This Facebook Ad for Shadow of War is Patently Misleading

WB Games tries a little of the ol’ lying to find new players

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Middle-Earth: Shadow of War came out late last year. I refuse to even try to type all of the trademark symbols in its name.

Unlike its critically acclaimed and money printing predecessor, Shadow of Mordor, this new entry in the Lord of the Rings game franchise had a rocky start in numerous ways.

Game critics and eager fans lambasted its use of paid loot boxes to speed progress through its largely single player content, and pointed out how they obviously padded its length in order to try and goad players into buying them.

That was the biggest problem. It rounded out a whole pack of others.

The game’s title was was awkward and too-similar to the first. It continued the adventures of generic fantasy man Talion instead of pivoting to a more well-known Lord of the Rings character. It expanded its world a bit, but tweaked and mangled the canon of the series lore in ways that made hardcore fans wince…even if I personally think some of those changes sounded like goofy fun.

I still didn’t buy it.

Now, The Brothers Warner are engaged in a campaign to try and make the game into the mega hit they thought they were getting last year.

First, they patched out the loot boxes and rebalanced the entire game to have the progression fans were probably expecting it to have in the first place.

Then, they put out a free demo on PC, PS4, and Xbox One…and bought about a million ads for it on Facebook.

If you read the headline of this ad as you’re idly scrolling, would you think you were getting a free demo only?

Or would you expect to be getting the whole game for free?

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Now granted, immediately after telling you that you can get the whole game for free and shoving a nice video in your face, they have some other text that says “Start your Free Trial Now.” Because that’s what’s available. It’s a free trial that lets you play the start of the game and then carry your save over, if you buy it.

So, right after lying to your face they then tell you the truth.

Is that the sort of game marketing that we’ve decided is okay? Is that the sort of behavior we want from a company that’s trying to parade this game around on a get-new-customers apology tour after removing its loot boxes? Is that the sort of behavior we want any big company to engage in?

I’ve seen this sort of ad for free-to-play titles, but even in the most microtransaction-laden phone game you’re at least truly getting the whole core experience for free.

Sometimes, as a joke, I will make up a blatant lie to my girlfriend and then immediately tell her that I’m lying.

Maybe a marketing guy pitched this sort of delightful shenanigan as a way to pitch the newly non-loot-box-filled Shadow of War and WB execs went for it?

I have no idea.

In an era of extreme skepticism, sensitivity, and audience engagement, this is exactly the sort of ad I would never want to run for any sort of product at all ever.

You can’t get Shadow of War for free. And what’s worse is that, now that the game is better than its ever been, WB shouldn’t have to entice you with deceptive language just to get you to download a demo.

Ironically, the existence of the demo means I’ll probably give it a shot…but I had to publicly acknowledge this terrible ad before my brain would allow me to play the game and write about it.

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I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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