PokerStars’ splashy rollout of its new Spin & Go “lottery”-style hyper sit-n-go tournaments has drawn plenty of attention, both pro and con, as we began to explore last time out. Casual player have flocked to the new format by the thousands, resulting in an overall bump in traffic, but dedicated SNG grinders at Stars have expressed varying levels of outrage, claiming that the site is depriving them of their entitlement to an expected population of weaker, recreational players.
Which goes to show, you can’t please everyone.
A similar dilemma occurred in recent days when it came to the marketing of the new SNG format. Sure, Stars did all the traditional things, the press releases and e-mails and cool infographics and all that, which the company has always done better than anyone else. But if you’re going to try to reach new players, sometimes you end up pushing the envelope in controversial ways.
That’s what happened last week when Stars’ marketing department began distributing a “Grand Theft Auto”-themed animated commercial, in which a GTA protagonist commits all sorts of vehicular mayhem without interference from a squad car watching everything, because the cop at the wheel is too busy playing the new Spin & Go’s on his mobile device.
Beyond the cheesiness of the ad, industry critics openly questioned if the spot gave fuel to PokerStars’ perceived political opponents, since, like, video games are meant for kids, right?
Here’s an example, from respected industry vet Bill Rini on Twitter, in reply to a promotional Tweet from Stars-sponsored pro Daniel Negreanu:
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) October 9, 2014
— Bill Rini (@billrini) October 9, 2014
Negreanu, of course, is pro-Stars, while Rini these days works for WSOP.com, after a lengthy stint with PartyGaming. No surprise they’d have somewhat contrasting views.
Yet the specter that the GTA-themed ad might somehow add fuel to the fire of the opponents of both PokerStars and anti online-poker people in general — whether that’s the minions of Sheldon Adelson or the holier-than-thou types at Focus on the Family — had to be on a lot of people’s minds once the final ad was released. That’s because, in halting, unsure fashion, the ad was yanked. Just a week after the fact, a full version of the video (which ran about 1:15 or so) can’t seem to be found on the web. A report at F5Poker captured some of the fun, but the real timeline seemed to go something like this, running from October 9th (the day that Stars’ “Spin & Go Week” was launched) through October 11th:
- PokerStars places the GTA-themed spot on its official YouTube channel;
- The video is yanked from the Stars channel within hours;
- A bootleg version emerges on Oct. 10th on a non-official YouTube channel;
- Stars asserts copyright protections and has the bootlegged vid removed, again within hours;
- An alternate marketing-channel release of the video, via a PokerStars channel at DailyMotion.com, gets plenty of hits, again showing the full spot;
- The DailyMotion vid is also yanked, again within hours.
Sometimes this stuff happens when third-party marketing outlets are involved — the “recall,” for lack of a better word, takes place in jumps and fits and little waves.
So the video is gone now, even though still images of it used for editorial purpose (such as those below), will live on.
The overriding question, however, remains unanswered: Is the video really that bad? “Grand Theft Auto,” the popular game on which the spoof was based, is, after all, an “M”-rated video action game, meaning it’s intended for mature audiences. Sure, kids have played the game, lots, but only after it’s been purchased for then by their parents or other guardians, who have to accept the responsibility for that.
That makes possible accusations that Stars created the ad to market their games to kids as bogus as the day was long — even if a certain faction of anti-gaming folk have made that sort of argument for years. If there’s any blame to be assigned to Stars, it’s for creating something that could be used as fuel for such a false fire… and that’s the point Rini and others made, the possible unintended consequence that made Stars yank the ad, probably for good.
Still, the ad wasn’t that bad. Sure, the protagonist commits all sorts of juvenile, violent acts, starting with burned-rubber donuts in front of the non-interested cop, then on to running over a nearby pedestrian… twice. Then again, the Spin & Go’s the cop is playing on his i-phone end up being so captivating that the evil driver stops his rampage to come over and check out the action, and heck, the run-over pedestrian and other passers-by do the same as well. Just like Wile E. Coyote always kept on getting up to chase the Road Runner after being crushed by a giant slab of rock or falling off a cliff; it’s a cartoon, make-believe world.
If there’s a lesson, however, it’s that make-believe can still make for quite a fuss. Text on the DailyMotion version of the video indicated that the spot was initially intended to be the first of a series, although that’s now likely not going to happen.
All in all, it’s going to go down in poker history as a “Lighten, up, Francis” moment. Sometimes our world is just a little -too- PC.
Here’s a few stills from the now-yanked spot, just for posterity’s sake, starting with the poor animated pedestrian going for a tumble:
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