Life of Brian: Top 10 video game ads of the century

(What are the 10 best video game campaigns?)

Let’s face it, a lot of video game ads are pretty cringe. However, there are some ads that have stood out from the rest. Ads for games usually fall into two categories: statements on the gamers/who plays games promoting inclusivity or portray the game itself in an interesting or fun way.

The gamer audiences are quick to suss out cringe-worthy ads and those that try way too hard to be cool are often ostracized by the entire gaming community. Check out my goosebump-inducing picks for the top 10 video game ads (that I’m also super jealous I didn‘t make).🙁

1.   PlayStation: Double Life (1999)

Agency: TBWA, London
Awards: Clio Hall of Fame, D&AD Wood Pencil (1999), Cannes Lion Silver (2000)

For most creatives, PlayStation’s “Double Life” TV ad tops the list. In 1999, gaming and gamers were still seen as the fat, losers living in his mom’s basement. This ad changed everything and suddenly the world realized how inclusive and diverse the gaming world really is.

This of course set the bar for these kinds of “we are all gamers” type of ads to come. Directed by Frank Budgen, the editing that goes from stark black and white to color, the narrative dialog writing and classical choral background music gave this ad an almost regal mission statement-like feeling. Some likened it as the UK’s version of the famous Apple ”Crazy Ones” TV ad.

2. Halo 3: Believe (2006)

Agency: T.A.G./McCann, San Francisco
Awards: Grand Prix Cannes (2008), Grand Prize Clios (2008)

Another one that tops most creatives list is this massive $40M+ integrated campaign for the launch of Halo 3 which actually encompassed several major parts in the campaign: A launch film featuring a massive 30ftx40ft diorama created by New Deal Studios and set to a personal favorite piano piece of mine, Chopin’s Prelude in D Flat Major, Op. 28, No. 15 (Raindrop), performed by Mike Lang. Miniature figurines were designed and produced at Stan Winston Studios.

The Museum of Humanity featured several small mini-documentary style films based on old war heroes reminiscing about the past battles and Master Chief aka John 117. The idea of moving towards live action with no in-game footage and really creating a “what if this was real” campaign marked a monumental shift in strategy to appeal to the wider casual gaming audience.

The main tagline “Believe” was made to commemorate all the heroes that fought in the war including the main hero, Master Chief. $40M well spent!

3.   Tomb Raider: Survival Billboard (2015)

Agency: McCann, London
Awards: Clio Gold (2016), D&AD Wood Pencil (2016), Cannes Lion Gold (2016)

There’s so many great things about this campaign. This went far beyond a rethink of the traditional billboard, it basically rethought the idea of what it means to have an integrated campaign. The seamless integration of billboard, technology, mobile, online and technology really pushed the boundaries.

The fact that it was also user controlled and live streamed on Twitch really showed how well they understood their audience. I really need to applaud the team on being able to sell this idea to the client.

As with most of the best work done, the level of trust between agency and client had to be very strong as the contestants were put in real danger with one of them having to quit due to hypothermia.

4. Microsoft Xbox – Changing The Game (2019)

Agency: McCann, New York
Awards: Grand Clio (2019), Effie Gold (2020), Cannes Lion Grand Prix & Titanium Lion (2019)

In 2018, Xbox made the entire eCommerce industry collectively sit up and shake their heads in disbelief as they ran away with the Cannes Lions Grand Prix for allowing anyone to customize and sell their own controllers. Fast forward to 2019 and Xbox is once again opening eyes and minds including my own.

The fact that the entire gaming industry was basically forgetting about disabled gamers was something that even made me take a moment to self-reflect. This work actually enacts real world change and awareness. This is a model of how advertising, creative minds, and agencies can use their brain power and resources to contribute to social good.

There’s also something unifying about gaming and Microsoft really took this to heart

5. PlayStation 3: Long Live Play (2011)

Agency: Deutsch, Los Angeles

The launch of a new ad campaign, Long Live Play, for PlayStation 3 included so many game references that when it was put on YouTube, gamers often replayed and rewatched it in order to find all the references. Even IGN broke down the video. It’s always interesting to see famous game characters represented in the real flesh.

The attention to detail here is astounding and the authenticity really comes through. They even got the same voice actors to do their parts. I can imagine just getting the licenses and permissions to do all of these characters must’ve taken months.

It’s an interesting take to imagine that these game characters break the 4th wall to realize and celebrate all the gamers who control them.

RELATED: Xbox: Love letter to fans starring Simu Liu

6. World of Warcraft: What’s Your Game (2008)

Agency: Blizzard Entertainment

Although I wasn’t a big fan of the tagline, and it brought to mind the Capital One “What’s In Your Wallet” campaign, I got a kick out of the marriage of real life persona to character. The idea that even though the beauty of a game like WOW is that you can pretty much be anyone in the game and live out your fantasy life there, there is always a little bit of you that carries into the online game persona.

I didn’t buy for a minute that William Shatner or Jean-Claude Van Damme played WOW but it’s still fun to imagine that the mohawk wearing Night Elf just might be Mr. T, and that’s the beauty of these TV ads one never knows who might actually be playing.

7.   Gravity Rush 2: Gravity Cat (2017)

Agency: Hakuhodo, Japan

Awards: Cannes Lions Gold (2017), Gold Clio (2017), Gold Pencil One Show (2017)

Sometimes an ad comes out and the craft and production value just absolutely blows your mind. Japan has long been a lone island of quirky, weird, and random advertising but once in awhile there are some real gems that come out.

The making of video which is interesting in its own right reminds me of how they did the hallway tilting fight scene in one of my favorite films, Inception. I won’t spoil it for you but I’ll link you the video to that above.

Nailing the transition from physical set to green screen and wire work is a lot harder than it seems and very few TV ads actually do this well but here they absolutely got it right.

Lighting played a major role in this as did working with the depth of field. The BGM went well with the dreamy-like color grade. Sugoi!

8. Super Smash Bros: Brawl (1999)

Agency: Leo Burnett, USA & KCL Productions

This ad instantly catapults me back to the summer of 1999 where I rocked out to this song, Happy Together by the Nylons on my Sony Walkman.

Although, here it sounds like they’re definitely using the original version by the Turtles. Don’t ask why. Like most great ads the premise is simple and connects to what the game is all about, namely smashing heads.

The only thing really missing here is more characters getting in the brawl, I mean I hear that Kirby has a mean right hook. Self confession to make is that I never played this myself as I was racking up thousands of hours in 007 and Perfect Dark on my friends N64.

9. Call of Duty Black Ops II Revolution: The Replacer (2016)

Agency: 72andSunny

I think we all wish we could get a replacer so that we can go play video games. Family reunions anyone? I think the idea itself is big and can span so many scenarios, the humor is fantastic and it was such an interesting (great) casting choice to pick Peter Stormare.

The Replacer idea was used up until 2019 and maybe even into the next Black Ops version, so if that’s not a testimony to a great creative idea, I don’t know what is.

10. EA Sports FIFA 10: How Big Can FIFA Get? (2009)

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Amsterdam

Benjamin Franklin said that the only certain thing in this world is death and taxes. If he were alive today I think he might have included, another annual iteration of EA Sports FIFA. What’s interesting in this ad for video game FIFA 2010 is that the idea was largely inspired by data saying how popular and how many players there were globally playing the game.

Even though he’s not listed as the voice over actor for this ad, I swear to the all-loving gods that it’s Sean Bean. It’s the beautiful sport in game mode and in real mode.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Supercell Clash of Clans (2014): Larry | Hog Rider | Barbarian
    Agency: Barton F. Graf, New York
  2. Dead Island (2011): Zombie Child
    Agency: Axis Animation, UK
  3. EA Sports Tiger PGA 08 (2008): Walk On Water
    Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, Portland
  4. Xbox 360 (2006): Standoff

Award-winning Executive Creative Director and ESports consultant, Brian Jung knows how to craft amazing creative and is a helluva gamer.