[UPDATE 11/02/04 9.15AM PST - Valkyrie of the Fragdolls asked me to post her response to all the controversy that's been percolating about the Fragdolls since the non-Ubisoft mentioning BoingBoing weblog entry. I'm happy to do so. I've also had some not-so-cordial discussions with Katscratch, another Fragdoll. However, I don't really think I have an alternative point of view to that described below, other than pointing out that I think the Fragdolls themselves are basically well-intentioned, and now extremely pissed off with me.]
So, I was just reading BoingBoing.net, and someone had posted a link to Fragdolls, describing it as 'a group-blog run by woman gamers.' Now, I thought I'd heard of Fragdolls somewhere before, but the Fragdolls website itself doesn't really explain how they came into being.
In fact, the about page makes it sound like some kind of organic girlgamer get-together, featuring 'a group of girl gamers out to have a little fun'. Anyhow, the post on BoingBoing was followed up by someone pointing out something that the original poster didn't notice (or maybe knew?) - that there's a 'sponsored by Ubisoft' logo at the bottom right of all of the Fragdoll site's pages.
So, we can pretty easily find an Xbox.com interview with the Fragdolls, who, it turns out, are a clan formed specifically by Ubisoft (Monkees-style) in order to promote their online FPS games: 'Their relationship with Ubisoft is very much like a sports sponsorship: Ubisoft gives them the opportunity to travel and play games and tournaments that they may not have been able to participate in otherwise.' Oh, and they're fond of conversations like this:
'TriXie: What's the best game of all time?
BrookeLyn: There’s no doubt in my mind: Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six® 3.'
Well, OK, that's from something posted on xbox.com, so it's understandable if they might be trying to promote the game that they're 'sponsored' for. But then you start looking closer at the weblog posts on the site, and, imho, this falls squarely into the more insidious side of stealth marketing. Here's a bunch of examples:
'But now I am on SOCOM II for PS2 and no matter how hard I try, I can not play more than 1 hour without getting nauseous... I can't wait for Ghost Recon 2 so I can leave SII behind, considering it will be like SOCOM III (if there was one).'
[OK, maybe it just happens to be that the Ubisoft-published Ghost Recon 2 is better for her nausea.]
'Four of the Frag Dolls were chosen to duke it out with the developers of Black Arrow. The developers WOW!!! Since I am one of the biggest fans of the whole RainbowSix 3 series, I could compare this experience to being a 13 year old girl meeting her favorite boy band.'
[Well, I'm surprised it's really that exciting, but fair enough.]
'I'm not finished with Myst III: Exile yet, and not even close to finishing. Just the same, I've broken down and started Myst IV: Revelation. I received a copy of it early from a friend who knows what an absolute fanatic I am about the game, and I did my best to resist its charms. I did great for maybe a day or two, but now I've cracked.'
[So the team happen to like other Ubisoft-published games, that they receive early from 'a friend'? Enough to rave about it in their weblog, too. Good for Ubisoft?]
'I have always been a fan of FPS games, but when I attended Comic Con this year a lot of gamers were coming up to me asking if I ever played Prince Of Persia. Since there was an overwhelming positive response toward the game I decided to pick it up. I would never have guessed how much I could get into this game. It gets frustrating, but I think that's what makes the game so addicting.'
[Oh, last year's Ubisoft-published Prince Of Persia was the subject of discussion at Comic Con?]
'WCG was a blast. I spent most of the 4 days on Brothers in Arms (a great FPS/tactical WWII game), Far Cry (think big guns on a beautiful tropical island), and Prince of Persia 2 (way more bloody and dark than the first one with even more killer moves).'
[Brothers in Arms is.. published by Ubisoft. Far Cry.. Ubisoft. Prince of Persia 2.. Ubis... heeeeey! I guess she's talking about what she was paid to demo, but it doesn't sound like that to most.]
'I fully intend to bring a tent to camp out in front of the Prince of Persia 2 trailer, and anyone who brings food or caffeine is welcome to join me in abject admiration of what appears to be the greatest game ever in development. Should be fun. Failing that, I think I'm going to spend a lot of my time over at Myst IV. While I'm currently playing Rainbow Six 3 and Black Arrow a great deal, my roots are in the Myst series.'
[Oh, come on.]
The problem, at least in my mind, is that the weblogs look largely like normal blogs - they mention plenty of other non-Ubisoft games that the people have been playing and enjoying. There are some well-thought out screeds about why Rez should have had more copies printed, a comparison of recent horror games, discussions of neighborhood LAN parties. Unless you're looking pretty closely, it's difficult to find the posts which probably wouldn't have been made unless Ubisoft was involved in the project.
Anyhow, I think this is pretty dishonest marketing, and Ubisoft should at least amend the 'About' page to indicate that Fragdolls are paid proponents of Ubisoft games. In fact, here's the original 'casting call' for Fragdolls, via Geek.com. The company wanted to "cast female gamers for online promotions and marketing", and apparently "the gamers will work 10 to 40 hours a week as independent contractors." So they're getting specifically paid for this.
[I'd be interested to know who submitted such a non-Ubisoft mentioning description of the site to BoingBoing too, but that's another JFK-style style conspiracy theory for another day.]
To clarify, I'm not upset by the concept of Fragdolls as an Ubisoft-created FPS clan, and in fact, I think there should be no problem with them competing in tournaments, and formally promoting Ubisoft at any opportunity. I'm just a little miffed that the website does a poor job of explaining their agenda, and a number of the seemingly personal weblog entries promote Ubisoft products (even Ubi products unrelated to FPS gaming) without making their direct financial ties to Ubisoft particularly clear.Posted by h0l211 at October 30, 2004 10:01 AM