Dead Island & Dead Island: Riptide
On February 16, 2011, German games publisher, Deep Silver, released a teaser trailer for their newest franchise entitled Dead Island. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence for a games publisher but nearly a week later, the trailer had been viewed over one million times on YouTube – a notable feat in viral advertising for the time period. With its release, the anticipation of the game among reviewers and players alike was at an all-time high.
The trailer shows neither gameplay nor any in-game footage. Instead, it’s a short CGI movie in which a family with a young child is attacked by zombies in their hotel room. The trailer plays out in slow motion reversed order with the opening scene of the zombified-daughter crumpled on the ground. She is then shown falling out of the glass window of their hotel room, thrown out of it by her father after she is bitten by attacking zombies and subsequently begins to attack him.
Killing children in games or, in this case in game trailers, has never been looked upon in a positive light among the mainstream gaming community. Controversy sprung up almost immediately, but in an odd turn, most commenters seemed positive about the cinematic quality and dark themes. The consensus seeming to be that if Deep Silver would publish such a dramatic and emotional trailer, how much more intense would their game be?
That question was answered with the game’s release later that year, with most reviewers giving it a pretty average scored review based on their individual metrics. The exception being Edge, who gave the game an appalling 3/10. Overall the general idea seemed to be that Dead Island did not deliver on the promises its trailer made. Regardless, Dead Island is rumored to have sold more than five million copies – a respectable number for a perceived mediocre game.
Its successor, standalone game Dead Island: Riptide, also published by Deep Silver, had its own controversy when, in January of 2013, the publisher announced the release of a special “Zombie Bait” edition. The contents of which featured a small statue of a dismembered and bloodied zombie-woman, wearing a bikini barely containing perfect untouched breasts.
Unlike its previous foray into controversial territory with the teaser trailer, the statuette was not well-received publicly across the board. Although never officially removed from sales, the Zombie Bait Edition was made in an extremely limited quantity and Deep Silver found itself in the gaming press yet again, receiving free coverage.
Did this controversy affect sales? Well, during its first week, Riptide did manage to take the UK’s top spot but failed to push even half the units that the original Dead Island did. It disappeared from the charts almost as quickly as it had appeared.
It’s hard to say if Dead Island and its successor, Dead Island: Riptide, benefited from controversy but by all accounts, having Deep Silver’s lead franchise name repeated so oft in the press couldn’t have hurt sales by any means. It may even, it could be argued, saved them money in advertising.
Mortal Kombat had existed as an arcade game for a few years before it became a household name among gamers and non-gamers alike. Those that didn’t play arcade games were uninterested in its existence – that is, until it came home. Once the ported game arrived into living rooms everywhere, U.S. parents became outraged by the visuals of a bloody spine being ripped from a body, which was then held aloft as a macabre trophy for the winner.
Collectively, parents everywhere called their congress-people, clamoring for decency laws to be imposed. Hearings were held, ratings were created and the game itself became legendary. What of its sales? Well, interesting fact: it’s nowhere to be found on the top 50 most selling games of all time.
Instead, what you’ll find on the list is a mix of Super Mario World games, Pokemon and FPS war games like Call Of Duty. Of course, mixed in among these, you will find Grand Theft Auto 3-5 as well as GTA: Vice City – some of the most publicly controversial games to ever be released into the mainstream. These games involve missions that include prostitutes, murder, and drugs, but they also include missions that involve yoga, bowling, and playing tennis.
In fact, out of the 50 listed, only 12 have had official public controversies tied to them. In the top five alone, only two, Grand Theft Auto V, which comes in at number three and PlayerUknown Battlegrounds, which is number five currently, have had controversial releases.
Dead Cells, a “Metroidvania” style game developed by Motion Twin, was released into early access on Steam in May of 2017 and managed to push 750,000 units before its full release in August 2018. It was a solid rogue-platformer that had amassed a 9/10 on Steam with over 10,000 reviews as well as a glowing review of our own.
There is little doubt that Dead Cells‘ console release was going to be a strong performance based on its previous reception during early access but, then, an unpredictable thing happened that may have given Dead Cells the type of coverage that most AAA games can only wish for. An editor/reviewer for IGN, Filip Muicin, released a review for the game. It seemed benign enough, praising the game with a 9.7/10 rating until someone noticed strong similarities between Muicin’s review and a pre-embargo review on YouTube. The person that picked up the similarities? None other than the original reviewer himself, YouTuber, Boomstick Gaming.
Soon, both Dead Cells and Boomstick Gaming found themselves in the frequently searched terms on Google. Motion Twin acknowledged the extra attention but remained realistic in the statement that they officially released to the BBC, saying:
- “From this perspective it was refreshing to see the way that Boomstick, the real injured party, handled himself, always remaining civil and strikingly human.”
- “In any case we can have a more constructive public discussion than what we’ve seen so far.
“Some have asked about how we feel about losing the review. The rest have been stellar, and IGN will do another.”
- “In any case the internet drama will have more than made up for any lost visibility, it’s just a shame that it had to come at such a cost and contribute to more online negativity.”
For his part, Boomstick Gaming has remained gracious and forgiving of Muicin but he has also seen his profile rise quite considerably due to the controversy. He has begun doing the interview circuit and the likes on his reviews posted to Twitter have risen from one to two likes in May of this year to 56 likes on his latest review of ‘We Happy Few.’ One could infer that his YouTube viewership has also increased from the controversy.
So, bottom line: does controversy sell video games? Well, the great intellect and philosopher of our time, Miley Cyrus, once spoke the immortal words, “People like controversy because that’s what sells,” but there are no hard and fast numbers, no statistics for video game sales that compare pre- and post-controversy. By all accounts: Yes, controversy sells initially and can get you noticed but it’s the quality of the game itself that keeps the buyers interested and the players playing.