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1. Monster Energy Drinks Death Stranding
You may have noticed that most of the really blatant product placement in games comes from older games. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find more modern examples, including the hit Hideo Kojima game Death Stranding.
In this game, your character can replenish his lost stamina by chugging Monster Energy drinks that he finds. While this isn’t unheard of in Dystopian fiction (in the Cormac McCarthy novel The Road, there is a moment where the father and son share a Coke they find), it’s tough not to view these moments in the game as a blatant advertisement for gamer fuel.
2. So Much in Crazy Taxi
Crazy Taxi remains my favorite arcade game. There is something about the visceral gameplay, memorable characters, and rollicking soundtrack with tracks from Bad Religion and The Offspring. But the game is also chock full of really blatant advertising.
Fortunately, the placement doesn’t really disrupt gameplay. You’ll see billboards and even storefronts for brands like KFC and Pizza Hut. But considering the fast and furious nature of the gameplay, most players don’t have much time to stare at these things as they race throughout the city.
3. Dole in Super Monkey Ball
It’s tough to ride the line when it comes to in-game product placement. Is it possible for advertisements to be both blatant and logical? According to Super Monkey Ball, the answer is “yes.”
As you’d expect from a game with a monkey protagonist, this title has plenty of bananas. And those bananas are all branded as Dole bananas. Is it blatant and in your face? Sure. But banana stickers on bananas are not exactly disruptive to our gaming experience.
4. M.C. Kids
Gamers don’t necessarily mind product placement so long as the game is good. But the McDonald’s title M.C. Kids manages to be both blatant product placement and a really crappy game.
The game is a forgettable platformer, and the theme doesn’t really go with McDonald’s. You play as boring children doing their best Mario impression, which doesn’t exactly make you think of Happy Meals.
For a better McDonald’s experience, play the game Global Gladiators instead. It features kids with Super Soakers shooting out goo. If you pretend this goo is the machine-separated meat that the company uses to make McNuggets, then it’s a pretty damn accurate portrayal!
5. Cool Spot
Sometimes, product placement turns into an entire game. One of the best examples of this is when the 7Up mascot was adapted into multiple games.
On 16-bit systems, players could enjoy a decent platformer from Virgin Games entitled Cool Spot. But for my money, the better game was the NES multiplayer strategy title called Spot: The Video Game.
6. Burger King in Fight Night: Round 3
For a while there, it seemed like the hideous Burger King character was everywhere. He eventually had his own awful promotional game called Sneak King. But that wasn’t nearly as bad as his appearance in Fight Night: Round 3.
You couldn’t play as him, which would have at least been pretty fun. Instead, you can select him as your trainer. It makes the otherwise realistic game feel very surreal, and anyone looking to max out their achievements had to use him as a trainer at least once.
7. Vans and Billabong in Tony Hawk’s Underground
By the time Tony Hawk’s Underground came out, this franchise was more than a fun skating game. It was a lifestyle brand unto itself, helping to promote punk music, culture, and aesthetics like no game ever had.
It’s not surprising, then, that Tony Hawk’s Underground featured some selective product placement. The title is full of advertisements and products for familiar brands such as Billabong, DC, Quicksilver, and Vans. Sure, this might seem gaudy, but it was no worse than what a fan would see at any given skating circuit event.
8. Energizer in Alan Wake
If you’ve never played Alan Wake, the flashlight plays a major role in this game. And in true gaming fashion, you need to constantly worry about finding batteries to keep the light alive.
In a stroke of advertising genius, all of the batteries you find are Duracell batteries. This makes the product placement logical, but the gameplay gives us mixed messages. After all, the in-game batteries die very quickly, and this may negatively impact how gamers view the brand.
9. Kawasaki Jet Skis in Wave Race 64
As with movies, product placement in games works best if it feels pretty natural. And Nintendo found a simple way to do this in their N64 game Wave Race 64.
Some of the jet skis in the game were branded as Kawasaki vehicles. Interestingly, this branding was removed when the game was brought to the Wii Virtual Console and then restored when it was brought to the Wii U Virtual Console.
10. Mercedes-Benz in Mario Kart
For such a family-friendly company, Nintendo rarely shies from manipulative product placement. And this got pretty damn bad when Mario Kart 8 released on the Wii U.
Some free DLC for the game featured Mercedes-Benz branding on some of the karts. Interestingly, you can still see this branding on the Nintendo Switch port of the game. Of course, if you keep buying all of Nintendo’s re-releases, it’s tougher than ever to afford a Mercedes-Benz.
11. Pizza Hut in EverQuest II
Sadly, there is a stereotype that gamers are overweight people that barely want to get up from their gaming. Sadly, Pizza Hut and EverQuest II went out of their way to make this stereotype seem accurate.
Players eventually received the opportunity to order and pay for some Pizza Hut delivery pizza without even leaving the game. It was undeniably convenient, but this whole thing made the world think all of the EverQuest II players looked like the fat WoW gamer in South Park.
12. Zool and the Chupa Chups
There are countless games that have tried to create characters just as endearing as Mario or Sonic. These efforts usually fail, and that was definitely the case with Zool: Ninja from the Nth Dimension.
The gameplay is ok--a fun way to kill a few minutes. But what really stands out is that the character is constantly scarfing down Chupa Chups products such as lollipops. All of this is a bit too blatant, and you could even argue having a kid’s game mascot constantly sucking down sugar is a bit irresponsible.
13. Subway in Uncharted 3
It’s easier to forgive blatant product placement when it is taken to hilariously stupid levels. And that’s a lesson that Subway learned when advertising in Uncharted 3.
As part of advertisements for that game’s multiplayer mode, players could discover subway meals and staff uniforms in the game. It’s over the top and very silly, but the shamelessness of Subway makes it hard to be mad.
Although this whole thing makes it seem like that Community episode about Subway’s insane advertising practices may be more accurate than we ever imagined.
14. Obama Campaigns in Burnout Paradise
Part of being a successful politician is finding new ways to reach audiences. However, the last place gamers expected to see presidential contender Barack Obama was in a video game.
However, Obama’s campaign took up the opportunity to have presidential billboards in Burnout Paradise. John McCain refused a similar offer, which means there is a nonzero chance that Obama’s success comes from pandering to gamers.
15. Coca-Cola’s Video Game
In the early days of gaming, there wasn’t much in the way of copyright protection. This led to plenty of weird game clones, and Coca-Cola used this opportunity for a bold advertising move.
They created a promotional Atari 2600 cartridge and handed it out to those who attended a 1983 sales convention. The game is a modified version of Space Invaders in which gamers used a Coca-Cola shaped ship to shoot aliens that spelled out the word “Pepsi.”
If that wasn’t cheeky enough, Coca-Cola gave the game a bold slogan: ”Coke wins.”