Yaris: Bad Advertising and Leveraging Synergies

Remember the Burger King games on the Xbox? Everyone made fun of them for being completely goofy, poor, and representative of the consumer society we live in today.

But dammit, I think the King is hilarious, and by mimicking three of the safest genres out there (racing, minigames, and stealth), they managed to be competent enough for a couple of dollars worth of entertainment. The games sold a hell of a lot, and you knew it was only a matter of time before someone else gave it a shot.

I don’t have to tell any of you how bad this could turn out. The reason BK has done so well with their marketing over the last few years is that they put some effort into how they latch onto trends. Their games were competent enough, and stuff like Subservient Chicken was at least well made Web 2.0 attempts. These days, however, this is the exception. Marketers, I’m afraid, are retarded. Some are shrewd, manipulative, and good at their jobs, which is why advertising can and will continue to work. But then you have the rest, and the “rest” are who came up with the idea of the Toyota Yaris game. This is one of the worst attempts at cool and edgy advertising I have ever seen, and if it succeeds in garnering sales and downloads, I fear for the future of Xbox Live Arcade.

The Yaris game succeeds on only one front – stylistically, it ties directly into the videogamey TV ads that Toyota is currently running. Aside from that, this is a bad game that is disjointed from the product it is trying to advertise. You might think from the screenshots that this is a cute little racing game of some sorts. Unfortunately, the only review I can find about it is a snarky fluff piece from bloggers who think they are journalists, so I’ll have to tell you that the developer Backbone Entertainment decided to make a Live Arcade game based around the same concept as the Bonus Stages from Sonic 2. The only addition is the ability to aim and shoot at targets both on the ground and in the air.

That doesn’t sound too horrible, but the team forgot two important things. First, their concept was a bonus stage in a game from over fifteen years ago. Second, Sonic 2 made those stages somewhat challenging by making them fairly fast and thus difficult to anticipate what lay ahead. Yaris treads incredibly slowly through its pipeline course, obstacles are placed so as to require minimal movement on your part, and the shooting is slippery at best. It throws enough shit at you that it may not be incredibly easy, but I can’t say for sure because I could barely finish the first track. It just isn’t at all interesting, and that, of course, is the death blow to any game. I’ve heard some people say it’s at least worth 200 free achievement points, but I can’t see anyone forcing themselves through this to get 200 measly points, and this is coming from a guy who finished Kingdom Hearts.

Being a free game, there isn’t much to Yaris, but what is there is locked away. Two other car models and several straight-from-the-dealership paint jobs must be earned, and, as you can probably tell, it just isn’t worth it.

To be fair, I wasn’t expecting much when I downloaded this game. In fact, I expected even less when it clicked in my head that Backbone is actually Digital Eclipse, who have made a name for themselves making shoddy ports of classic arcade and console games. Ultimately I don’t blame them for what they did. As much as we all want to believe that every game is a precious baby to the company behind it, a software developer knows that no matter you may love what you do, there is such a thing as just doing a job for a paycheck.

Backbone didn’t care, and rightfully so, because it is obvious that Toyota marketers cared even less about how this came out. Here is a game where more than half of the products we are supposed to see are not immediately accessible. The quirky little monsters and mascots the people at Toyota have concocted lose any meaning when they have no context in the game. You get absolutely no idea about how the real Yaris performs by playing. Hell, you don’t even get a good idea of how it looks because the car models are so basic. The game that was built here actually makes it harder to advertise the product, and I can’t honestly believe that anyone at Toyota or their marketing firm actually looked at this and gave it the green light.

As a matter of fact, I don’t have to believe it. Here’s a press release on the website Marketing Vox: The voice of online marketing. In it you will find the following sentence:

“Hardcore gamers are hypercritical, which is why agency Saatchi & Saatchi, LA farmed the game’s development out to Backbone Entertainment, best known for the Sonic the Hedgehog games made popular in the early ’90s.”

In case you’re confused, Digital Eclipse was responsible for a few recent ports of Sonic games. But you can’t expect the people reporting on the advertising world to know this kind of information about products, so why the hell would the advertisers themselves ever bother?

Yaris is the stuff my college nightmares were made of, when I saw the pathetic final projects of marketing majors while I realized day after day that I would write code for just about anything in order to make a buck. Worse yet, this is the kind of junk that companies are likely to try to dump on us more and more, despite how good the gaming community is at seeing through bullshit. We here at videolamer will do our best to investigate, but I think it is safe to say that all of us, as gamers, do not want this. Please, do not download Yaris, not even out of perverse curiosity. Show Toyota and anyone else who tries to cash in on an idea that it’s the customer that helps make that paycheck, and that they’re going to have to do their jobs if they want our attention.

A bad game isn’t going to sell your product, but combining a bad game with absolutely no attempt to sell the product is embarrassing and shameful. This game fails completely and utterly as a tool for advertising.

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16 years ago

To a certain extent, I can’t help but play a bit of a devil’s advocate. Seeing as they probably spent a total of $5 on the game (ok, it was probably more, but you get the idea), I wonder if they haven’t done some research to show that people bored at work will download and play just about anything. And then based on that, did the absolute bare minimum to get branding out there. I mean hell, they got you to write about them and then me to comment, and that may be brand awareness enough to warrant a success in their mind.

Or maybe they just suck.

16 years ago

Isn’t the idea in marketing often just to build awareness of a brand, regardless of context? I’m with you that nobody is going to march into a dealership after playing/ hearing about the game, but maybe that isn’t the point. I don’t watch enough TV to have caught the add, but now my mind has been reached via the magic of advertising. Through some alchemical process, having been reminded about Yaris and Toyota now strengthens my perception of the brand, even if it’s just remembering that it exists.

I’d also like to say that downloadable/web based games sound like an awesome excuse for another Marketeer article. Hint hint.

16 years ago

Well, unless they are embedding subliminal messages, you’re right, you won’t run out and test drive or buy a Yaris. But it might be just enough to get it into your brain when it wasn’t before. Which is generally the point of marketing, as TrueTallus mentions.

Marketing is pretty messed up because the end result is often hard to track and intangible. And the goals of a given campaign can be pretty insubstantial too, like “increase our brand presence”– not even “drive X% of sales.” And, as we have ironically mentioned, at least on this site, now we’re more aware of Yaris thanks to the campaign. And I’m not even sure I think their cars are stupid, I just think their game is stupid.

brb, test driving a Yaris.

16 years ago

While I didn’t get as upset at the prospect of adver-gaming, all because it’s completely free, I was completely underwhelmed by the game. I played it for over an hour, hoping to see some interesting ideas (it IS research, after all), but I found nothing note-worthy. The game moves weird, and the aiming is very annoying. They didn’t even include an Inverted control scheme. So after playing Halo 3 for hours, I was incapacitated with Yaris. And for god’s sake, the menu options in the Controls menu said “Time to push buttons!” or some crap like that. Basically, they had a system that required at least one button on the menu. They knew it would take more time to make a menu WITHOUT buttons, and half-assed it. You can’t actually change any of the button configurations.

I was all ready to get me some achievements, but they’re not the easiest ones to get. I played for over an hour and only got 5 points. I could have had 10 more, but it would have taken way too long. I gave up. The only interesting thing I found with this game is that there’s a Yaris Sport model I never knew about.

Fuck, they got me.

But still, even though it sucks, it’s free and gave me 5 points. And I will give them praise on the aesthetics of the front-end. It’s simplistic, but pretty stylish. The BG techno music helps bring out that style even more. If they focused more on the core game design and took away more than half the levels, this game could have been good. I would say things could have been different had a better developer made it. Some of this shit makes it into normal, retail games.