Product placement is a double-edged sword. On one hand, including real-life products can make a fictional world feel slightly more immersive. But, if handled improperly, the addition of actual consumer goods to a video game can come off as a distracting, shameless commercial. The following examples of product placement may not all be dignified, but they’ll definitely take you by surprise.
Where the first Pikmin has you gathering parts of your crashed ship strewn about the planet, Pikmin 2 offers a more financial angle. Olimar and his co-worker, Louie, return to the Pikmin planet in the sequel for financial gain. And the treasures you dig up—presumably left behind after the extinction of humans—take the form of actual American products. Throughout the course of your adventure, you’ll collect Duracell batteries, caps from Vlasic Pickle jars, 7-Up bottles, and jars of Ragu, and various other items you’d find in any American dumpster.
Nintendo actually put a great deal of thoughtfulness into Pikmin 2’s product placement. For the American version of the game, nearly every Japanese product saw a fitting American replacement. That’s certainly a lot of legwork for the sake of making Pikmin’s world feel more like ours.
Like many games produced by Remedy Entertainment, Alan Wake saw its share of delays. So it surprised no one that the Finnish developer included some real-world items in their game, if only to recoup the costs of development. In a pretty shameless move, you can earn an achievement by literally sitting through an entire Verizon commercial.
Still, at least one of Alan Wake’s product placements makes sense. He collects batteries to power his flashlight—which proves just as powerful as a gun—and said batteries come wrapped in Energizer packaging. Thankfully, their immortal pink bunny mascot doesn’t make an appearance and spoil the spooky atmosphere.
Believe or not, at least one video game out there bases its lore on the famous fruit-flavored candies known as Skittles. To its credit, Darkened Skye doesn’t make its product placement all that obvious. One look at the box, and you’d never guess the insidious Mars corporation had their finger in this particular pie. But, shockingly enough, protagonist Skye actually uses combinations of the fruity candies in order to cast any number of spells.
Darkened Skye came into being as a response to the various M&M’s video games, which saw some popularity at the time. But that particular candy has actual character mascots, while Skittles has… a rainbow? Clearly, no one really thought this through.
Chase the Chuck Wagon
“What’s a Chuck Wagon,” you ask? Well, if you didn’t grow up in pioneer times, I forgive your ignorance. The Atari 2600 video game Chase the Chuck Wagon actually references a popular TV commercial from the late ’70s/early ’80s. In the ad, a dog chases a tiny chuck wagon, only to watch it disappear into a bag of Purina Dog Chow. People really seemed to like it, mostly because the Internet didn’t exist and no one really had anything better to do.
Purina didn’t exactly release Chase the Chuck Wagon to cash in on the success of their ad campaign, though. In order to score a copy, you’d need to send in several Purina proofs of purchase, which explains why this game fetches such a high price on the collector’s market.
Burnout Paradise gave advertisers the perfect setting for product placement: A thriving city. And what better place to stick advertisements than in-game billboards? Burnout Paradise did just this, but didn’t stick to simple consumer products. In late 2008—if you played the Xbox 360 version and lived in the proper state—you likely saw billboards for President Obama’s presidential campaign littered throughout Paradise City. No one can say how well this worked out for Obama, but his two-term Presidency implies more candidates should look into having their faces plastered all over open-world games.
Metal Gear Solid Series
The Metal Gear Solid series attempts to tell some Super Serious Stories, but it isn’t afraid of getting silly now and then. (Obviously.) And some of the sillier moments in the series can be found in its use of product placement. FHM replaces the traditional distracting girly mag in Metal Gear Solid 2, and many pin-ups from the magazine pop up throughout the game. In Metal Gear Solid 3, Snake can stumble upon several video game magazines from the early ’00s, even though he’s living in the ’60s. And in Metal Gear Solid V, JF Rey sunglasses share equal billing with the main characters.
The Japanese version of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker features some of the most gaming appropriate product placement that sadly never made it to the States. Snake can pick up and consume both Doritos and Mountain Dew, widely regarded as the gamer fuels of choice. Most likely, other games snatched up the licensing rights for these products in America.
Scarface: The World is Yours
Ah, the mid-’00s: When all of your favorite crime movies from the ’70s and ’80s got video game sequels for some reason! (Of course, the absolute dominance of Grand Theft Auto certainly influenced this trend.) Oddly enough, this video game version of Scarface featured some pretty anachronistic product placement. All the casinos within the game are branded with the logo for Bodog, a popular online gambling site. That may seem somewhat appropriate, but if you consider the fact that gamblers of the mid-’80s weren’t exactly hopping online to get their fix, Bodog’s presence sticks out like a sore thumb. After all, Tony Montana was after power, money, and women—all the cocaine in the world couldn’t get him onto the Internet.