There used to be a time when used game sales were almost every publisher’s main concern. From online passes being bundled in with new copies of multiplayer games to even single-player titles locking content behind included “passes,” players were being told a clear message: buy a game new if you really want the full experience. Add in the increasing amount of pre-order bonuses being offered at the time, and it becomes clear how gross and capitalistic simply trying to play a game in its intended form was. And only one publisher was smart (or devious) enough to lock sexual content behind such a code, but it could have started a bad, tasteless trend.
Enter The Saboteur Nude Code
That culprit would be Electronic Arts, the same company who largely popularized the idea of an online pass until public backlash forced the company to abandon the idea completely a few years later. Their guinea pig wound up being Pandemic Studios’ The Saboteur, a third-person action game that was set during World War II that dealt with the Nazi invasion of France. It may seem like a bit much to shoehorn unlockable nudity into a game dealing with some of the greatest atrocities in mankind’s history, but there was nothing that Electronic Arts wouldn’t do at the time to battle used game sales.
A downloadable code for The Midnight Show was included with new copies of The Saboteur and gave players access to additional brothels, an exclusive car, and hiding spots. Most importantly, though, it would force the game to render all of the female employees of the brothels topless rather than wearing bras or pasties. It was a choice made to cater to the most basic of instincts: sexual desire.
Like most online passes, there was a plan in place so that the publisher could get some extra money from those that did wind up buying the game used. While it’s no longer available due to the game’s servers shutting down in 2012, Electronic Arts had previously made The Midnight Show available as downloadable content on both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. While Electronic Arts tried to treat it as part as a greater unlock at the time, the messaging was quite clear to consumers. If they were willing to fork over a few more dollars then they got to see a bunch of digital nudity that would otherwise be censored in-game. It is truly one of the most blunt and non-graceful attempts at trying to solicit more money from players.
While The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion‘s Horse Armor DLC will forever go down in history as the first gaming microtransaction that seemed totally meaningless, The Saboteur nude code outdoes it in terms of sheer stupidity. It adds nothing of consequence to the game, clashes with the more serious tone of its historical subject, and paints Electronic Arts not only as incredibly greedy, but also a company dealing in sleaze.
The Future of Charging for Nudity
Despite Electronic Arts’ best efforts, The Saboteur nude code didn’t lead to millions of players buying the action game at launch. In fact, the action game wound up being a bomb for the publisher and wound up being Pandemic’s final release.
However, it does provide a really interesting “what if…” scenario. Just imagine how it would be integrated into every title imaginable if simply adding some optional nudity became a way to motivate players to buying titles new rather than used. After all, if it could be used in a game that (rather clumsily and insensitively) touched on the Nazi occupation of France, then what was off limits?
It’s a dark future, but one that isn’t really all that far-fetched. Sex does sell. If this had opened the floodgates, would publishers forego any sort of moral scrutiny and start releasing their own nude patches? Would an idea like this save the disappointing sales that Shadow of the Tomb Raider suffered from? It’s hard to know the answers but it’s a good sign the industry hasn’t traveled down this path yet.
But it’s not a guarantee that industry won’t go back into that direction. Clearly no major publisher is going to willingly take on all of the criticism and backlash that would stem from such a decision right now, but it’s easy to see more niche titles with nothing to lose going in that direction. Steam is allowing more and more 18 and older titles onto their platform. In many ways, The Saboteur nude code could be a glimpse at the future of bizarre selling practices, but for now, it’s a historical odd note of when a publisher thought they could manipulate consumer buying habits with some breasts. Let’s just hope it stays that way.