Stealth series Metal Gear Solid has never shied away from corporate sponsorship and obvious in-game product plugs. In past games, there have been tie-ups with CalorieMate and Playboy. But has the franchise now gone too far?
Today in Tokyo, Japanese game company Konami held a press conference for upcoming PSP title Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. (Check out Kotaku Japan's coverage here.) And like the same press conference Konami held for Metal Gear Solid 4 when it was released, the company announced corporate collaborations — i.e., products that would appear in the game. But, unlike the Metal Gear Solid 4 press conference, it was short on big announcements. (At the MGS4 press conference, gameplay was publicly shown for the first time on an enormous movie screen via digital projector. It was incredibly impressive.)
Well, the lack of news at the Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker press conference is not entirely true. It was revealed that it was possible to capture vehicles in boss battles and that players could make contraptions out of parts and then trade those parts with Front Mission players. All of that is definitely interesting to fans of the series. Other news? The leaked MGS tie-up with Monster Hunter is news. But it is also a tie-up. The entire press conference seemed to be one excessive tie-up another another.
A press conference to announce advertisements, if you will.
The Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker tie-ins include in-game Monster Hunter monsters, another Assassin's Creed collaboration (MGS4 had one, too), in-game Doritos, in-game Pepsi, in-game Mountain Dew, in-game Axe body spray, in-game Walkman, in-game Uniqlo, in-game Weekly Jump manga, in-game Famitsu, in-game Dengeki PlayStation and in-game Dengeki Games. Out-of-game Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker figures created by Square Enix, official accessories from Hori and Porter.
Look at all that product placement! It's...a bit much. And are Famitsu and Dengeki actually going to review a game in which their products appear in? That is a conflict of interest. If they want their reviews to carry any weight whatsoever, they should not. But they will review the game, and life will go on.
Video games are not free. They are expensive. They cost a lot of money to make. Selling in-game ads is a way to gather capital for a new title. But holding a two-hour press conference in which a good chunk of time was spent announcing commercials that appear in the game? Really?
Commercials in Japan are a big deal. Whether it's iPhones or green tea, popular Japanese actors and actresses appear in ads all the time. As I've mentioned it before, the number of ads a celebrity appear in is a strong indication of their popularity. This, however, is slightly different. This is not a single celebrity. It is not a person. It is a video game.
Unlike television or, dare say, this blog, people are paying money to enjoy the game experience — a game that was supposed to be MGS5 — but will be side-swiped with advertisements. This is akin to buying a CD with commercial messages peppered throughout or buying a novel and having to slog through full page Doritos adverts.
Hideo Kojima is an extremely talented game designer. These in-game collaborations will likely have no effect on the story or the core game mechanics. But for some, they will cheapen the experience.
To give you an idea of just how big the product tie-ins are for Metal Gear: Peace Walker, Kotaku Japan has created a gallery of MGS:PW product pitches. While the game is set in the 1970s, that hasn't stopped Snake from schilling Axe body spray — a product that was not available in the 1970s. (Not that historical accuracy has ever been important in MGS!)