Every now and then, game companies' PR and marketing backfires. Sony's 2007 God of War II promotional party featuring a decapitated goat made Fortune's list of the 101 Dumbest Business Moments of the year. Then there was the Wii port of Okami, for which Capcom swiped cover art from gaming site IGN--and forgot to remove the watermark.
This week sees another such misstep, this committed by Nintendo in an effort to promote the interoperability of the recently released Animal Crossing: City Folk with 2005's Animal Crossing: Wild World for the DS. To allow members of the media the chance to check out the function, Nintendo sent out copies of Wild World with a saved city already on it.
But as spotted by MTV Multiplayer and confirmed by GameSpot, not everyone in the city was very neighborly. Specifically, the character of Baarbara the sheep greets players by using a racial epithet (pictured) in a modified form commonly used as a greeting in hip-hop culture. The line also includes a line of dialogue from the film Full Metal Jacket that Asian-Americans might find offensive. Wild World lets players customize greetings, and it appears that the objectionable wording was inserted using that function.
Although embarrassing, the Animal Crossing N-word flap doesn't rank alongside the game industry's biggest PR fiascos. Those include Microsoft's steady drumbeat of denials of widespread Xbox 360 failures in the months leading up to its $1 billion admission that the "Red Red Ring of Death" was all too common. The Big Kahuna of publicity trainwrecks came in 2005, when Take-Two Interactive insisted that the "Hot Coffee" sex minigames in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas were the work of PC hackers...just days before the minigames were found hidden in the unalterable PlayStation 2 version of the game.
[UPDATE] True to its word, a contrite Nintendo issued a statement to GameSpot apologizing for any offense and promising to recall the offending copies of the game from media outlets.
"Previously played copies of the 2005 DS game Animal Crossing: Wild World were sent to 14 members of the media to demonstrate the ability of players to transfer items to the new Animal Crossing: City Folk for Wii," said the publisher. "We regret that an offensive phrase was included without our knowledge via a wireless function that allows user-generated catchphrases to spread virally from one game to the next. This version is limited to 14 copies created for media review purposes only and is not available at retailers. We sincerely apologize for the incident and are working with media who received the game cards to return them to Nintendo immediately."