Electronic Arts Launches 'Army Of Two'

When it comes to selling video games, controversy can propel a title as quickly as it can sink it. So for today's launch of "Army of Two," in which gamers shoot through a war zone as private military contractors, Electronic Arts is trying to foster just the right amount of uproar.

A 30-second spot running on TV for the past week uses a heavy metal rendering of the Three Dog Night song "One" to highlight the game's unique "co-op" style of play ("Army of Two" can only be played with a partner. In single-player mode, the computer controls the other character.) The spot shows images from the game followed by the line "Never go into battle alone" and the tag line: "Combat. Camaraderie. Cash." is the only clue to the game's central conceit.

But a spot uploaded to YouTube and EA's Web site last week paints a different picture. Scenes from the game are interspersed with grainy, real-life images of the war in Iraq, as a mechanized voice intones: "Somewhere between solider and hit man...somewhere below the radar and above the law, somewhere between politics and profiteering...is an 'Army of Two.'" The spot has been viewed more than 65,000 times on YouTube, and is generating unusually political comments for a video game ad.

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The idea behind the split campaign is to generate awareness with the TV spots, but stir controversy online. Whether EA can maintain a firewall between the two environments remains to be seen.

"We knew this was going to be a controversial topic, so you have to lean into it. There's no denying it--it's built into the story line," said Warren Cockrel, the account's creative director at San Francisco-based agency Heat. "The online spot stirs up some passions, and we're trying to get people talking."

"Keeping that spot online sort of keeps your audience to hardcore gamer sorts and EA fans," Cockrel added. "If it were running on television, we might be having a different conversation right now."

Private military contractors, non-governmental security forces that augment U.S. military presence overseas for profit, have come under scrutiny in recent years for their role in the Iraq war. It is estimated that more than 100,000 such operatives are currently serving in Iraq, and some, such as Blackwater USA, have been accused of violent or unlawful behavior.

EA started developing the game three years ago, said VP of advertising Shawn Conly, with the intention of bringing gamers into a more realistic representation of modern warfare. "We thought it would be really interesting for people to be able to explore that side of it," he said. "We're not trying to make any kind of political statement."

Conly places the budget for the entire campaign, which also includes print ads, between $2 million and $5 million dollars. The TV spot has been running on the Fox Network and MTV, and will appear on March Madness games this month.

EA's agency of record is Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, Ore., though the company maintains a small stable of roster shops as well. AE gave Heat the "Army of Two" assignment because the company thought it was a good fit, Conly said. Other Heat clients include Conde Nast, Pepsi and LinkedIn.

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