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Kabam Off-Key With Wartune

Free-to-play firm's legitimacy hurt by continued association with objectionably advertised game

Since its founding in 2009, Kabam has grown to a company of 500 employees, one valued at more than $700 million. It is the developer behind the hit Kingdoms of Camelot franchise, and has been entrusted with making games for a number of high-profile film properties, including The Godfather, The Hobbit, and The Fast & The Furious.

That should be enough to establish Kabam's legitimacy beyond question, but the company's announcement this week that it will be distributing 7th Road's Wartune for iOS and Android in the US and Europe has me questioning it nonetheless.

AO: A cross between a scarlet letter and a red badge of courage?

Wartune is perhaps best known among Western gamers for its online ads, which are essentially spiritual successors to the much-maligned Civony/Evony ads. As if it weren't bad enough that the more-or-less sexless strategy RPG is being promoted with anime bikini girls and taglines like "Our sun-kissed skin so hot... will melt your popsicle" and "Your body is my party... Let's get it started," the game's ads have actually gone a couple steps further.

Several Wartune ads went beyond suggestive implication and outright lied, advertising the game as being rated AO for Adults Only by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, even though it's never received a rating of any kind from the group. No doubt upset that its trademarks were being used without permission, the ESRB cracked down and those AO icons have since been replaced with generic "adult content" warning labels.

And then there are the ads proudly proclaiming Wartune to be for "Male Gamers Only," accompanied by art of scantily clad women. Using sex has been a pretty common practice for selling non-sex things at least as long as I've been alive, but the fact that Wartune is selling exclusion along with sex pushes it further than I can stomach. The ads promise the female body, but without the presence of actual females. They look at recent backlash to the industry's gradual enlightenment and they see a market they can pander to, money to be made if they just echo back the proper frequency of misogyny.

Stay classy, Wartune.

The fine print here is that these ads aren't Kabam's. The browser-based version of Wartune has a number of international publishers, including Kongregate, Armor Games, NGames, R2Games, Proficient City Limited, and Kabam itself. Obviously, these disparate outfits have different ideas about how to bring in new players to the game, but they are all in the Wartune business now. And Wartune's advertising, no matter who actually pays for it, should be enough to convince people that the Wartune business is a dodgy one indeed.

A Kabam representative responded to a request for comment, saying,"Kabam is one of several publishers of the browser-based version [of] Wartune. Kabam has very high standards for marketing both its first party and third party titles, which is one of the reasons why Wartune's developers chose Kabam exclusively to distribute the game on mobile devices in the US and Europe. Kabam is not in the position to comment on other publishers' marketing, regardless of how we feel about some of their tactics."

Considering Kabam promotes integrity, humility, and trust as its employees' guiding values, the company's willingness to not just be identified with Wartune but to actively expand its connection to the game is confusing. However much Kabam's continuing association with Wartune helps enrich the company, I can't help but feel it's ultimately poorer for the effort.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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