Videogame developers and publishers can (usually) make a tidy amount of money from sales alone, but the more cash the better, right?
Most businesses would probably agree, and so publishers will often wrangle that extra bit of income through a tactic long ago adopted by film and TV: the humble product placement.
After all, if James Bond can surround himself with designer watches and fancy cars, why can’t the likes of Mario and Nathan Drake do the same? We all gotta eat.
Mario Kart 8 Mercedes Benz
When you think of Mario Kart, I imagine most of you immediately conjure up images of the colourful cast of characters riding around in wacky, over-the-top karts, throwing bananas, shells, and bombs at one another.
As such, it was kind of weird when Mario and the gang started riding around in Mercedes-Benz cars, as part of a free bit of promotional DLC. Never had the real world invaded the Mushroom Kingdom like this before, and it was an unsettling sight to behold.
Don’t get me wrong, the cars did look cool. Plus, we finally got to find out what it looks like when a giant spiky shelled lizard sits in a luxury saloon, something the boffins have been attempting to work out for decades.
Uncharted 3 – Drake Loves A Subway
I’m not entirely sure Sony needed to make a deal with the sandwich chain Subway for one of their most successful franchises of all time, but they did, so we have to live with it.
First of all, there was the bizarre (but kind of cool) advert in which our hero Nathan Drake showed off some scenes from Uncharted 3 and told us that Subway is ‘where winners eat’ – I don’t know if you’ve been in a Subway recently, but nobody is winning in there.
Mercifully, the sandwich artists didn’t infect the game’s cracking campaign, but a few concessions to the brand showed up in Uncharted 3’s multiplayer. Who could forget the five dollar footlong taunt? I mean, I’m trying my best to.
Despite North Korea successfully conquering the US in Homefront, it would seem that the new leaders of the country were happy to leave Hooters essentially untouched.
I mean, the in-game North Koreans might hate American capitalism on a fundamental level, but they just can’t get enough of big boobs, hot wings and beers.
Shooting guns and fighting for the country, all while outside a Hooters? It’s the ‘Merican way.
Pole Position Loves A Smoke With Marlboro
Jesus, there’s no way any videogame would get away with something like this now – not least because it’s illegal to advertise or glamorise smoking in this day and age.
Hell, even Snake himself would make a point to lose a bit of health after every smoke in Metal Gear Solid (a canny move on Konami’s part, I have to say).
But before such pesky regulations, an advert for Marlboro cigarettes could be found in the 1982 racing game Pole Position. What makes this even more chilling is that in 1982, videogames were pretty much solely seen as being for children – how the hell did a smoking ad make the cut?
Fight Night Round 3 – The Burger King Will Fuck You Up
It might just be me, but I find the Burger King to be perhaps the most genuinely freakish looking mascot around.
As such, I wasn’t best pleased when the meaty royal reared his shiny plastic head and flashed that horrific stiff grin in Fight Night Round 3.
Why in the name of God would anyone want this monstrosity as their corner man in a boxing match? I’m no doctor, but I don’t think Chilli Cheese Bites are the best thing to be snacking on before a big fight.
Obviously sports games are chock full of product placement and endorsements, so props to Fight Night Round 3 for finally making it really fucking weird for everyone.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory – Axe Body Spray
What does Splinter Cell Chaos Theory smell like? It’s a question we’ve all asked at some point, I’ve no doubt.
Well, Ubisoft would likely have you believe that the stealth adventure smells like Axe body spray (Essentially Lynx, for us in the UK). So does that mean that Chaos Theory reeks of secondary school changing rooms and hormonal desperation? Perhaps.
Despite the fact that it pops up multiple times across the game, the protagonist (Sam Fisher) doesn’t use Axe once. And do you know why? Because Axe/Lynx has all the subtlety and class of a dog that’s rolled in its own shit – not ideal for a stealthy chap like Fisher.
James Pond 2 P-P-Picks Up A Penguin
One of the least subtle (and insane) pieces of in-game product placement comes from a great 90’s platformer called James Pond 2: Codename Robocod.
Most UK readers will doubtless be aware of Penguin bars – a chocolate/biscuit hybrid that was a staple of school lunches/teatimes/nan’s cupboard. Well, not one minute into James Pond 2, a full on two second advert for the chocolate appears.
Clearly it was meant to be a joke in part (because there are actual penguins before the chocolate is advertised) but it feels pretty bloody invasive to me. As great as Penguins are (both chocolate and animal) this one was a bit much.
Everquest II – Pizza Hut
Everyone needs to sit the fuck down, because Everquest II won at everything with this genius stroke of marketing.
Pizza and videogames go together like Mario and Luigi, so an option was added to the popular MMO that let you order motherflippin’ pizza straight from the game. The future is a glorious place.
All you needed to do was type ‘/pizza’ as a command to be taken to the Pizza Hut website. Anything ordered would be charged to the Everquest II monthly subscription bill.
Unfortunately, you would have still needed to get up to answer the door – but I’m sure there’ll be an app for that soon enough.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker – Almost Everything
We’d seen product placement in a Metal Gear game before, but the PSP-exclusive Peace Walker went way overboard with the whole idea.
The Japanese version of the game was the worst offender, as Snake made his way through cans of Mountain Dew and Pepsi, sprayed himself with Axe (which we’ve already established is a poor choice), and even munched on Doritos.
According to the game’s director – none other than Hideo Kojima – he wanted to ‘surprise’ players. Now, Kojima is a very clever man, but let’s not pretend that Snake running around in a bright green Mountain Dew shirt was an artistic choice – it was nothing more than product placement.
That’s not to say that product placement can ruin a game, of course. The majority of examples here are just strange anomalies in otherwise excellent games.
Honestly, the day videogame product placement goes too far is probably the day Link saves Hyrule using an iPhone, and that’ll never happen – right? Right, guys?
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.