Sony on Monday apologized for using a decapitated goat as the centerpiece of a video game launch party that sparked outrage from animal rights activists, and left at least one marketing expert wondering how such a big company could do something so stupid.
Sony Computer Entertainment in Europe threw the party last month in Greece to generate a buzz around the European launch of God Of War II, one of Sony's most popular video games for the PlayStation 2. The event was for journalists invited from a select group of video game publications.
In keeping with the bacchanalian nature of the violent, adult-only game, the party featured topless women dropping grapes into guests mouths and games that included throwing knives at a target and pulling live snakes from a pit with bare hands, the Daily Mail in London reported.
Among the games to test bravery was reaching into the guts of the freshly slaughtered goat, with its head dangling from threads of tissue, and eating what looked like animal intestines, but were actually Greek food. "They did a Fear Factor challenge to make people think they were eating the insides of the goat, but in fact it was a traditional Greek soup," said Dave Karraker, spokesman for Sony Computer Entertainment in the United States.
A two-page spread of the party, featuring the goat, the women, and a male model dressed as the game's warrior hero Kratos, was to run in Sony's PlayStation magazine, scheduled to hit newsstands Tuesday. Subscribers, however, got copies earlier, which brought the event to the attention of animal rights activists and critics of video game violence. When parent company Sony Corp. learned of the event, it recalled the entire 80,000-edition print run.
"On this occasion we recognize that we fell short of our normal high standards of conduct and apologize for any offense caused," Sony said in a statement. "We are conducting an internal inquiry into the circumstances of the event in order to learn from the occurrence and put in place measures to ensure that this does not happen again."
Karraker said the animal was not slaughtered for the event, but was bought from a local butcher by the Greek company in charge of the party. The carcass was returned to the butcher after the event. Nick Sharples, the head of Sony public relations in Europe, did not know about the party plans, and Sony was investigating who in the company approved the festivities, Karraker said.
Nevertheless, Chris Cutter, spokesman for the International Fund For Animal Welfare, said the use of a slaughtered animal to sell video games is inexcusable. "It's still exploitation of the animal in a really bizarre way," Cutter said. "How does something that extreme and bizarre have a place in a modern publicity campaign by a public company?"
Gloria Barczak, professor of marketing at Northeastern University, said party organizers appeared to have gotten carried away in trying to do something very different to promote the game. "You sometimes wonder how companies can be so stupid," Barczak said. "But companies are run by people, and people sometimes make dumb mistakes."
The bad publicity could damage God Of War sales by raising the awareness of its violent content among parents and other adults who would normally buy it for teenagers, Barczak said.
The violence of God Of War, however, appears to be one of its biggest attractions. The first version released about three years ago has sold 1.1 million copies in the United States alone. Since the U.S. launch in March, Sony has sold 833,000 copies of God Of War II.