We've all seen edgy promotions for games before, but we've never seen anything like what Square Enix unleashed this morning for Hitman: Absolution. They released a Facebook promotion, where Facebook users could place hits on their Facebook friends and then the friends would be sent a video of Agent 47 carrying out the deed. It sounds harmless and fun enough until you get into the mechanics of assigning the hit.
Users have to identify their friends by distinguishing characteristics for the assassination, and instead of using harmless descriptions such as "mole on cheek" or "tattoo on forearm", hits are identified by having "small tits", a "muffin top", or a "tiny penis". What's worse is that in the video that is sent to the target, Agent 47 is distinctly told that the target is identifiable by their insert-tacky-characteristic-here. Your friend now knows you think they have small boobs or a muffin top. That's sure to go over well.
It may have seemed funny and harmless on the publisher's end, but virtually no one outside of Square Enix found any slice of humor in it.
Aside from gamers being appalled, developers openly attacked the promotion on Twitter.
- The Hitman Facebook advertising thing is just all the kinds of messed up. How did anyone think this was a good idea? – BioWare designer Jos Hendriks
- This Hitman Facebook ad campaign has to be made up. There's no way something like this gets made, then ok'd, then launched public. – Nathan Vella, co-founder and president of developer Capybara
- With the horrific rise in internet bullying it seems like a risky move to publish an app that encourages bullying. All press is good press? – Sarah Wellock, community manager at Rocksteady Studios
Not long after the backlash, Square Enix yanked the promotion, and then publicly apologized for the mess.
Earlier today we launched an app based around Hitman: Absolution that allowed you to place virtual hits on your Facebook friends. Those hits would only be viewable by the recipient, and could only be sent to people who were confirmed friends.
We were wide off the mark with the app, and following feedback from the community we decided the best thing to do was remove it completely and quickly. This we've now done.
We're sorry for any offence caused by this.
Wide off the mark? You think?
The sad thing is, this promotion could have actually been fun and creative. It's a shame that someone in PR thought it was a good idea to go the insult route.