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Sanya Weathers MMO Underbelly: Boobie Prize

Sex sells and Sanya takes a hilarious look at how MMOs and games in general have used breasts to capture the hearts and minds of the 18-34 year old male demographic.

Last week, in the discussion that followed my column, several readers took deep, personal offense at my phrasing of a particular idea, because I addressed my comment to an “average” and imaginary reader. That concept: game marketing targeted at the 18-34 year old male demographic is usually reliant on women’s breasts and guns, because it works. Although I was making a point about a general group, not an individual, some people can’t bear to be lumped into a group.

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The rest of us are in the gutter and happy there. Don’t believe me? At the time that I wrote this column, the following image was the wraparound ad on MMORPG.com. I assure you, it wouldn’t be there (wrap ads are the most expensive ones on any website) if the ad’s designer wasn’t positive it would make his money back with dividends. Check out the way the gems are placed – subtle, eh?

Here’s the thing. Marketing is the science of reaching as many people as possible, and hitting as many of their purchasing triggers as possible. Putting imagery on a box is not a study of individuals, or even niches. Men, as a rule, are more visually oriented. Men, as a rule, like looking at nearly naked ladies. So there may be two MMORPG readers who wouldn’t dream of buying a game because of the breasts on the box. The people whose livelihood depends on grabbing your attention (and soon thereafter, your wallet) are going to go for what they know will work fastest on the largest number of people.

So join me on this wonderful tour of game imagery, as the industry puts its breast foot forward.

Sometimes it’s exaggeration that catches the eye. The most famous example of this is Lara Croft.

Actual women with large breasts will tell you that they do not run, jump, or rappel down cliffs without an undergarment that resembles a sausage casing. If Lara Croft was real, she would be totally unable to walk. She would fall forward with every step from the gravitational pull of her enormous hooters. Fortunately, she would not be injured, because her bosom would hold her face at least six inches above the ground.

Angelina Jolie, who has exceptionally nice ta-tas, had to wear falsies to match the mammaries of her character in the Tomb Raider flick.

Boobs were not always part of marketing an MMO. Ultima Online did not use breasts, because frankly, they didn’t need to. Ultima was already a well known franchise among people into computer games. It would have been like marketing Microsoft with breasts – funny, but unnecessary.

EverQuest used breasts, because no one knew what the hell an EverQuest was. The late, great Keith Parkinson gave us a nearly naked lady who still looked virginal and sweet:

She was still virginal and sweet on the first expansion box, but there was just a hint of BDSM there to spice things up:

In fact, the EverQuest box art featured breasts right up until Planes of Power, at which point they didn’t need breasts anymore. Everyone who was going to play EQ knew about EQ. EQ2 box art didn’t bother with breasts for the same reason that Ultima didn’t.

Dark Age of Camelot’s box art didn’t have boobs. What no one knows is that the box would have had boobs, at least in the lower right hand corner, if there hadn’t been a last minute dispute with the artist who created the image. Instead of the cover, the painting became a poster and an inside-the-flap illustration, and the cover image was of the three cornered knot. With the first draft of the image, there was a lot of debate – is the elf wearing a bra or not? Is that a nipple? – but the final version was less ambiguous.

Certainly by the time WAR rolled around, the use of boobs was not the least bit ambiguous. Elves were the last race to roll out, for a number of reasons. But really, the timing was perfect. The kind of player who would pick up a game strictly because of an imaginary creature’s upper torso is not an early adopter, or a fan of a franchise, or terribly discerning. So it makes sense to hold the breasts until relatively late in a promotional cycle, when you’re looking to pick up casual users who might not be familiar with the product.

Speaking of late in the cycle, Aion has had some great early write-ups (full disclosure, one of those great early write-ups is from me) and is one of the best looking games to come down the pike. But even they aren’t relying on the imagery from their actual game to draw in the people who are just now going to the website to find out what this Aion thing is all about. Here’s the image from their current header:

Guild Wars is a game very much focused on fighting. Such a martial game is going to go with a really warlike theme for their cover art, right? Well, actually, no. Bondage, maybe. Nice strappy armor, dear:

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