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Video game makers find a marketing recipe for success

by Tom Hanaway

Staff Writer

Sega’s popular video game character Sonic the Hedgehog is famous for running fast, but now he’s slowing down to grab a bite to eat with some extra friendly company. To help promote the upcoming “Sonic Forces” video game, which will be released in Japan on Nov. 9, Sega is turning Hooters outlets across Tokyo from the restaurant’s trademark orange to blue.

Hooters outlets in Shinjuku, Ginza and Akasaka are planning to decorate their stores with Sonic dolls, hand out “Sonic Forces” coasters and offer a fast-food set that includes French fries, a Sonic-blue colored drink and a chili dog — Sonic’s favorite food.

For those who aren’t up to speed, video-game-and-food collaborations have been around since the days of Atari, with video game characters showing up in children’s cereal or Pac-Man seen drinking 7-Up soda. Now, however, they’re becoming more interactive than simply slapping a sticker on a product, and several popular mashups have caught gamers’ attention this year.

Kurikoan, a chain of taiyaki stalls in Yokohama and Tokyo, caught the Pokemon bug and decided to help trainers catch ’em all. Its limited-time Magikarp-yaki was shaped like the titular orange fish from the series. First introduced in late 2016, Magikarp-yaki became so popular that Kurikoan released a custard version in January. This became a social media hit, with more than 1,250 people using the hashtag #コイキング焼き (#Magicarp-yaki) on Instagram to show off their latest catch.

However, it seems the marketing trend is shifting from filling gamers’ stomachs to taking over their screens. One notable example is “Splatoon 2” for the Nintendo Switch, which encourages players to duke it out over digital food. The popular shooting game, where squid-like kids spray their ink to defeat enemies and mark their territory, features a monthly battle called Splatfest. Players vote for their favorite option in a poll and then fight people who selected the alternative option, with past competitions pitting such things as rock against pop and mayo against ketchup. And then McDonald’s entered the ring.

September’s Splatfest was sponsored by the fast-food chain, asking gamers to pick their favorite side: French fries or McNuggets. One might assume that people would be annoyed to see such obvious paid content in their game, but “Splatoon” fans actually embraced it. Some players created fan art based on the event, others even used the signature section of their profile to draw McDonald’s food. (Although it lost the popular vote, McNuggets ended up winning the Splatfest battle, much to the chagrin of French fries’ fans.)

The only thing hotter than September’s Splatfest is probably the recent tieup between instant noodles and “Final Fantasy XV.” Square Enix’s expansive role-playing game finds its main heroes searching for new weapons, armor and magic spells. In addition, however, the collaboration adds a special item to the list: Nissin’s Cup Noodles.

Certain characters in the game ramble on about how they’re craving Nissin’s ubiquitous snack, and players are even encouraged to purchase instant noodles in-game to satiate their team. Gamers will also see plenty of Nissin billboards and delivery trucks throughout their journey.

Nissin’s campaign became even more in-your-face this year when it released a digital Cup Noodle hat for characters in the game, essentially turning them into goofy walking ads for the company. How does one obtain this rare item? When the campaign was launched, players had to buy a limited-edition set of “Final Fantasy”-inspired Cup Noodles in real life and redeem a code that was included with the purchase. The hat was later made available for free to any player who wanted it.

The collaboration has proved so successful that Nissin has produced a spoof commercial about it. In the video, Nissin took the original commercial for the “Final Fantasy XV” game and added noodles into every scene. The video currently has more than 1 million views on YouTube.

With people all over the internet sharing photos and memes about these recent collaborations, video game developers appear to have found a marketing recipe for success.