Comcast’s been irking a large segment of the internet again this week. This time, though, it doesn’t have anything to do with their pro-merger mania, their stance on net neutrality, or the problems with their actual service. The latest kerfuffle is all about a thirty-second commercial — one that doesn’t even seem to get the basics of its own technology right.
The ad (YouTube) targets a tech-savvy early-20s male gamer audience… and those gamers are exactly the group that can see through the many problems with the spot immediately.
It starts in a giant Xfinity booth in a shopping mall. A Comcast representative speaks with several different young men.
“Do you find that when you’re playing games online with your current service that it’s slow?” helpful Mr. Comcast asks the gamers.
“Yes,” says one, they do! “I get some lag,” another regretfully confirms.
This is a real thing that happens: inconsistent connectivity, at low speeds, can create a situation where a player experiences lag, stuttering, or disconnection from an online game. As a huge number of online games are competitive, player-vs-player environments, that results in a lot of losses and a lot of virtual deaths. And when that occurs, it is frustrating and really does suck for players.
That kind of lag is in fact something that stable, consistent, high-speed internet service can mitigate. So far, so good. But then the commercial starts to go off the rails.
Mr. Comcast gets the gamers playing Trials Fusion. The game is indeed a shiny new title, released on PC and for the major gaming consoles (Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4) just a few weeks ago. The motorcycle tricks-and-racing game launched to generally positive reviews that lauded its mechanics and features. But reviewers also mentioned one notable feature that the game does not have: an online multiplayer mode.
No online mode, no net connection. No network connection, no network lag.
“Do you notice any buffering?” Mr. Comcast then asks.
The gamers happily reply that they do not! And of course they don’t: the game ships on a disc or as a one-time digital download. It’s not on a streaming or cloud service like a Netflix or YouTube video; there’s nothing to buffer. That would be akin to asking if you see Microsoft Word buffering when you type a report on your work computer. Your software might be running slowly, but “buffering” is definitely not the issue.
Of course, the unstated implication in the commercial is that the game is actually streaming. Although the players appear to be using Xbox One controllers, that “console” on the podium in front of them, next to Mr. Comcast, is an Xfinity X1 set-top box. And Comcast does in fact have some tentative plans to launch a set-top video game streaming service in partnership with EA.
Too bad, then, Trials Fusion is published by EA rival Ubisoft, who have their own multiplayer platform.
The criticisms levied by gamers around the internet may seem nit-picky. And sure, really, they are. Computers, gaming, and tech in general get misrepresented in advertising and in media all the time; this ad is not unique or special in that regard.
A lot of people don’t really understand what the tech in their homes is or how it works. This ad, though, is directly targeting the folks who do understand that. And gamers, as a broad generalization, are a group that can be pretty exacting over minute details.
Gaming isn’t Comcast’s business. But targeting a demographic with complete disregard and disrespect for who they are and what their actual needs might be? Now that’s got Comcast written all over it.