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The Phantom Pain: A Kaufman-esque Experience

/ Mar 25th, 2013 No Comments

The Phantom Pain
The Phantom Pain

The Phantom Pain

How can game developers make sure that the public is rabidly interested in a video game in an age when viral marketing is common place? Every piece of consumable media has a viral marketing campaign. Most companies have offices dedicated to coming up with new viral videos and campaigns. The days when “I Love Bees” could be consider ground-breaking are long gone. What is next for video game developers when they want to capture gamers’ attention and hold it for longer than their short viral video or trailer lasts? The answer might lie in the marketing for the enigmatic, The Phantom Pain. Announced at Spike’s never-not-pandering Video Games Awards last year, the Phantom Pain has gestated in the collective consciousness of gamers since then. Four months may seem like a short time, but with how fast information moves with video games, where launch trailers, devleoper diaries, featurettes, new screenshots, etc. happen so quickly, four months is a lifetime. For anyone watching the VGAs, the only information they got about the game prior to the trailer was a cryptic and awkward introduction from Adam Scott and that the game ran in real-time. After the trailer finished, the internet was abuzz with what the game was, who are Moby Dick Studios and why they covertly announced Metal Gear Solid 5.

[adsense250itp]Quickly a site went up for Moby Dick Studios that contained screenshots, the trailer from the VGAs and a short “About Us” section. The “About Us” section detailed that Moby Dick Studios is a game developer operating out of Sweden and that the company CEO was a man named Joakim Mogren. Then some small details about Mogren getting tired of working for a major American developer and decided to gather some other orphans to form Moby Dick Studios. There was also an odd disclaimer on the site that Moby Dick Studios was not on Facebook or Twitter, but only a Youtube channel. That is a weird practice to take since nearly all major game companies and video games have some form of social media presence. This was not the fact that sent people into a frenzy it was the name, Joakim Mogren. This mysterious CEO of the mysterious Swedish developer was a code that needed to be cracked. Surely if he was part of a major American developer then there should be some record or trace of the man somewhere, but no one could find anything about him. In essence, he was a phantom. Also, his first name is, as everyone has pointed out, a great anagram for Kojima. This sticking point gave more ammunition to the speculation that the Phantom Pain was in fact the next Metal Gear Solid 5.

The Phantom Pain

Dude does look a bit like Big Boss.

Not much information came out about the Phantom Pain since its December reveal until last week when Game Trailers and Geoff Keighley ran an interview with none other than Joakim Mogren. Some might have expected Kojima to show up in a blonde wig and mustache akin to the infamous photoshop of him circulating the internet. However, something even more bizarre happened. The interview started with some of the trailer footage then a voice-over where Geoff introduced Joakim. After the footage faded, a man covered in bandages with a distinctly Swedish accent and tufts of blonde hair sticking out popped up. This is Joakim Mogren? When asked about the bandages  Joakim stated he had an accident but that he would be recovered by GDC (Game Developers Conference) in San Francisco. Following the introduction, Keighley asked a series of questions about the Phantom Pain, but mainly Mogren was evasive and electing not to comment most of the time. It was not a surprise that he would try to sneak past questions about whether or not the Phantom Pain was a PlayStation 4 game. Or if Moby Dick Studios had next-gen developer kits. What was surprising was the evasiveness when Geoff asked Joakim about who he is or what Moby Dick Studios was working on currently. Also, when asked about more information about the Phantom Pain he replied that he had nothing to show Keighley for the interview. However, when asked what Joakim will show at GDC, Mogren was shockingly forthcoming saying that there will be a new trailer for the Phantom Pain that will answer all the questions about the game. When Geoff followed-up if there will be no secrets about the game after the new trailer, Joakim answered yes. The most important part of the interview happened after Geoff pointedly asked why he was asked to the interview if there was no new information and how he could tell if this was not an elaborate ruse. This prompted Joakim to bring out an iPad to show off some exclusive concept art and screenshots from the game to Geoff. While the concept art had the Moby Dick Studios watermark in the bottom left corner, when Joakim scrolled down to the screenshots, they featured a FOX Engine watermark. This prompted Geoff to ask if the game was running on the FOX Engine, which prompted Joakim in his goofy bandages to give a Scooby Doo-esque mug to the camera that he let the cat out of the bag.

The Phantom Pain

That dude might as well be Bruce Willis.

This interview seemed staged like everyone was in on the joke. This is Kojima Productions pulling an Andy Kaufman-esque prank on the public. Except that everyone knows it is a goof. That is not a bad thing though. It is actually refreshing to see a video game developer try something new (well, old, but refreshing) to promote their game, especially in the information saturated video game market.  Instead of bombarding the public with an avalanche of art, screenshots and multimedia promotion revealing everything about the game years in advance hoping someone will remember it come release date. They are playing a long con where they reveal the next numbered Metal Gear, but do not actually announce it. This leaves the public hungry for information and keeps this mysterious trailer and fake website/developer firmly in their mind. Thus when a fake interview with a fake person in bandages happens announcing that the full reveal will happen at GDC in late March, it causes some excitement. GDC is also where Kojima has a 90-minute presentation on March 27 about the FOX Engine, which the public now knows the Phantom Pain is running on thanks to the interview.

Going back to the announcement of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, Kojima said that it was not Project Ogre, which was another game Kojima Productions was developing. There was a small bit of information about Kojima Productions having access to next-gen development kits last year as well. Thus, it stands to reason that if they are only working on two games one being Ground Zeroes and the other this Project Ogre, and Ground Zeroes is confirmed to be current-gen then Project Ogre is their next-gen game. While Joakim was evasive about the next-gen questions, the truth of the matter is that if the Phantom Pain is running in real-time then it certainly cannot be a current-gen game. So, most likely Project Ogre is the Phantom Pain and the Phantom Pain is Metal Gear Solid 5. And Joakim Mogren is Tony Clifton.

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs

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