Court docs show Activision-Blizzard helped a gun manufacturer market to ‘young consumers’ in Call of Duty title


Just when you thought that Activision-Blizzard news might finally slow down now that Microsoft’s officially acquired it, no less than the Wall Street Journal has more to expose: According to the WSJ, the games company struck a secret product-placement deal with a major U.S. gun manufacturer, putting the company’s guns into a Call of Duty entry with the express purpose of marketing them to the game’s young players.

The deal apparently took form over a decade ago and is just now coming to light thanks to recent revelations in one of many firearms lawsuits relating to the 2012 Sandy Hook mass-shooting. The newly disclosed court documents make clear that Remington Arms and its parent company sought deals with the developers behind video game shooters because their existing gun customers were aging out and they wanted to court a younger base; this type of marketing was cited by the Sandy Hook parent plaintiffs as one rationale for their lawsuit, which they ultimately settled with Remington for $73M.

“With increasing urbanization and access to shooting/hunting areas in decline, a
primary means for young potential shooters to come into contact with firearms and ammunition is through virtual gaming scenario,” one newly released Remington memo reads; it further suggested that gaming deals would help the company “create brand preference among the next generation,” thereby ensuring the brand could “win [its] fair-share of these young consumers.”

Activision-Blizzard was apparently the partner for one of these deals, as it placed a Remington gun called the Adaptive Combat Rifle in 2009’s Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and 2012’s Chinese-market Call of Duty Online. No money traded hands in this deal, and it remains unclear what exactly ABK got out of it, though one series of emails between Remington VPs and other execs expressed elation that the weapons were catching on with targeted gamers.

But it wasn’t all cheers behind the scenes; one deposition for the lawsuit suggested showing the guns in a shooting-spree game like Modern Warfare wasn’t how the guns “were meant to be portrayed.” Sales of the gun in the real world were also poor, largely because the gun had a major design flaw that eventually led to its recall and then discontinuation.

And while gun manufacturer executives claim they didn’t realize their guns would used in video games quite the way they were, they were cognizant enough to ask that their branding be removed in PvP games (where players were shooting at each other rather than at “military bad guys”). Here, my fellow MMO gamers will be mystified at the historical revisionism, as both a Remington VP and the WSJ suggest that “online games where players shoot each other” is something that hadn’t taken off until the era of Modern Warfare 2, i.e., 2009.

“The concept of online lobbies where players engaged each other in ‘team deathmatches’ was unfamiliar,” the quoted executive claims. “I believe that if anyone had known then what we know now about how these games evolved, the decisions would have been different.”

In fact, the template for the modern multiplayer PvP shooter was already well-known and well-established in the 1990s thanks to foundational games like Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, Counterstrike, Tribes, Descent, Unreal, and on and on.

According to the attorney for the families in the lawsuit, more documents relating to the agreement between Activision and Remington are due to be released later this year.

Source: WSJ via GIbiz
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