advertised prolifically, consistently and relentlessly. This brand-building tour-de-force has played a major role in propelling Nintendo to the front of the public’s collective consciousness.

It is not only the frequency of its promotion that has been so key to the brand’s advertising success though. Advertising for both the Wii and the DS was revolutionary because it focused so heavily on the players of the games, rather than the games themselves. Quite literally, by showing shots of individuals and families enjoying the games they were playing Nintendo showed that videogaming is about the experiences we share with one another, rather than technology or platforms we enjoy it on. Furthermore, with a host of superbly picked celebrity endorsers the brand has found a valuable access point into the casual audience which has put it head and shoulders above the competition.

SimCity Creator

Quaint, understated and woefully underappreciated. This advert appeared and disappeared into the ether yet it represents one of the greatest little gems of creative videogame advertising from the past twelve months. Again from Wieden + Kennedy, the ad captures the blissful simplicity and imagination that characterises the SimCity franchise as redressed for the Nintendo Wii.

Grand Theft Auto IV

You would imagine one of the biggest games of the year would have one of the most lavish and elaborate advertising campaigns. However, the production of Grand Theft Auto IV’s advertising was oddly low-key. Produced entirely in-house by Rockstar, this advert for GTA4 is subtle, intriguing and creates a wonderful illustration of the game’s slick cinematic style.

Xbox 360

When Microsoft first announced its intentions to encroach upon that social and casual territory so vehemently stalked by Nintendo, many questioned how the Xbox brand -– along with its stereotypical user base — could possibly be redressed for this new, wider audience. However, all things considered, Microsoft made a sterling effort. Each advert in this campaign shows the end user enthralled in the experience, literally lost in the moment with their imagination ablaze.

Many who were already well acquainted with the Xbox brand were cynical with regards to whether this ad could be credible as a communication; however we must remember that it was never really meant for them. In the minds of those only partially familiar with Xbox, however, these ads have the potential to create a really profound impact and generate a positive image of the brand where perhaps there was only a partly formed one.