When Product Placement Paid Off With the Burger King Games
Product placement is one of the oldest tricks of advertising in entertainment. Taking a recognizable brand and placing it somewhere in the environment of a TV show, movie or video game can be devious and sneaky when subtle and absolutely cringe-worthy when blatant, such as when the entire bit of media is built around the product sponsoring it. It doesn’t stop companies from pursuing it either way, particularly in video games. The ‘90s were rife with titles based around characters like the 7Up Spot and Cheeto’s Chester Cheetah, but even more modern generations weren’t devoid or corporate sponsorship. The fact is that on some level, marketing tie-ins in video games pay off, such as in the curious case of the Burger King games, released today in 2006.
The Burger King games were three titles developed by Blitz Games for the Xbox and Xbox 360, released as a marketing gimmick by Burger King during the Winter season of 2006. It was a complex juncture of interests that pushed the Burger King games to happen. Burger King wanted to capture the interest of players with some advertising, but Microsoft wouldn’t allow a cheap stunt simply meant to push a product to be released on its console. To that end, Burger King sought the help of developer and they found Blitz Games. At the time, Blitz’s studio director, Phillip Oliver, was also looking for a new advertiser to back new projects for the company to work on. Burger King took interest in the independent studio’s history of licensed titles and particularly the party game Fusion Frenzy which had been a launch title for the original Xbox in 2001.
In late 2005, Blitz began meeting with Burger King and by February 2006, the studio began work on the games. During development, Microsoft and Burger King remained in constant communication with the studio. Microsoft was constantly seeking quality assurance and the Burger King Company wanted to ensure that the franchise and its characters were portrayed positively no matter what. At the end of each month leading up to the final release, prototype builds were created and sent up the chain.
One of the most difficult challenges in production was Burger King’s desire that the games be playable on both Xbox and Xbox 360. This presented an obstacle as the games were original meant for digital release on Xbox Live, but Burger King expressed a desire for physical copies that could be sold in their physical locations. In essence, Blitz was forced with taking on the task of producing two different versions of three original games in less than a year --- an incredibly unenviable position for any developer, though the team at Blitz was able to push through and get it done.
The result of the development was Sneak King, PocketBike Racer and Big Bumpin’. PocketBike Racer was essentially a Mario Kart clone with Burger King theming. Big Bumpin’ was an arena based battle game with bumper cars where players participate in a demolition derby and avoid arena traps to destroy the other players’ cars. Sneak King was probably considered the most bizarre, tasking players with taking on the role of the plastic-faced Burger King and stealthily creeping around neighborhoods, remaining unseen and unheard and sneaking up on hungry people to give them Burger King food. Each of the games was met with mostly average ranking, though Big Bumpin’ was most consistently the most favored among the group.
Despite their average ranking, the Burger King games did incredibly well. The games were sold as budget titles in both digital and physical copies and at discount alongside Burger King meals. Easily available and at such a low price, the Burger King titles were easily in the top ten overall sales of video games in 2006. Not only that, but Burger King famously saw an incredible growth in revenue over their expected sales for the year, much of which they would attribute to the Burger King games. Say what you will about product placements or advertising attached to interactive media, but when results like what occurred with the Burger King games exist, it’s hard to argue against the validity of the tactic.