Top 5 SEGA Marketing StuntsMay 20, 2020
SEGA! I love gaming as a whole, but when it comes to favourites, SEGA have always been my number one. My word they were part of some crazy marketing though. From fake controversy to props, they tried it all. So, below are my top 5 SEGA marketing campaigns and stunts. Some of them, you may know about already. Others, you may not. Regardless though, let’s dive into the fun and whacky world of SEGA.
ESPN NFL FOOTBALL: BETA TESTER BLACKOUTS!
Sports games often fall into a simple pattern: improve it until it’s decent then re-release the same game again and again with minor tweaks and updated licensed rosters. Honestly, it’s rare for a sports game to attempt something different these days. But, back in 2003, Visual Concepts – then owned by SEGA – attempted just that by placing a first-person mode in ESPN NFL Football for the PS2 and Xbox.
Enter Beta-7, a young man from Orlando, who acted a beta tester for the game. He created a website, beta-7.com, wherein he chronicled his experiences testing the game. And boy were they odd. After only one session, this started going wrong for the lad. He’d blackout, then jump to his feet, get in a three-point stance, and violently crash into his furniture or wall.
Now, this was obviously a marketing campaign. Even Beta-7 stating that he wasn’t doesn’t change that. Interestingly though, while people thought that his posts were fake, they didn’t pick up on it being a marketing campaign. I can only assume that’s because you tend to market a product by making it look like it’ll cause health issues. But hey, SEGA does what NintenDon’t, right?
Anyway, the whole thing had a long-running narrative going throughout it, complete with video clips. Beta-7 received a mystery VHS atone point, and even went back to the testing building, only to find it empty. Other beta testers came forward and started sending him items that they’d stolen from the Visual Concepts offices – Beta13 got a job there as a janitor purely to snoop around and found some shredded e-mails – and then things got even weirder.
Another tester posted photos from a medical research clinic that Visual Concepts had paid to run gameplay tests. There were reports of blackouts, bruises, and bleeding from the eyes! And then…Beta-7 went missing. His friend, who helped him run the site, tried to visit him but found his apartment had been trashed. And nobody heard from him ever again.
Honestly, this was all pretty barmy. But I love that. SEGA went all-in on having fun with this, and it really did draw attention to the game. So, job done!
MARIO & SONIC AT THE OLYMPICS: TORTURE TIME!
Before the first-ever game to officially feature both gaming icons together hit the shelves, SEGA decided to build some interest in the title. Without telling anyone what the game would be. Or who was in it.
So, how did they do that? Well, they posted a grainy video on YouTube. This saw an anonymous SEGA employee – wearing a bunny mask – that had been kidnapped and tied to a chair. With the text ‘mystery still surrounds April release’ displayed at the bottom of the screen, the SEGA employee was questioned about what game they had in development. This questioning was accompanied by torture.
That’s right, torture. Geishas ripped his leg hair from his skin. A man in a monkey mask went full-on Reservoir Dogs and viciously cut his ear off. Well, the bunny mask’s ear anyway. They even went so far as to play James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’ at him on loop. I kid you not.
Anyway, April came and went with no game appearing. SEGA claimed to not know where the video came from. Eventually, the game landed in November, and it was revealed that yes, this was a bizarre marketing campaign.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to find a surviving copy of the video on YouTube. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anything in it that directly references the game either way though. Honestly, just mentioning that the hedgehog and the plumber were teaming up would have been enough to get the hype train moving but hey, you can’t fault them for creativity!
SEAMAN: CRYPTIC CRYPTID!
Seaman. The Dreamcast game where you raise a fish with a human face – the face of the game’s lead designer no less – and teach it to talk. If that wasn’t strange enough, SEGA jumped into a viral marketing campaign that pretended the Seaman was real.
The website in question was built to represent the American Science Journal Online. It followed the adventures of a US-led team that hunted for the mysterious fish, citing that its history goes back 4,500 years!
So, how did they do this? Well, of course, there were blog posts. This included a bunch of photos though, including Egyptian wall paintings that appeared to feature the human-faced beasty. It also weaved the tragic tale of a professor who, in 1932, was able to find some Seaman eggs and begin a breeding experiment, only for disaster to strike. The fish all died, and without them, he had no proof of their existence, causing him to go into hiding. Sixty years later, a child captured a live Seaman in Egypt, and a Japanese team was eventually able to use this a launchpad to breed them.
It was all very bizarre, but the site did give a lot of background information about the game’s titular creature. It actually makes it feel like SEGA really cared about the core concept of this supremely weird release. Compared to the previous two entries on the list, this one was a little more mundane, but it was also a pretty good run at getting people interested.
MADWORLD: BLOOD ON THE STREETS
MadWorld was a stylized fighter for the Wii, that saw black and white characters carrying out ridiculously violent moves that would put the Mortal Kombat games of the time to shame. It was, unsurprisingly, subject to a fair bit of controversy at the time. Many didn’t understand why, largely because it was so over the top, it was hard to take it too seriously. In short, when it came to style, Manhunt it was not.
The biggest controversy came with the marketing though. Now, it started simple enough. They ran three separate websites for the game. The main hub was on SEGA’s own website, which was the basic ‘here’s what the game is like’ affair. They also had a blog. Finally, they had MadWorld TV, which was a take on sports talk shows. That last one was pretty cool; intentionally cheesy and focusing on Deathwatch, the blood sport from the game, it was a really fun way to push the game. Not satisfied with web marketing though, we then hit the campaign that hit the UK press: placing body parts around the streets of London.
So, what happened? Well, SEGA started placing severed prosthetic arms around London, each one clutching a copy of the game. Now, the arms were pretty gruesome looking, but there was a caveat. Much like in the game, they were painted to be black and white, with only the blood in full colour. It was all very ballsy, especially as the Wii was mostly seen as a family-friendly console. But then The Sun newspaper saw the campaign and started complaining that it all sickened the general public. That’s right, the famous bastion of high moral standards that is The Sun said it was sickening. But was it really? As it turns out, probably not. SEGA had teams monitoring each limb, ready to remove them immediately if they caused an offense. They received no complaints.
This was an era where SEGA was still willing to go a little crazy with marketing but had learned a few lessons, I think. It was still edgy, and still a little bizarre, but it had some more restraint than normal. I thought this was one was pretty cool overall.
ENEMY ZERO: WELCOME TO SEGA
This is one that you may not be aware of if you were never a fan of the SEGA Saturn. So, some history. Enemy Zero is a survival horror game that was pegged to be a Sony PlayStation exclusive. Enter designed by Koji Eno. He had previously worked on the interactive horror game D, and it was that very title that led into this marketing stunt.
You see, Koji was upset with Sony. When it came to their port of D, they printed only 28,000 copies. The pre-orders exceeded 100,00, and they simply couldn’t catch up. Working for a small company, Koji was livid because one failure like that could have severe consequences. So, he took revenge. Koji set up a booth at the Sony Computer Entertainment Japan press event, promising more details about Enemy Zero.
And that’s where things went mad. Kenji gathered 200 members of the press and played a trailer for the game, seemingly ending as most did, with the Sony PlayStation logo. But it didn’t end. On-screen, the logo morphed first into the SEGA Saturn logo, then in SEGA’s Vice President, who simply stated, “Welcome to SEGA”.
The whole thing caused a fair stir. While it wasn’t technically a purely SEGA marketing stunt, they must have signed off on it. Advertising that they’ve stolen away an exclusive title at the original company’s press event is a pretty crazy move too. While Sony would have the last laugh in the long-run, this was one of those times that the Saturn looked to have a shot at recovery.
So, those were my favourites. But what about yourselves? Do you have any favourite moments from SEGA’s marketing campaigns? Let me know in the comments below!