Automotive marketing seems to be a rather tricky business to be in these days. In a crowded field of largely indistinct small cars, marketing is one of the few ways in which one can attempt to distinguish their products from the competition. To that end, Toyota’s latest effort at capturing the hearts of the much vaunted 18-25 male demographic (or attempt to make their annual quota of loan defaults, I’m not sure which) has just been released on Xbox Live Arcade in the form of Yaris, a free downloadable piece of advertising with achievement points attached to it, which will probably be the only reason anyone bothers playing the game for more than five minutes. On the other hand, for those people who might actually consider purchasing a Yaris, the game is packed with all sorts of useful information. For example:
- A hood-mounted laser cannon is standard equipment, but you’ll have to pay through the nose to get the car in any color besides red;
- The Yaris is capable of defying gravity and driving on ceilings, climbing sheer vertical walls, and maintaining a speed in excess of 150 miles per hour;
- The car comes equipped with a shield system, and depletion of the shields will cause the car to spin out of control but otherwise remain unharmed;
- The Yaris will be the perfect car for your daily commute, once the highways have all been replaced with giant danger-filled halfpipes with inexplicable sheer vertical drops, hazards deliberately placed in the roadway, and roving packs of roller-skating toasters bent on your destruction;
- Oh yeah, you can also get 15″ aluminum wheels as a factory option if you want them..
I will refrain from going too deeply into the relative (lack of) merits of the game itself, as I’m sure other people more qualified than myself will begin ripping it to shreds soon enough. A far greater issue lies in the fact that the game does absolutely nothing to tell someone why they should buy a Toyota Yaris, as opposed to a similar car like a Chevy Cobalt, a Honda Fit or a Nissan Versa. In fact, about the only things in Yaris that have anything to do with the actual car at all are the character models used and the paint colors. Granted, there are some cases (for example, candystand.com) where you can throw a little bit of branding into some game and call it good, but there’s one major difference: On that site, they’re trying to get you to spend a buck on some candy next time you’re at the grocery store. Toyota is trying to get you spend as much as $18,000 on a car, which you’ll probably be driving for years.
Most people I know wouldn’t ever buy a brand new car on impulse, even if they had the means to do so (at which point, I seriously doubt a Yaris would be anywhere near the type of car they’d be considering.) Before I purchased my new car a few months ago, I spent hours on edmunds.com and manufacturer websites going through just about every detail I could possibly think of, in order to make sure I knew all about what I planned to buy, and what I would be getting myself into. In theory, this would put me into the target audience that Yaris is supposed to be reaching. The problem with this is that if I had encountered something like Yaris while I was shopping for a car, it would have told me absolutely nothing that I wouldn’t already have found out previously, nor would it have provided anything even remotely resembling a realistic simulation of how the actual car drives. Am I supposed to believe that a car with a 1.5 liter 4-banger with 106 horsepower and 103 ft/lb of torque can hit 200 miles per hour, while driving up a vertical wall? In the end, the result is that the game bears more resemblance to a rail shooter than a racing game.
That isn’t to say that this completely ficticious and unrealistic approach to advergaming should be avoided entirely, as long as some means of providing actual useful information on the product is included. Yaris simply doesn’t do this. There is little to no information about the actual car included, and I couldn’t find so much as a link anywhere in the game to even tell me where to find such information. As far as I can tell, Yaris appears to be an attempt to salvage a marginal game concept by sticking a licensed car into it and giving it away as a freebie. If someone who was shopping for a car were to come across this game, play all the way through it (no mean feat, given the frustratingly broken gameplay) and see everything the game has to offer, by the time they were done about all they would have learned from the experience is that Toyota makes a car called the Yaris, and that you can get it with aluminum wheels and upgraded energy shields to protect you from flying MP3 players and flaming snakes.
With downloadable games finally reaching the mainstream of console gaming in this generation of systems, I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty more advergames like this before we know it. With any luck, marketers and developers alike will look at the example of Yaris and learn some valuable lessons on how not to make an effective advergame.