When the moon hits your eye…
Xbox 360′s Pizza Hut app may be among mankind’s greatest technical achievements, at least that’s was our impression after playing it for RadarPalys. However, for as marvelous as this technology is, it’s hardly the first time games have intersected with real world pizza. In fact, digital entertainment and real life pizza pies have crossed paths many times in the last 30 years.
In an effort to give some historical perspective to Xbox LIVE’s latest addition, we dug deep to recount the industry’s long love affair with our favorite gaming food. Here’s what we cooked up…
Enter: The Noid
As we detailed in our virtual Advergaming Hall of Fame, Domino’s Noid is one of the better examples of the would-be genre. Designed to represent all that was annoying about pizza delivery, the Noid was the very embodiment of 1980s/1990s radicalness. He was a rude dude with an even ruder ‘tude, and that made him a perfect candidate for video game stardom.
Noid’s debut in 1989′s Avoid the Noid cast him as a pizza-hating d-bag who’s mission in life was to stop the player from making pizza deliveries to Doom Industries. In his follow-up, Yo! Noid, Domino’s mascot assumed leading man status in a localized version of the Japanese action game Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru. This game saw a more heroic Noid answering a distress call from the Mayor of New York to help stop his nefarious Noid doppelganger. And yes, he was paid in pizza.
Pizza Hut's TMNT: The Arcade Game invasion
By the early 90s, Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo were the foremost experts on footclan shredding, sewer living, and pizza eating. It was only a matter of time before one of the major pizza chains hitched their ovens to TMNT’s rising star, and lo and behold it was Pizza Hut who called dibs.
1990′s TMNT: The Arcade Game port for the NES not only featured Pizza Hut logo throughout its backgrounds, but the game’s manual included Pizza Hut coupons to help kids recreate their own “Pizza Time!” in real life. Sadly, those coupons have long since expired, but Pizza Hut lives on forever in every copy of the TMNT arcade port.
Everquest II's hack 'n /pizza adventure
Saving kingdoms and flirting with elves is a full-time gig. As a noble warrior, you can’t afford to waste time on menial tasks like ordering pizza on the phone. Understanding this, EverQuest II developers introduced a trail-blazing in-game option in 2005 whereby hungry citizens of Norrath could order pizza by typing “/pizza” into the command bar and filling out their order.
The service was powered by Pizza Hut, which provided an online website that gave EverQuest II players the means to craft their ideal pie, charge it to their credit card, and have it delivered to their real world stronghold. The promotion vanquished the hassle of picking up a phone and speaking to live human beings, and it made Pizza Hut the consumable of choice for the popular MMO. For a spell, anyways.
Nolan Bushnell's Chuck E. Cheese revolution
Nolan Bushnell is revered as the founder of Atari and one of the gaming’s first and most influential leaders. Those are all impressive titles, but they’re mere footnotes in Bushnell’s bio compared to his one true legacy: the creation of Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre in 1977. Can you imagine life without Chuck E. Cheese? We shudder at the very thought.
We’ll admit that Atari kickstarting the arcade and home console industry was kind of a big deal back in the 1970s, but we’re scared to think what the world would be like today if Bushnell never gave birth to the great Chuck Ezekial(?) Cheese. Not one we’d want to live in, that’s for sure.
Pac-Man's pizza legacy
The legend of Pac-Man’s pizza inspiration is a cool story passed down by cool people who like to look cool in cool situations. Unfortunately, it’s not altogether true. Yes, Pac-Man designer Toru Iwatani ordered an entire pizza one hungry afternoon; and yes, he was inspired to design Pac-man in the image of partially eaten pie. However, in a 1986 interview with Iwatani, the iconic game maker admitted he was already planning to base Pac-Man off the square-based Japanese character for mouth, and that his fated pizza encounter merely convinced him to round out Pac-Man’s edges for the final design.
In short: Pac-Man was designed to look like a giant mouth from day one because Iwatani had always planned for the game to be about eating. So while pizza wasn’t his main source of inspiration, it’s still an important part of Pac-Man lore. Which, if you ask cool people like us, is still pretty cool.
Luigi's pizzaria namesake
Pac-Man isn’t the only gaming mascot to owe his lineage to pizza. According to Super Mario Bros. lore, Miyamoto named the famed Mario bother Luigi after a pizzeria called “Mario & Luigi’s” which once operated near Nintendo of America’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. The evidence is anecdotal at best, but it’s easy to imagine. Luigi’s a card-carrying pizza connoisseur, and cheesy pie is all but worshipped by his cohorts in the Mushroom Kingdom. Heck, pizza may as well have received a starring credit in the live-action Super Mario Bros. Super Show.
Some question whether “Mario & Luigi’s” even existed in Redmond, or if Nintendo would have been so bold as to steal a name form the the pizza joint down the street. All that aside, there’s no denying the link between Nintendo’s most famous plumbers and gamers’ most popular grub.
Gamefly's co-op pizza promotions
Videogames + free pizza = profit. This was the no-brainer formula GameFly employed on multiple occasions in a bid to to lure gamers into its mail rental service with the promise of cheesy freebies. In 2007, it linked forces with Papa Johns’ marketing team to offer Papa Johns Pizza coupon with every envelope, while Papa Johns returned the favor with a free GameFly Trial membership and further pizza discounts with its purchases.
The pizza hook-ups continued in 2008 with GameFly and Pizza Hut’s Gamer Fantasy Giveaway. This sweepstakes offered pizza-munching gamers the opportunity to win the ultimate entertainment set-up and a year’s worth of free pizza and GameFly rentals, not to mention loads of free game rentals from Pizza Hut just for ordering online. Apparently GameFly didn’t complete the trifecta by teaming with Domino’s in 2009 for some other cheesy giveaway.
Pizza Hut's Phantasy Star Portable 2 franchise
In-game advertising took a turn for the absurd when Pizza Hut opened a digital franchise in Phantasy Star Portable 2. The crossover with Sega Japan imagined a future where Pizza Hut outlets operated in the middle of nowhere, and Gurhal Galaxy’s fearless freelance mercenaries fought not with swords and shields, but with pans and branded pizza boxes.
Over and above blatant Pizza-Hut imagery, the add-on even included purchasable figurines of Cheese-kun, Japan’s Pizza Hut mascot; as well as tasty(?) consumables like cheese pizza, seafood pizza, and coffee. Because, hey, nothing says “I’m here to save the world at whatever cost” like strolling into battle with grease stains and a delivery outfit. The worse part? Ogra Dyrans were horrible tippers.
Pizza Hut's Crazy Taxi cameo
Noticing a trend? Pizza Hut has been riding the videogame gravy train since the 1990s, and in 1999′s Crazy Taxi it expanded its reach into the Crazy Taxi universe. There’s no mistaking it’s intentions, either. Pizza Hut paid to be in Crazy Taxi, and it showed. The red roofed chain took up a giant chunk of real estate in Sega and Hitmaker’s arcade taxi sim. In Pizza Hut’s defense, Crazy Taxi also included similar building models for KFC and Tower Records, plus a soundtrack consisting of Bad Religion and The Offspring (“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah”), so it wasn’t the only brand along for the ride.
Out of all of Pizza Hut’s in-game advertising ventures, this partnership makes the most sense considering the real world setting. Well, as much sense as appearing in a game with homicidal cab drivers in physics-defying taxis can make, anyways.
Domino's app collaboration with Hatsune Miku
What does Yamaha’s Vocaloid singing synthesizer, Sega’s AI pop star, and pizza have in common? Before 2013, absolutely nothing. Then the marketing gurus at Domino’s saw a demand for an AI-hosted pizza ordering music app and the world of iOS food delivery was never the same. Domino’s surreal promotional video explains it all, though we’re still not entirely sure what happened. Apparently Domino’s co-opted virtual songstress, Hatsune Miku, to headline a pizza-ordering app while also performing songs created by top Vocaloid artists. The so-called “Dominoes App Featuring Hatsune Miku” also gives overseas users the chance to take snapshotss of themselves with Miku, and use AR software to super-impose a Miku performance over real pizza boxes.
We’re not going to lie; this may be the most magical app we’ve ever seen. As for the greatest app commercial host we’ve ever seen? Well, Scott, you had us at “Hello, I’m Scott.”
Domino's Pizza Hero app-vertisement
Speaking of strange apps and half-baked segues, the apps stores are filled with software designed to endear gamers to corporate brands. Domino’s Pizza Hero is but one in a sea of gamified marketing stunts, but it’s one of the more polished and–dare we say–fun advergaming apps of its kind.
The free download challenges players to fulfill their lifelong ambition and “rise through the pizza-making ranks” by building virtual pizzas in a “race against the clock.” If only there was minimum wage pay checks and surly customers. It also conveniently links users to an online Domino’s Pizza ordering site. Yes, it’s transparently out to get you to buy their pizza, but again: Free.
Papa John's Madden Sweepstakes
Next to video games, watching football is the second best excuse for stuffing our mouth holes with delicious ‘za. In 2011, Papa John’s attempted the holy trifecta of cheesy gaming promotions when it partnered with EA to give away copies of Madden NFL 12 to 60 lucky fans who entered via the pizza chain’s website. Winners were selected every 12 minutes, and everyone who ordered online received a discount off their purchase of Madden NFL’s latest iteration.
We’re not sure handing out 60 free video games warrants the “sweepstakes” designation, but free stuff is free stuff. That, and “Papa John’s Medium Budget Attempt to Drive Website Traffic By Aligning Itself With A Popular Sports Game Promotion” wasn’t as catchy a title.
You gonna eat that last slice?
Pizza and gamers go together like plumbers and mushrooms, Hyrulians and hearts, and Pac-Men and pellets. Xbox 360′s Pizza Hut app may be the most recent reminder of our eternal partnership, but it won’t be the last. Oculus Rift pizza eating? Google glasses pie ordering? The future is here, and the possibilities are endless.
Keep the greasy times rolling with Acheesements that belong in Pizza Hut’s Xbox 360 app and enjoy a classic look at The Top 7… Games where you play as food.
By Matt Bradford
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