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American McGee apologizes for EA marketing comments, muses on developer-publisher relationship

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Alice: Madness Returns creative director American McGee apologized today for disparaging comments he made toward Electronic Arts' marketing tactics, while ruminating on the tension between developers and publishers.

In a Reddit AMA earlier this week, McGee charged that Madness Returns publisher Electronic Arts "wanted to trick gamers" by marketing the game as a horror title geared toward hardcore gamers — a misrepresentation of the game, according to McGee.

EA worked with an outside marketing agency, Shy the Sun, for Madness Returns. McGee called the company "fantastic in terms of creativity and capability," citing its "wow!"-worthy trailers for the game. But he said "what was frustrating was how EA Marketing interfered" with the vision for Madness Returns that he and his team at Shanghai-based independent studio Spicy Horse created.

According to McGee, Shy the Sun was told that EA, not Spicy Horse, would manage the creative direction for Madness Returns' marketing. "That resulted in trailers that were much darker and gorier than the game," said McGee. "That was a calculated disconnect created by EA.

"[EA] wanted to 'trick' gamers into believing [Alice: Madness Returns] was a hard-core horror title, even though we refused to develop it in that tone," McGee explained. As he sees it, EA figured it could market the game as something it was not in the hopes that a particular subset of customers — core gamers with an interest in mature-oriented action titles — would buy it.

"what was frustrating was how EA Marketing interfered"

McGee apologized on his personal blog, noting that the comments "attracted a few pissed messages from EA," and also expanded on his views regarding marketing and the publisher-developer relationship.

"'Tricked' is the wrong word," he said. "I take that back. Apologies to EA and anyone else whose feelings were hurt."

McGee reframed his comments as a statement of fact about EA's business strategy, saying, "They carefully apply proven marketing techniques to achieve the desired customer response." He also acknowledged that EA, as a successful publisher, is clearly good at what it does. "We live in a world full of marketing," said McGee, noting that sometimes, that entails saying "a game contains lots of blood and guts — even when the creators don't think that's the primary selling point.

"Alice: Madness Returns does contain a lot of the stuff you see in those trailers," McGee admitted, "but my concern was that the main character was being portrayed in a way I felt didn't align with her character as I understand it."

McGee understands that "there has always been and likely always will be tension between publishers and developers over stuff like this." Publishers attempt to sell games by catering to their audience, and developers are free to, as McGee put it, "grumble into my beer about how it could have been different if only."

"there has always been and likely always will be tension between publishers and developers over stuff like this"

He also is grateful for his relationship with EA. "They helped put my name on the map. They funded two of my favorite creations. And they helped me bring strikingly original content to a gaming world that often seems dominated by bullets and boobs," McGee said.

"I also recognize my own faults, and actions which are to blame for things not being [100 percent]... or for inadvertently igniting firestorms."

Alice: Madness Returns, the follow-up to the 2000 action-adventure game American McGee's Alice, launched in June 2011 on Windows PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. McGee and Spicy Horse are currently working on Akaneiro: Demon Hunters with a Kickstarter fundraising drive; the title recently made it through Steam Greenlight. McGee told Polygon earlier this month that he's "very excited" about Valve's Steam Box specification for Linux-based computers geared toward living room gaming.

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