Could Rockstar Have Paid To Generate Artificial Controversy Around GTA Games?!

If it weren’t for marketing expert Max Clifford, the Rockstar franchise would have gone largely unnoticed by politicians, journalists and parents…



Of all the video game industry franchises, Grand Theft Auto has established itself as one of the most controversial brands. We’ve seen countless concerned parents and sensationalist journalists describe the Rockstar franchise as an invention of the devil. It generated trite and absurd debates to which we still respond with resigned sighs or eye rolls. However, we can say that GTA has earned its reputation.

We say this not because we hate guns and video game violence but because all of this “bad publicity” has been done on purpose.

Because yes, as much as the series has changed over the years, the first GTA already had the necessary ingredients to be controversial in a society at the end of the last century. But this combination of elements and mechanics, condemned by parents and people who know little about the world of video games, would have gone unnoticed if it were not for the work of one man: Max Clifford, who tried to draw the attention of the whole world to the “dangerousness” of video games like Grand Theft Auto.


The PR man who took GTA to the UK House of Lords


Because the idea of promoting GTA by pushing tabloid headlines in the media did not come directly from the creators of the saga (who, at that time, formed a company called DMA Design). But from the publisher BMG Interactive. From the company belonging to the Bertelsmann Music Group, which wanted to jump into the world of video games with the Grand Theft Auto project. In fact, this team embraced the controversial elements of the experience and played them out in public.

According to David Jones, one of the developers of the first game in the series, just like in the case of controversial rock bands, the goal was to generate publicity with negative publicity.

To implement their plan, BMG Interactive hired Max Clifford as PR. And his involvement in the project was crucial for its subsequent success. According to Jones, everything was made up. Who is targeted by the campaign, with what narrative and so on. This led to extensive research into which politicians would respond most strongly, which media outlets would join the protest, what stories might appear, and how the snowball would grow. In short, Clifford knew precisely how the system of the media world worked, so “every word he said came true”.

“Max Clifford made it all possible,” Grand Theft Auto co-developer Mike Dailly added in a report.

“He organized the whole demonstration, which ensured the involvement of the prosecutor’s office”. Clifford’s stories, which included reports that 1,000 copies of GTA were stolen from a warehouse, were intended to draw public attention to the series. They did everything to keep the focus on the game.

Because, after all, the developers of the first GTA all followed such a strategy. According to Dailly, in the British House of Lords, where the controversial aspects of the experience were debated, the only thing that emerged was that 99% of politicians had no idea about the game.


The Rockstar devs’ strategy was not to argue, but to entertain


Jones and Dailly were not hooligans trying to disrupt the country. They were people who had an obvious goal with GTA: entertainment.

According to their own admission, they always did everything from the point of view of what would be the most fun; causing a scandal was not part of their plans.

Be that as it may, the plan of the developers, as well as the plan of the mastermind behind the whole strategy, was realized smoothly. Grand Theft Auto sold half a million copies during the 1997 Christmas campaign in the UK alone. And the situation has gotten even better with worldwide data. The game, which had already attracted criticism from politicians, the media and parents, went on to sell an additional one million units in the rest of the world.

Controversies surrounding the Grand Theft Auto series have been raging ever since. And Rockstar, as with the first DMA Design, doesn’t care much about this constant promotion. With good development work and a debate reminding the existence of the brand from time to time, the management can be sure that no one will forget the GTA experience. It is a unique move that, after all, can only be associated with one of the most important franchises in the video game industry.

Source: The Times, The Guardian

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"Historian by profession, gamer since historical times."

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