Part 8: Vamp Becomes Science
PART 9: Product Placement
For most people, few things scream "sell out" quite like product placement in a fictional franchise, and MGS4 is certainly not lacking in this aspect. Just look at this shameless commercial, in which Old Snake stumbles through a battlefield, looking half dead, only to be offered a bottle of Regain® energy drink by the MkII. Just seeing the drink makes him look younger and revitalized! After chugging it, he cheers with satisfaction. Works every time!
Or what about the in-game iPod that Snake can use to listen to music and downloaded podcasts? Does this necessarily mean that the series has sold its soul, or is it an innocent cross-promotion tactic? Why did Kojima include such heavy product placement in Metal Gear Solid 4, and what does it tell us about his vision for the series?
It's pretty easy to argue that cross-promotion isn't a big deal for MGS4, since plenty of other games do it, and it never really intereferes with the gameplay experience; it's just a way for the company to make more money and excite its shareholders before the game's release. Hell, ever since the gigantic flop E.T. (for the Atari 2600!) there have been entire games existing solely to cross-promote. So why should it matter if Metal Gear joined the fun? Does it affect the core storyline or gameplay? Of course not. If anything, the iPod adds to the experience by allowing players to listen to music and see a familiar product.
With such huge development costs, it's also important to remember that developers and publishers are pretty much forced to use such marketing tactics in order to simply pay the bills. So next time you're admiring Old Snake's gorgeous ass, you can thank Regain® for making it possible.
MGS4 isn't even the first Metal Gear game to feature product placement! In Snake Eater players could find and eat CalorieMate® in order to regain stamina, at which point Naked Snake would say that it tasted great. It was a funny and quirky way of managing an semi-important character statistic; nothing more. This means that anyone who says MGS4's product placement is selling out would have to argue that MGS3 sold out too.
Or if that isn't good enough for you, what about those Lucky Strike cigarrettes in the old two-dimensional MSX games? They were supposedly Solid Snake's favorite brand! Kojima has always loved to take things from real life and shove them in his games, and Guns of the Patriots is just another example. Footage from Policenauts and posters of Zone of the Enders fall into this category as well.
Of course, Apple is a natural pick for Kojima, since he is a big fan of the iPod (2:35), and has traditionally alligned himself against Microsoft. It's much like his team up with Assassin's Creed or even Playboy (just joking.) He's having fun with the world and collaborating in order to raise the status of the series in the eyes of the other companies; is this selling out? Not by his admission.
The Hidden Reasons
While it's true that in-game advertisement has become big business in recent years, the level of product placement in MGS4 is daring to say the least. Just look at the historically left-wing political leanings of the series, the existential philosophizing, and the many cultural lectures, and it should be obvious that this is not the kind of game you'd expect to see a Sony Ericsson W62S phone appearing out of the blue.
Vamp: "Why are we using these stupid old phones when you can... like... cure cancer and revive me from the dead with nanomachines? And didn't we all have codec systems in our heads... 20 years ago?"
Naomi: "LOL! brb ttyl ^_^"
Storywise, the fact that Vamp and Naomi Hunter both use some failhard Japan-only cellphone is downright silly, considering that the setting is supposed to be years the future, and both of them are on the cutting edge of technology research. Are we supposed to believe that average people are "loading up on nanos" to control their constipation, while super-secret agents of the most elite operation in the world are using a piece of shit like that to talk to each other? It would be more believable if they were using telepathy!
The same could obviously be said for the iPod, energy drink, and MacBook as well. None of them fit into the dystopian future of MGS4. While it may be funny to see CalorieMate in 1960's Snake Eater, or a Zone of the Enders poster in a laboratory of Metal Gear Solid 2, it's just gay to see shameless product placement for generic crap in such a sci-fi future. Shouldn't MGS be the series that laments this kind of corporate whoredom, instead of serving as a mascot?
Something is wrong with this product placement, and I fully believe it is due to Kojima giving up on the whatever integrity was left in the series. After his brilliant work on Sons of Liberty was shot down and misunderstood by stupid fans worldwide, MGS2: Substance got the ball rolling for a new series direction: fanservice and selling out. The CalorieMate product placement in Snake Eater was indeed an early warning for what would happen if fans didn't stop trying to dictate the direction of the series, and everything since then has only pushed this mentality further, from the careless handling of the "canon" Portable Ops to the upcoming "Lightning Bolt Action" of Metal Gear Solid: Rising. The soul has been sold, but this time it's the fans who are to blame. The cellphone is just there to let us know.
If funding was really such an issue, it would have made more sense to cut the expensive idiotic fake TV programs and real-life models while trying to keep the advertisements to places where in-game ads would make sense, such as magazines and billboards. For what little amusment or functionality the items may provide in the game, they mostly serve to remind us that the game has sold out.
Product screen capture gallery: http://www.gamekyo.com/newsfr27079_images-metal-gear-solid-4.html