When a stunt becomes a social crisis – GTA V launch @ EB Games

This week, one of the most hotly anticipated video games of the year hit stores across the country – Grand Theft Auto V, a title that showcases the dark underbelly of a LA-like town by the name of Los Santos. In the game, you play the roles on one of three criminal characters who to varying degrees cause destruction and distress to the inhabitants of the in-game world as they fight, steal and shoot their way out of trouble. Light subject matter right?

When themes of the game including strippers, drugs, fast cars and epics heists, the launch of a gaming title like this was rich for social issues and exploitation.

In a misguided in-store “stunt”, one EB Games store, part of Australia’s largest video games retail chain, took it upon themselves to create an “authentic” Los Santos experience, covering their store counter in small snap-lock bags and lines of white powder, made to look like the cocaine covered desk of a criminal den…much like you might see in the game. Starting as a misguided stunt, the counter was photographed by a customer that night and shared on Reddit; quickly going viral given the anticipation and discussion around the title launch. As midnight passed and the games were sold, the image moved to Twitter and was shared amongst game fans not only in Australia, but across the globe as they were looking for all the news relating to the game.


This “retail cocaine” content was edgy. The photograph didn’t clearly identify the powder as being Wizz Fizz as was later described. This looked like a table of cocaine in a retail store, frequented by young people. With the existing old media prejudice against violent, adult titles like GTA V, the path was clear for this to become a media circus…and it did with news coverage on news mastheads like News.com.au, Business Insider, The Australian and gamer titles like Kotaku and MMGN. EB was being labelled as “irresponsible” and quickly came back on the defense indicating this was an “unauthorised, isolated incident”.

The Reddit post shared by EB customer Matt Westcott currently generated more than 2000 comments, more that 100 Facebook shares and 50+ tweets since its posting (Source: Sharedcount), building a rumour mill that gave credit to the idea that this was a planned event stunt, with faux cocaine bags part of the store’s midnight launch giveaways.

Offering a similar challenge to the Domino’s Pizza Crisis, EB now faces a series of issues management tasks to ensure both its internal (staff) and external (customers and business partners) are aware of the brand’s in-store standards and duty of care to its customers. Social media played a critical role in not only providing a platform for this photo to be posted, but the networks to give it an audience.

Was EB simply the victim of a rouge employee? Do you see this incident as a non-issue or do you think EB could they have handled this better? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

2 responses to “When a stunt becomes a social crisis – GTA V launch @ EB Games

  1. Definitely a case of ‘one person doesn’t represent the company’, the store manager & the employee should be ‘blamed’ in this case.

    In a time where the first legal Australian R18+ game is on shelf, it’s not a great start, but it’s amazing to see the virality that this image received.

    I agree that EB Games’ statement to the media was the right way of handling it and nothing more.

    Would you have handled it any other way Sarah?

  2. Agreed – I do think EB could have potentially included some acknowledgement of if/how they dealt with the employee in question (much like Dominos did), but also understand that that they would have been wanting to distance themselves from the incident as it was “unofficial”. I think my frustration with it comes more from the gamer social stigma that continues to appear in media – Despite the fact this is part of the subject matter of GTAV, I do get a bit sick of the “won’t someone think of the kids” comments that continue to appear around these sorts of articles. As we saw in the DA14 report this week, the avg age of an Aussie gamer is 32. They’re happily playing these sorts of R18 titles. BUT, back on a social note, I think EB did a good job of protecting their rep and minimising liability in their actions. I do wonder what happened to the rouge employee though – We may never know!

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