The Top 7... PR disasters

We chronicle the embarrassments that the industry would rather you forgot

5. Rule of Rose

The saga of Rule of Rose's downfall in Europe started out promisingly enough. The game's steampunk setting and Grimm's-fairy-tale tone looked appealingly quirky to survival-horror fans, and the idea of sinister children as enemies to the teen heroine made the game seem unique and high-minded. But then disaster struck: the game turned out to be slow, lifeless and dull, and press outlets that didn't savage Rule of Rose outright mostly ignored it. Obviously, desperate measures were needed, and what some suspect began as an effort to stealthily promote the game ended with a continent-wide moral panic and the game's cancellation in Europe.

It's not certain whether the story that sparked Rule of Rose's downward spiral was a publicity stunt or just irresponsible journalism, but here's what we know: sometime prior to the game's release, Italian publisher 505 Games hired Media Hook - an advertising firm known for creating story "hooks" to catch the interest of journalists - to promote the game. Then, on Nov. 10, 2006, Italian newsmagazine Panorama ran Rule of Rose art on its cover with the headline "He who buries the little girl wins."

5. Rule of Rose

The saga of Rule of Rose's downfall in Europe started out promisingly enough. The game's steampunk setting and Grimm's-fairy-tale tone looked appealingly quirky to survival-horror fans, and the idea of sinister children as enemies to the teen heroine made the game seem unique and high-minded. But then disaster struck: the game turned out to be slow, lifeless and dull, and press outlets that didn't savage Rule of Rose outright mostly ignored it. Obviously, desperate measures were needed, and what some suspect began as an effort to stealthily promote the game ended with a continent-wide moral panic and the game's cancellation in Europe.

It's not certain whether the story that sparked Rule of Rose's downward spiral was a publicity stunt or just irresponsible journalism, but here's what we know: sometime prior to the game's release, Italian publisher 505 Games hired Media Hook - an advertising firm known for creating story "hooks" to catch the interest of journalists - to promote the game. Then, on Nov. 10, 2006, Italian newsmagazine Panorama ran Rule of Rose art on its cover with the headline "He who buries the little girl wins."

Above: Sensationalist press led Europeans to react to Rule of Rose slightly worse than Jennifer's reacting to that maggoty rat

The story was a poorly researched piece about the supposed horrors of violent games, but it's notable for three reasons: 1) it focused largely on Rule of Rose, alluding to scenes of extreme violence and underage sexuality that never actually happen in the game; 2) it used several pieces of official Rule of Rose art - not screenshots, mind, but the kind of promotional character art that's generally sent out directly from game publishers; and 3) it drew the attention of several prominent Italian politicians, all of whom were horrified to learn of Rule of Rose and its possible effects on the tiny, innocent babies it was apparently being marketed to.

If the story (or at least its sensationalistic hook) was covertly planted by Media Hook in an effort to bolster sales, as journalist Matteo Bittanti seems to allege in this article, then the strategy backfired spectacularly. The Panorama piece sparked a moral outcry that snowballed across Europe, ultimately forcing 505 Games to bow to public pressure and cancel the release of Rule of Rose outright. It was a powerful lesson in PR gone awry, as well as a sad defeat for the game industry and for freedom of speech - although if it's any comfort to our readers in Europe, you didn't miss much.

Above: Sensationalist press led Europeans to react to Rule of Rose slightly worse than Jennifer's reacting to that maggoty rat

The story was a poorly researched piece about the supposed horrors of violent games, but it's notable for three reasons: 1) it focused largely on Rule of Rose, alluding to scenes of extreme violence and underage sexuality that never actually happen in the game; 2) it used several pieces of official Rule of Rose art - not screenshots, mind, but the kind of promotional character art that's generally sent out directly from game publishers; and 3) it drew the attention of several prominent Italian politicians, all of whom were horrified to learn of Rule of Rose and its possible effects on the tiny, innocent babies it was apparently being marketed to.

If the story (or at least its sensationalistic hook) was covertly planted by Media Hook in an effort to bolster sales, as journalist Matteo Bittanti seems to allege inthis article, then the strategy backfired spectacularly. The Panorama piece sparked a moral outcry that snowballed across Europe, ultimately forcing 505 Games to bow to public pressure and cancel the release of Rule of Rose outright. It was a powerful lesson in PR gone awry, as well as a sad defeat for the game industry and for freedom of speech - although if it's any comfort to our readers in Europe,you didn't miss much.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.

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