Product placement is rampant in movies and television, which can often feel quite natural. As most films and TV shows take place in fictional versions of real life, it makes sense for people to be eating, drinking or wearing real products or to see real locations or stores in the background.
In video games it feels a lot more forced and can take you out of the experience a little bit, especially if the game has no other real products except for just one thing. What also makes this weird is that older games that have been re-released on newer consoles will often have product placements replaced with generic alternatives.
The most common types of product placement in video games appear to be vending machines, billboards and posters. Some video games take the product placement a step further and integrate the product placements into the functional gameplay.
Wave Race 64 (1996)
Wave Race 64 on the Nintendo 64 for example, was full of Kawasaki Jet Ski branding.
When Wave Race 64 was re-released on the Nintendo Wii as a Virtual Console in 2007, the banners were replaced with Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii banners. This felt kind of weird as these consoles did not exist when the original game came out.
However, when the game was released again in 2016 on the Wii U Virtual Console, the original Kawasaki branding was restored.
Mario Kart 8 (2014)
The original version of Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U had an update with free downloadable content (DLC) to add Mercedes-Benz themed karts – The 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLA, 1957 SL 300 Roadster, and 1934 W25 Silver Arrow.
Due to the poor sales of the Wii U, Nintendo rereleased many of their top games on their next console, the Nintendo Switch. In a rare example of product placement remaining intact, the Mercedes Benz karts are unlockable if you play the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch enough.
SimCity 5 (2013)
EA’s Sim City 5 featured Free Nissan Leaf DLC which allowed players to add Nissan Leaf Charging Stations to their city. This makes the city people start driving Nissan Leaf electric cars and increases happiness in that part of the city. Unlike many other buildings in the game, this does not require any power, water or other resources to operate and and does not produce any pollution. This might be one of the most logical and fitting examples of product placement in a video game, as it actually has a functional purpose and spreads an environmentally conscious message.
Alan Wake (2010)
This is one of my favourite games ever made and includes a few bits of product placement that ties in well into the gameplay.
The Energiser batteries are used to power your hand-held lights, which are key to the gameplay. The weird part is that the batteries in this game go flat very quickly, which might not give players confidence in the brand.
American phone service provider Verizon is featured prominently with the phones used in the game and there is also a 30 second commercial in the game that you can watch. Both Energizer and Verizon appear in billboards in the game as well.
Ford and Lincoln cars also feature in the game, which are much more subtle. As a Microsoft exclusive game, it also featured several Microsoft products throughout it.
Tony Hawk’s Underground (2003)
One of the coolest things about the Tony Hawk games is the inclusion of real pro skaters and real skate brands within them. Tony Hawk’s Underground for example includes 18 real skaters including Andrew Reynolds, Bob Burnquist, Bucky Lasek, Elissa Steamer, Bam Margera and Rodney Mullen.
It also includes 33 skate and lifestyle brands including Vans, Billabong, DC and Quicksilver. Unlike some other product placements, much of this seemed very natural as it looked the kind of things you’d see in the real pro skating circuit.
Guitar Hero V (2009)
Whilst the Guitar Hero series is known for including music by popular bands and artists, Guitar Hero V includes shoes and clothing from Vans, Doc Marten and Converse which can be used to customise your character.
Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs Death (2003)
This game features crates of the energy drink Red Bull. It will be interesting to see if this brand still exists and has the same logo over 100 years from now when the game is set.
Uncharted 3 Drake’s Deception (2011)
There was a lot of cross-promotion with Subway for this game, with codes for the multiplayer part of the game given away with specially marked Uncharted 30oz drinks.
There were also videos produced with the main character Nathan Drake holding Subway products. The game also featured the ability to unlock Subway themed clothing for the multiplayer part of the game by finding “Subway Treasures”. Luckily, no awkward Subway product placements made it into the main storyline of the game.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005)
This game features in-game billboards, blimps, and computer screens to showcase brands such as Axe body spray, Nokia, AMD processors, Diet Sprite and even has main character Sam Fisher chewing on Airwaves chewing gum.
Fight Night Round 3 (2006)
Like professional sports in real life, it is really easy to include sponsorship deals on in-game banners and billboards around the arenas featured or on the clothes of the athletes, but one of the most notoriously weird inclusions is the ability to have The Burger King as your trainer in Fight Night Round 3. If he was a playable character, that might make more sense maybe. But no, he gives you boxing tips and sprays water in your face. You even unlock an achievement for hiring him, which means anyone looking to beat the game 100% needs to interact with him.
Phantasy Star Portable 2
In the Japanese version of Phantasy Star Portable 2 you can play as Colonel Sanders.
You can and you can restore health at Pizza Hut stores and also get a pizza pan sword and Pizza Hut pizza box shield. Amazing.
In this MMORPG you had the ability to order Pizza Hut delivery straight to your door so you didn’t have to leave the house whilst playing.
The only down side to this is that you need to run to the door to collect the food. Being an online game you cannot pause it, but hopefully you can find somewhere safe for a minute whilst you grab your pizza. If you live with other people then they can just bring it in for you.
This is a strange entry to this list because Valve, the creators of popular online FPS game Counter-Strike did not authorise this and it lead to to legal issues. In this game, you have the ability to spray-paint pre-defined or your user-uploaded graphics into the game. Sometime around 2005, Subway and their advertising partner went rampant filling up multiplayer matches with Subway promotion posters. What makes this interesting is that Valve’s newer games sell real virtual billboards now.
Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis
Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, which is a theme park building games features Sunkist and Hawaiian Punch vending machines at the food stalls. I guess there’s nothing better to cool down after treating a triceratops with an affliction than with a nice can of Sunkist both in the game and in real life.
Super Mario Maker
In Super Mario Maker, Nintendo partnered up with Mercedes Benz again for a special level. It includes a Mercedes Benz logo made out of blocks and Mario turns into a little GLA car. The level is called “Mercedes-Benz Jump’n’Drive”.
Scarface: The World Is Yours (2006)
Sierra Entertainment teamed up with Bodog, an online casino and sports betting website to cross promote the online casino and the game Scarface: The World is Yours. The game features Bodog branded mini games including slot machines, video poker machines and blackjack. There are also in-game billboards and branded cars for related Bodog properties and billionaire founder Calvin Ayre also appears in the game.
The website also gave away copies of the game as prizes and had a grand prize to let the winner be treated to a “Live Like Tony Montana” retreat at the Bodog Compound in Costa Rica.