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US military can learn from game marketing, says ex-Call Of Duty director

Dave Anthony believes unpopular national security solutions can be pushed just like new game features

When it comes to introducing unpalatable ideas to the American public, the US government could learn a thing or two from the marketing strategies of AAA games.

That's what former Call of Duty director Dave Anthony told a think-tank forum in Washington this week. According to a report from Businessweek, Anthony's talk explored potentially controversial solutions to national security problems in America, and he had an intriguing take on how those solutions could be sold to the public.

"When we have a new product that has elements that we're not sure how people will respond to, what do we do as a corporation?" he asked, referring to his time as writer and game director on Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops 2.

"We market it, and we market it as much as we can - so that whether people like it or not, we do all the things we can to essentially brainwash people into liking it before it actually comes out."

The forum was organised by the Atlantic Council, a think-tank where Anthony is a fellow in international security. He warned the crowd of the threat of "invasion" from within America's borders, most likely by an Islamic terrorist group, and illustrated the concept with a video that depicted, among other things, a US drone hacked by forces working from Iran and a massacre at a Las Vegas hotel.

"We do all the things we can to essentially brainwash people into liking it before it actually comes out"

Anthony's plea that policy-makers should learn from marketing and promotion in creative industries was linked to what he saw as a potential solution to the issue: stationing undercover US soldiers in schools, much like air marshalls on aeroplanes.

"The public won't like it, they'll think it's a police state," he said, then added, "All of these are solvable problems."

"I look at the US military and government, ironically, as having some of the very same problems as what the Call of Duty franchise has," Anthony continued. "We are both on top of our game. We are both the best in the world at what we do. We both have enemies who are trying to take us down at any possible opportunity. But the difference is, we know how to react to that."

The hugely successful Call of Duty franchise has strong ties to the real-world US military. That includes significant charitable donations, but also more divisive relationships, like working with Oliver North on Black Ops 2, a former lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps. whose military career was tarnished by the Iran Contra scandal. North appeared as a character in the game, but he was also involved in its marketing, as a talking head in a documentary about the future of warfare.

Indeed, those decisions have come back to haunt Activision recently, in the form of a lawsuit brought by Manuel Noriega, the disgraced Panamanian dictator who also appeared as a character in Black Ops 2. Noriega has asserted that his depiction in the game is unflattering and unauthorised. Activision has dismissed Noriega's claims as, "absurd."

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Latest comments (23)

"We market it, and we market it as much as we can - so that whether people like it or not, we do all the things we can to essentially brainwash people into liking it before it actually comes out."
"The public won't like it, they'll think it's a police state," he said, then added, "All of these are solvable problems."
Well, this is just chilling to read.
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Every single word of this piece is just fucking horrible to read. Crawling under my desk 'till the rapture.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 2 years ago
Holy hell, public information is not a product to be marketed!
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Show all comments (23)
Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game2 years ago
Not only do I agree that it's chilling to read, if I was Activision I'd be considered suing an ex game director for publicly stating that their strategy is to brainwash consumers into swallowing unpopular changes, as it puts his former employer in a bad PR situation. He used the word brainwash AND suggested that changes made weren't in their consumers' interest.

I'd also have assumed that if you are suggesting brainwashing the public, you don't suggest it on a forum that the same public can freely read about.

That, and the guy sounds like a scary nut.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
I want to ask him, if he still goes to vote, since his idea of a politician seems to be somebody doing what is useful to them for whatever reason with the help of clever PR, instead of being an extension of the will of the voters. Is this guy suggesting the U.S should go about politics the way North Korea does?
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I'm more spinning from the fact a guy makes it on the board of an International Security think-tank because he makes buku $$ from shooty-bang-face videogames. What that says about our attitude to war is a tad more scary than what is says about gaming.
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James Brightman Editor in Chief, GamesIndustry.biz2 years ago
Totally agree with you guys, this is frightening! I love this part: "The public won't like it, they'll think it's a police state," he said, then added, "All of these are solvable problems."

We already have police running around our country with tanks and overpowered guns! Things are getting out of control.
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This is the most open display of capitalism uber alles I've possibly ever seen openly divulged like that. Pretty sickening. I'd be a lot angrier, if it didn't seem to be uttered with such sincerity, however dystopian it may be.
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Taylan Kay Senior Game Desginer, Nerd Corps Entertainment2 years ago
For a moment I thought I was reading an article on The Onion. Sadly that wasn't the case.
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Morgan Ramsay Founder, President & CEO, Entertainment Media Council2 years ago
Think tanks work up scenarios (i.e., elaborate thought experiments) to simulate what would happen to society, a governing body, or some other organization under certain circumstances, which allows researchers to identify problems that could work against an emergency response, armed engagement, or other means of approaching a critical event with ideally minimal loss of life.

There are scenarios for everything from a zombie apocalypse to an extraterrestrial incursion to all-out nuclear war to the loss of essential infrastructure. This is not terrifying, especially when you consider the context: he was speaking at a forum hosted by a think tank called "The Future of Unknown Conflict" attended by other people who also work at think tanks!

- Atlantic Council
- Atlantic Council - Event: The Future of Unknown Conflict
- Foreign Policy - Exclusive: The Pentagon Has a Plan to Stop the Zombie Apocalypse. Seriously.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morgan Ramsay on 3rd October 2014 3:38pm

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
Think Tanks are society's way of putting those people into hypothetical situations who would either do too much damage in real ones, or in whose solution nobody is really interested.

Hands up who has ever seen coverage of a big disaster that was solved because there was a plan ready to execute in a drawer. Screw global warming, we now have a plan for a Zombie outbreak.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus2 years ago
It's important to note that this is one person's opinion. So let's not tar the entire company/industry/franchise with a very large brush when reading what is essentially the industry's Mein Kampf. DEAR CHRIST.
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David Lee Chief Concepticator, Concepticate2 years ago
I'm heartened that everyone else seems to be as upset be his comments as I am. Truly a dangerous view of the role of government and the society--probably informed by ignorance more than malice but it's frightening to describe actions that turn America into a police state as being a PR problem that can be easily solved.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus2 years ago
What really pisses me off is that a lot of this - the way larger games are marketed - is patently obvious to anyone that pays attention. SimCity, Call of Duty, anything that had SecuROM back in the day, all of these things were marketed, pushed, cajoled, with partisans being picked out to push the status quo... and a lot of games media fell for it, hook line and sinker. Either through ignorance, willful ignorance, or coercion by editors/corporate, people werent' calling it out at the time, and those that did were essentially told to STFU.

I'm sorry, you don't get to push this shit for years, you don't get to get flown to Activision for a junket, and then be offended when someone tells our enemies "hey, do it like this, it worked on these idiots!". People get mad because some D-level indie dev fucked a Kotaku reporter, while playing the games that got shoved down their throats dishonestly.
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Morgan Ramsay Founder, President & CEO, Entertainment Media Council2 years ago
@James Brightman: The Businessweek article, from which this article was derived, quoted Dave Anthony completely out of context. You can watch Dave Anthony's entire talk here: The Future of Unknown Conflict. The quote that is upsetting everyone doesn't really exist. If you don't have time to watch and listen to the 1.5 hours long talk, skip to 33:00 and listen for a few minutes.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morgan Ramsay on 3rd October 2014 5:29pm

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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend2 years ago
Context is a wonderful thing.....
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development2 years ago
Well I had a humourous comment removed by this guy because it was misunderstood, taken out of context and marked as offensive. Good to have consistency. In future I will be ignoring his articles. Assuming this post even airs.
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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online2 years ago
@David Lee: We might not be the intended target audience however. So while I am happy like you are, I wonder if fans of "Big Brother", "Survivor" and a plethora of reality TV shows would be that upset.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 2 years ago
"We market it, and we market it as much as we can - so that whether people like it or not, we do all the things we can to essentially brainwash people into liking it before it actually comes out."
Brainwashing people in 2014 is still considered bad right?
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Charles Ellis CEO & Lead Developer, Portalus Games2 years ago
@Morgan: It's not completely out of context, he is definitely saying that people's perception about having plain-clothes, armed soldiers stationed in schools would be that we're moving towards being a police state, and he's definitely saying that such a perception "problem" can be fixed.

Also, the whole thing about the way that CoD is marketed to get people to be in favor of some upcoming changes that they're worried might be viewed negatively, before they're actually released, is entirely within context. That said, it's not nearly so much of an issue and it's a reasonable strategy given that there's a segment of the gaming audience that tends to have knee-jerk negative reactions to any kind of change. Basically the cost of doing business when you put out a franchise title every year.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Charles Ellis on 4th October 2014 4:45am

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Greg Scheel Executive Game Designer and Producer 2 years ago
This guy is a joke, "plainclothes" and "soldier" just don't go together. "Plainclothes" goes with "detective", a job you need a college education for, a job that costs quite a bit, and that kind of personnel you just don't leave lollygagging around a school. The people who keep an eye out for odd things at a school, are called janitors, they usually know the place rather well.

It seems the think tank has a few screws loose.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 2 years ago
What do you people expect?

You've created a culture where the mediocre rises to the top. Your industry is set up to control core creative... not foster it. The people responsible for finding talent work for the employers, not the talent (as they do in other arts and entertainment industries).

Then you get comments like this.

What do you expect?
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Pete Leonard , Amiqus2 years ago
The American Military's attitude to war pure and simple, Barry. I'm pretty sure in Europe no one thinks like this (well not to the same degree).
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