Gaming Sponsors Gone Wild?

With the number of gamers exploding, brands are working hard to insert themselves into the environment in just the right way. It’s a delicate business. So I was bemused to learn about one sponsor foray into Rock Band. Blogger Matt Ellis reviews games and during his test drive of Rock Band 2 he encountered this message:

Hot Topic would like to sponsor your band! They would also like you to play Paramore’s ‘That’s What You Get’ instead of the song you were planning on performing. Play this song instead and Hot Topic will start selling your merchandise. You’ll make more money, but unfortunately some of your fans will see this as selling out and will abandon you.’

He declined, of course. But the offer kept popping up, each time worded a little differently. He finally relented, accepted Hot Topic’s offer to sponsor his band and indeed Matt lost a chunk of fans. Sometime later, he reported that Hot Topic’s sponsorship was again modified for PS3.

Here’s Matt’s recap:

1. The game has an offer that is impossible to refuse

2. The offer is universally bad for your virtual band

3. Included in the offer is a sly jab at corporate sponsorship

4. The player is warned that this will adversely affect fan base

When the game comes out for PS3, this changes to:

1. The game has an offer that is impossible to refuse

2. The offer is universally bad for your virtual band

3. A lame excuse is offered for why you’re missing fans

Here’s my take–having only read Matt’s review and not played the game myself:

The “indie” culture is rebellious. It’s based on creative competition, not conformity. The goal of any sponsorship is to win hearts and minds by enhancing the user experience, or making a great experience possible. In Matt’s scenario, the sponsor undermines the player’s experience. Wild.

Okay, so Hot Topic is presumably doing market research here. Right? Otherwise, to interrupt and then punish a user for affiliating with the sponsor’s brand is an act of self-destruction. Or it’s a deal without a decent contract.

Am I missing something?