Super Bowl 2010

Sorry, EA, CBS May Damn Going to Hell

Game Maker's 'Inferno' Tag Unlikely to Make End Run by Super Bowl Censors

By Published on .

YORK, Pa. ( -- You can't say "go to hell" in a Super Bowl commercial, but you can vividly depict the journey, which is what Electronic Arts plans to do with its first-ever Super Bowl ad promoting its coming video game "Dante's Inferno."

'Dante's Inferno'
'Dante's Inferno'
There is already some hellacious buzz about the third-person action game based on the classic epic poem "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri and his imagined nine circles of hell. Players descend down through levels including greed, lust, anger and heresy, battling beasts and demons on the way to rescue Beatrice, Dante's love, from Lucifer himself. The Feb. 9* launch comes from EA, a marketer more commonly known for comparatively tame sports titles, and will go to combat with the latest installment in Sony's established mega-franchise "God of War 3," being released a month later.

EA has been marketing the game for nine months now with a variety of promotions and stunts, including a mock protest by actors portraying religious devotees who were opposed to the game; a "Spend the Holidays in Hell" free game download in December; and a "Save 666 Pennies" ($6.66) promotional discount on 9/9/09 (sixes upside down) for pre-orders through retailer Game Stop.

The Super Bowl is "the perfect culmination of the 'Highway to Hell' and the 'Nine Months of Hell' [marketing] campaign leading up to the launch," said Phil Marineau, EA senior product manager. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, is the agency.

EA's road to the Super Bowl is paved with intentions to steal thunder from Sony PlayStation's "God of War 3," a game to which "Dante's Inferno" has constantly been compared by reviewers. USA Today's Brett Molina wrote in his game review after playing a demo version: "To say 'Dante's Inferno'' takes inspiration from the ... 'God of War' franchise is a huge understatement."

The "Inferno" launch, moreover, is being taken seriously by PlayStation, which is readying its own big marketing push. But "Dante's" one apparent advantage is that it will be available on both PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360. ("God of War" is exclusive to the PlayStation platform.) "'God of War' is a wonderful product," said Mr. Marineau. "We think there are a lot of people who will buy Dante and also get 'God of War.'"

"Is there room in the market for both? Absolutely," said NPD Group analyst David Riley. "Both of these titles are fine examples of just how far developers have come over the past several years."

Of the two, EA has the tougher marketing challenge of introducing a brand-new property in a still-rebounding economy, while "God of War" fans are primed and waiting for the next edition. "It's always hard to launch a new IP. That is why the games industry is so heavily reliant upon sequels," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier in an e-mail interview.

So far, hell has proved tempting to gamers. EA said it's sold almost 100,000 games on pre-order, racked up 2.5 million demo downloads, and counts 5 million users of its Facebook game "Go to Hell."

The Super Bowl as a kickoff media venue also points out the importance of this title for EA, which is better known for its blockbuster sports franchises such as "Madden" football and simulation games such as "The Sims." "This is definitely important to their portfolio. It could really help round it out," said Ted Pollak, senior gaming analyst at Jon Peddie Research.

EA is still waiting for final word from CBS, but it seems likely the game's "Go to Hell" tagline used in print and on cable TV won't be approved by the network. If not, it will be replaced by a "hell awaits" callout at the end of the spot, created by Blur Studio, Venice, Calif.

EA isn't fazed by the censor. But why buy into a media venue where you can't use your tagline? "It's less about the tagline and more about the setting," Mr. Marineau said. "There will still be a callout to hell. And it's an opportunity to hit the most mass audience possible with a game that's literally coming out two days later."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly gave the launch date of "Go to Hell" as Feb. 7.