By Scott MacMaster
Client: Sony PlayStation
Category: 1999

This paper will show how Planning was able to: Uncover a new insight for the sports video game category. Ensure that the resulting work was differentiated from the competition. Give the creatives a good ass kicking.

On the Ropes Early. It didn't look good from the start. Sony PlayStation's number one competitor, EA Sports, announced it was releasing a realistic boxing game, \"Knocking Kings\" to coincide with the launch of our newest video game \"Contender.\" EA Sports had already done an impressive job in branding their games as the most realistic in the sports genre, through a campaign using \"cyber atletes.\" We'd heard that EA Sports was planning to extend this campaign for their new boxing title.

Getting Past \"Realism.\" The Sports category is all about realism. Or so we thought. Advertisers in this category (including ourselves) had previously assumed that being \"the most realistic\" was the ultimate accolade a game in this category could have.

Focus groups we conducted with hard core sports enthusiasts initially appeared to confirm this to be true. It was not uncommon to hear stories of them turning off the television (if their real teams were losing on Sunday afternoon in the NFL) and popping in a video game instead in order to prolong the sporting experience.

However, further probing revealed a useful insight. If \"realism\" was so important in video gaming, how come the games they listed as their favorites from the past (Mario, Crash Bandicoot et al) had no realism at all? Clearly there were factors at work here...

Beating up on \"Your Boys\" - Sports Games are about Competition. When we asked them if they preferred to play against the computer or against their friends, all overwhelmingly declared it a much better experience when they played against friends. There was huge enjoyment and satisfaction in beating their friends. They would form leagues with their friends and simulate the professional seasons, or set up weekend tournaments and compete for money. They play video games much the same as they would play pick up basketball games: winner stays on - loser walks. This behavior was confirmed when we watched them play - testosterone flying around the room was scary. We had found the real motivation behind sports gaming that we were looking for. Their true enjoyment came from the competition, not the realism. Video gaming is a social experience for \"sports\" players. Guys would get together and have a couple of beers before a night out and compete against one another. The outcome of a game often determined who got to ride shot-gun or who had to buy the first round at the bar. The games got personal. The taunting and trash talking before the games led to even greater humiliation for the losers after the games. These competitions brought out powerful emotions in both the winners and the losers. Some even refused to go out until they had a chance to redeem themselves, it being thought better to \"beg like a girl\" for a rematch than start out the night as a loser.

Finding the Right Tone. We had our insight. Our advertisers should focus on competition. But how should we treat this in a category that takes itself so seriously? The answer, again, came from our Players: do the opposite - make it funny, exaggerate the fun you have wailing on your friends.

The Brief. How are we going to do things so differently? Do anything but realism. Target Audience: Sports Enthusiasts. It's about brawling first, video gaming second. Proposition: Pummeling your friends has never been so gratifying. Tone: Personal and funny with over the top exaggeration.

Armed with a demo of the game and a short but humorous tape of clips from our hardcore sports enthusiasts, (please see enclosed tape) we proceeded to brief the creative team. While the briefing went well, it wasn't until the next day and the days following that it actually came to life. During the initial briefing we played against the creatives and crushed them. Unbeknownst to them we had a copy of the game for a couple of days and had been practicing for the briefing. We left the game room that day undefeated and proceeded to remind the creative team of this fact over the next couple of days, continuously calling them out in the halls asking, \"if they were ready for the next beat down session?\", and leaving post it notes on their desks questioning their manhood. The final straw came when we sent an agency wide e-mail asking them both to come downstairs for their 4 o'clock ass - kicking.