Caught in the Undertow: Drowning in Dead Island Riptide Marketing


by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A publisher  releases a game after a long wait to at least moderate enthusiasm. The  game is extremely buggy and not quite the masterpiece it was promised.  Sales fall and then the publisher relies on marketing gimmicks to move  more copies of the game. It’s a scenario that plays out a bit more often  than you think; only not all of them come with the same controversy  as Dead Island Riptide publisher Deep Silver.

The publisher announced a special edition of the  game called Dead Island Riptide: Zombie Bait Edition for Europe and Australia, featuring quite  a “collectible” for their game: a severed, decapitated torso  in a bikini, implying an attractive woman had been ravaged by zombies  but maintained what was left of her figure. It’s something that someone  came up with and thought would be a grand addition to the Collector’s  Edition. Who wouldn’t want such a prize gracing their bookshelves or  desk?

The announcement was met with  instant outrage by people who disagreed with the publisher’s misogynistic  approach to marketing. Deep Silver should have known, because plastered  right there on the image is the warning “Includes Content That  May Cause Offence.” Granted, it was likely put on there with a  little wink, wink, nudge, nudge, but still. To the credit of Deep Silver,  the publisher has since apologized, but why do it in the first place?


Dead Island Riptide is a game that thrives on shock value. It  relies heavily on melee combat and graphic depictions of a world overrun  by zombies. Not quite a post-apocalyptic world, as the outbreak unfolds  in real-time on the island. If Left 4 Dead was rated M, Dead Island Riptide would be rated NC-17. Despite the more graphic  slant, the game had its shortcomings, prompting less than desired sales.


Primarily, it was extremely buggy and never  quite took hold with audiences as it appeared it originally would. Poor  sales are never promising for a publisher, prompting them to resort  to a crass and classless selling approach relied on the same shock value  inherent in the game. It makes sense to an extent, in that using such  a marketing tool definitely got people talking about the game again  months after its release. The conversation wasn’t good though.


Women were the most upset and rightly so. Eroding  a woman’s worth to the point of sex appeal ravaged by zombies is in  poor taste, as the statue showed that even though the woman was killed  in a horrible fashion, she should still be ogled for her body. The biggest  problem lies in the presentation, as it’s likely there wouldn’t be as  much outrage if there was a male equivalent offered as well. Therein  lies the proverbial rub.

Deep Silver predicted (incorrectly) that their  target audience for the game was men of any age really. After all, aren’t  all men strangely attracted to well-endowed cadavers missing their limbs?  There seems to be a disconnect between the publisher and the consumer,  where it turns out consumers don’t want such an object alongside their  other proud trophies of video gaming. That’s not the case for everyone.


One person on Twitter went so far as to say  “the game is set in a post-apocalyptic zombie world. Get over it.”  Well, that’s not quite true considering that the “post-apocalyptic”  descriptor implies the apocalypse has already happened, in which case  the chances of you finding a woman as depicted are virtually non-existent.  Yet that’s what the game bills itself as, and obviously there are some  people have who have no problem with such a marketing gimmick.


Everyone loves clever marketing, but doing  a campaign that insults a good chunk of your audience is now way to  sell a game. It speaks to the larger divide that still exists in video  gaming, a belief in some circles that the only tie to video games women  can have involve being booth babes. That probably wasn’t the case with  Deep Silver, yet the implications of making the “trophy” part  of the package more or less says the same thing: if you’re a woman in  gaming you’re only worth is to be looked at with lust.

The sad reality of the situation is that the  game failed to meet whatever expectations were foisted upon it by the  publisher, media or fans. Resorting to such a ploy to sell the game  generated a discussion about the game, but that discussion got swallowed  by a much larger discussion about gender equality and the treatment  of women. Women who happen to be a large part of the core gamer audience,  some of whom likely played or–gasp!–bought Dead Island Riptide.


There’s a fine line between smart marketing  tied to a game and this. Smart marketing would be the Halo 3 commercials, pitching the game as depicting  real events and connecting with the gamer. Campaigns like this pitch  the game as something you to play where men are strong, women are weak  and their only purpose is to be gory eye candy. It’s not a smart way  to sell a game and clearly isn’t appealing to the masses like Deep Silver  had hoped for.


Calling out beautiful women as being the prize  for both men and zombies is a little baseless. If zombie stories have  taught us anything, it’s that we all look like dinner to them, regardless  of any differentiating characteristics. Wearing a Union Jack bikini  shouldn’t be cause for getting eaten any sooner or later.

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