Why 'Wolfenstein II' Marketing Has More Social Commentary Than the Game

Bethesda discusses its "punch a Nazi" marketing for 'Wolfenstein II'

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is a game that is meant to be as "timeless as a piece of art," developer MachineGames says. Untethered from the here and now of a reality which has real Nazis marching down real American streets, it wasn't designed to provide ironic commentary on society, according to the developer.

But the game's marketing seems to be increasingly leaning into the reality of a United States struggling with the Alt-Right and tiki torch-bearing Nazis marching down streets. Most recently, the Twitter account posted a video showing an in-game Nazi being punched in the face and declaring that there is only one side.

The result is a marketing push that potentially could have more teeth than the game it's meant to present. Glixel went to Pete Hines, vice president of marketing at Bethesda Softworks, which publishes MachineGames' upcoming Wolfenstein, to discuss how the marketing came to be and why the game is meant to be free of modern social commentary via email.

What sort of discussion was there between Bethesda and MachineGames about the timing of the game’s release and its obvious, though perhaps accidental, satirical parallels to the current state of the U.S.?
I should remind you that the “obvious” parallels you reference are, in fact, a pretty recent thing. The release date for the game was set in stone months prior to its E3 unveiling, and even further removed from the events of Charlottesville. The game and its content were well along the path to completion, and no one from MachineGames or Bethesda could have predicted Nazis marching down American streets in 2017. Even talking about it now seems ludicrous. From a marketing standpoint, we certainly saw an opportunity to take a stand against these events while also talking about the game we’re making, which is about killing Nazis and overthrowing their rule in the US.

Why did the team decide to aim for something more broadly focused and not lean into the current state of the U.S. given those parallels?
The team at MachineGames has a clear vision for the Wolfenstein franchise. Stories, characters, and themes were all set in motion many years ago, with events from one game dovetailing into the next. They’re executing on a plan and game they’ve been working on long before any current events took place. When the development of the game started, there was nothing to “aim” for. These events hadn’t transpired. Similarly where the next game goes, and what it’s about, is already something we know. We aren’t guessing at social or political trends years from now. Our hope is that any notion of Nazis and Nazism is gone, which has always been our stance.

What sort of discussion was there between Bethesda and MachineGames about the marketing of the game, specifically, the most recent “punch a nazi”, “there’s only one side” marketing which is drawing an obvious parallel and using common phrases from current in-the-news commentary?
We have an open dialogue with the team at MachineGames. The fact that there is now a political and social climate, particularly here in the US, is something we’ve talked about. We weren’t going to hide from the fact our game is about killing Nazis and freeing the US from their rule, and if we can reference current events as part of talking about the game, so be it. Nazis are evil. We aren’t afraid to remind people of that.

Has there been a shift in the point of view expressed in July about the game being timeless and avoiding “ironic commentary on society”?
The developers haven’t changed their approach to making what they want to make. The fact that it can be seen as a commentary on society has everything to do with society and current events, not the game they’re making and have been making for several years.

Are there any thoughts of leaning more into that commentary in the game, either via updates, last minute additions or DLC?
No. As I said, what the game and overarching story is about is something that’s already been set on a path. We like where we’re headed with the game and the franchise and the story. The franchise will continue to be decidedly anti-Nazi.

If the game isn’t providing commentary why use marketing that seems to indicate it might be tied to what is happening in the world today?
The game is about Nazis ruling the US (and the world), and BJ’s fight to kick them out. In that regard, the team at MachineGames is providing commentary: on the presence of evil in the world, and how that evil can spread and infiltrate places like America – as well as the entire world. But The New Colossus was not written to be a commentary on current events, because no one – at MachineGames or at Bethesda – could predict what would happen.

That said, we did use references to recent events in our social media to highlight parallels between what’s taking place in the game and what’s happening in our country. But ultimately the marketing and the game are about the same, simple message: Nazis are bad, and in Wolf II you get to kick their asses and it’s fun. There are actual Nazis marching openly on the streets of The United States of America in 2017. BJ would not be OK with that – we are not ok with that -- and the marketing reflects that attitude. When you have an opportunity to take a public stand against Nazis emerging in America, that’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We’re very pleased at the response to both the game and some of the marketing things we’ve been doing. Clearly both are resonating with folks. With things being the way they are, having a healthy (and safe) avenue to vent some frustrations is a good thing, and we hope Wolfenstein II can be a way to do that for folks.