Tuesday, April 21, 2009

AdVantage Point: TNA Impact! (2008)

Give an idiot a scanner and a comic book, and let him to pick out all the advertisements for video games.
This is AdVantage Point -- a chance to document the winding timeline of comics/gaming history as it was canonized by the adverts. Musings, rantings, observations, advertisements.

Yesterday's entry, (featuring Halo Wars), glanced the subject of advantageous ambiguity in advertising. Looking back, it strikes me that all of the adverts we've featured, so far, have had one aesthetic commonality: they're all advertising brands assured a largely familiarized audience.

TNA Impact! marked the first video game entry for prowrestling's current number-two promotion.
Much like Halo Wars; Impact! does very little to indicate the qualities of the game in the print advertisement, instead emphasizing the personality of the brand, while also using the space to promote the shows the game is based on. Given TNA's prospective budget, it's not a bad idea to try to juggle as many objectives as possible, but is it really doing the job?

It's popular belief that some advertising needn't necessarily sell a product, but rather, simply keep it in the conscious and subconscious mindspace of consumers. Regular reiteration through strong advertising almost certainly has an effect on a potential buyer. If the brand is already in the frame of reference of the consumer, they're sure to subconsciously recognise brand association. If any TNA fan wasn't already aware of the game, then featuring three of the franchise's biggest stars; Kurt Angle, AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe; is sure to remind them during respective appearances.

Obviously the star appeal of headlining talent goes beyond those already familiar with it.
Kurt Angle shot to stardom after his 2000 debut in WWE, becoming one of the most decorated champions the company has ever known. The Olympic Gold Medallist shocked the industry when, in 2006, he left World Wrestling Entertainment, only to defect to their nearest rival, bringing with him one of the most recognised names in the business. It's not a terribly complex principle, then, when TNA promote the Kurt Angle brand, building their own association while perhaps luring fans from across the pond. The concept of association was there when Angle was first recruited by WWE, and now passes to TNA, and their new game.

A lot of fuss has been made about the Nintendo Wii's expansion of the gaming market.
While impressive, this does reemphasise the point that conventional gaming, and licensed material, is valuable for it's captive audience. Penetration into broader markets is highly unlikely, which is why very little time might be wasted on soft selling to new markets. Again, this is an advert directed at people who already know it's meaning, and that is why it's most striking elements are relatively unexplained.

Impact! follows on from a long tradition of prowrestling video games.
For a medium built on testosterone and competition, it's hardly surprising that interactive power fantasies have proved popular with it's audience. A resurgence of popularity in the late nineties saw wrestling capitalize on expanding technologies in gaming and online networking. Wrestling remains one of the most prevalent subjects on the internet, and the video games have contributed strongly, birthing an expansive and fiercely loyal niche market of gamers. "Create-A-Wrestler" formulas have to be one of the strongest examples of user-generated material in games, popularized in the late nineties by WWF: Warzone, it's sequel, WWF: Attitude, and a series of games released on the Nintendo 64, including cult favourite, No Mercy.

The Smackdown! series of games, originally exclusive to Playstation, have become the brand to beat. TNA Impact! goes up against the latest in the series of annual instalments, now featured across several platforms as Smackdown! vs RAW.

For the game itself, TNA Impact! attempts to rise to the challenge.
Innovative and popular talent, AJ Styles, was promoted as a prominent contributor to the mechanics and concepts of the game. TNA's unique match types and in-ring conceits are recreated for the game, along with all the visual trimmings that make prowrestling the spectacle of sports entertainment that it is. Unfortunately, Styles's influence can only inspire so much in the fairly mediocre game engine, however.

Given the business direction Midway has taken over the past six months, it seems increasingly likely that Impact! might gain infamy as one of the company's last productions. On the flipside, the footnote in wrestling will hopefully be a little more positive for the game's introduction of a new wrestling gimmick -- Suicide!

Despite channelling superheroes in the most hokey of ways, the skull-faced vigilante wrestler made the transition from in-game storyline, to life, bursting into TNA on a flying fox from the ceiling. Suicide's identity, for the time being, remains a mystery, but his unique role in the TNA Impact! game has to be one of the most admirable risks taken by both parties. Capitalizing on TNA's more receptive audience to a puroresu style clashed with US prowrestling drama, it's a fun concept that brings something to both sides of the licensing agreement.

TNA fans are bound to be very forgiving of the fairly uninspired track the game goes down.
This in itself could be another reason not to try to promote the in-game material, as much as pushing the brand of TNA, and it's cult of personality.

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