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Ubisoft Launch a Disputed Video Game

By Joni Hawk, Jul 10th 2006
In Las Vegas, Nevada a masked gunmen fire rifles and gets terror in a full casino. Players spread out in the middle of the chaos, and a terrorist shouts, "Everybody down!" The action moves outside the casino where a big explosion booms in front of the Monte Carlo. The image is like in action movies, with helicopters that fly past Bellagio's lake, unloading squads of anti-terrorist military personnel onto the Strip below.

Among the slot machines are heard shootouts and than a sniper shoots in the head a terrorist who was holding a pistol to the head of a scared woman. In police radios are announced further attacks on Fremont Street, followed by the worrying announce that "Las Vegas is now under martial law."

This is the kind of preview you can find all over internet for the kick ass video game "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas", which is planned to be released in November. The initial versions will play on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with a home computer version to follow later.

The fabricated adventure could also present a marketing annoyance for Las Vegas because of its on-screen setting, sources said this week.

"It could be risky economically, and it may be something that's not allowed to free speech (protection)," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said of the game's realistic scenes, which he had not personally viewed.

"It's based on a false premise," Mr. Goodman continued, adding together federal and state leaders have repeatedly guaranteed him that Las Vegas is "the safest place imaginable" nearly five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the East Coast. Even he was given all the assurances; Goodman wants to ask “... whether or not we can stop it,".

Sheriff Bill Young questioned the wisdom of showcasing terrorists in this city's bustling tourist corridor. As a child, Young said he and his friends played "cops and robbers" and other imagination-based games. “Now all it’s about terrorism and video games can make it so realistic… I just wonder about bombarding young people's senses with this type of violence," said Young, whose department is dealing with the effects of 19 officer-involved shootings this year, including one that killed a 31-year-old man before scores of Strip visitors on Independence Day.

Las Vegas' high-profile status has long drawn media attention, often showcasing dangerous actions. Frank Sinatra's 1960 caper "Ocean's Eleven" was based on casino robberies, while the 1971's James Bond flick "Diamonds Are Forever" included a Fremont Street car chase.

A plane landed in the Hard Rock Hotel in 1997's "Con Air," and CBS' hit series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" offers up a new Las Vegas murder each week. The Stratosphere tower even exploded in "Domino," a Keira Knightley film released in the fall.

For the next 12 months almost $120 million will be spent by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to advertise Las Vegas as a fun and relaxing adult escape. That effort helps make the area one of the world's most-recognized locales, for better or worse.

"I'm confident that the general public can distinguish between what's reality and what's fiction," authority spokesman Vince Alberta said. Nevertheless, Alberta said Goodman has asked the authority's legal team to look into whether the game infringes on any Las Vegas trademarks and local casino companies will also monitor "Rainbow Six Vegas" strictly.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said the company was uninformed of the game until contacted by the Review-Journal Friday. Company officials will investigate the game's content, and take legal action "should we determine that our trademarks or copyrights have been violated."

"We go to great lengths to present this as a safe and secure destination," he said. "To the extent that this portrays our destination as an unsafe place to visit, it's concerning."

Ubisoft is a French video game maker, and has high hopes for the fifth title in its popular "Rainbow Six" series. The story centers on "an escalating terrorist siege in "Sin City" that threatens to take world terrorism to new heights."

In the disputed game some Las Vegas icons were altered -- Bellagio's sign reads "Villagio," for example -- while others were made up altogether, including the nonexistent Calypso hotel. However, many local elements are correctly detailed, from Fremont Street's lighted canopy to the replica Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas.

Based in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil-sous-Bois, the 20-year-old Ubisoft is an international powerhouse in the video gaming realm. Ubisoft's game designers set the game here to better showcase new technologies that allow for sharper-than-ever images, said Tim Cummins, Ubisoft's San Francisco-based corporate spokesman. Game designers toured the town to ensure their re-creations were authentic.

Mr. Cummins continued by saying that "Las Vegas might be the perfect location to show off next-generation console technology," "Not only is it a world-famous and recognizable city, it is iconic, action-packed and completely unpredictable."

Liping Cai, director of the tourism and hospitality research center at Purdue University, explained that a video game-themed terror attack does not count towards people's motivation to travel here, in a short term but supposing that the”video game becomes so popular that a whole generation is educated on that image, it will" affect people's perception of whether this is a safe destination or not, he said.

Branding expert Rob Frankel also has reservations that "Rainbow Six Vegas" will discourage people from traveling here. "I don't think it hurts Las Vegas at all," Frankel said. "If anything, it's going to come across as the unfortunate victim of the video game company.", he said

"The guys who are in for a lot of heat are the developers of the game," Frankel said. "We're starting to get to the point where people have had enough" of violent images.

The game's characters are inspired by those popularized in author Tom Clancy's best-selling books including "Clear and Present Danger" and "The Sum of All Fears."

Previous "Rainbow Six" games sold more than 14 million units worldwide, and the series' latest version will for the first time take the franchise onto so-called "next-generation" video game consoles.

"Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas" Ubisoft’s game was favorably reviewed by the popular online video game forum GameSpot.com at May's Electronic Entertainment Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

After creating popular games such as "Myst" and the "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell" series, Ubisoft reported sales of more than $698 million in its 2005-06 fiscal year ended March 31.

Sales are expected to grow by 5 percent to 10 percent this year the credit being given in part to the planned rollout of Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii game consoles, Yves Guillemot, Ubisoft's chief executive officer, said in a recent earnings release.

Microsoft Corp. released its next-generation console, the Xbox 360, late last year. Ubisoft quickly capitalized on demand for the new platform: 360,000 units of its "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter" game sold within a week of the title's debut.

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