Remember the Time THQ Caused an Ecological Disaster?

In the past few weeks, we’ve talked about Korn doing a Silent Hill theme, the most unfortunate scavenger hunt, headstone marketing, and a couple of other strange things. I’ve saved, for you, the best for last. Note: Probably not the last because in the annals of video game history, this stuff just keeps happening. This week I want to talk about THQ, may it rest in peace. If you weren’t aware, THQ died in 2012. Its name was bought by Nordic Games, and now Nordic parades around wearing the skin of THQ and calling itself THQ Nordic. It’s actually for the best that THQ was liquidated because, in 2011, it did something phenomenally bad.

During the Game Developers Conference, or GDQ for short, in 2011, THQ wanted to promote their upcoming game Homefront in a big way. Never mind that Homefront was kind of not great. No one knew that at the time, and THQ had to get the good word out before the bad word set in. To that end, they released some balloons in San Fransisco. How many balloons? No one is quite sure. Some sources say hundreds, others say thousands. When recounting the gist of this situation to me, Managing Editor Sam G. said millions. Either way, it was a lot of balloons to release.

First problem: No one has any way of controlling where a balloon goes. Release a few hundred of them in a crowded metropolitan area and then try and tell them where to go. Not happening. Residents of San Fransisco were rightfully pissed. Just a few hours after the balloon release, the San Fransisco Bay was awash in luftballoons, and way more than 99. This stoked fears of ecological damage to the birds and fish and whatnot. People pointed their ire towards Gamestop, who committed the crime of having their name attached to the promotional cards attached to each balloon. Oops. They were quick to throw THQ directly under the bus.

“We understand the concerns consumers have regarding the impact balloons can have on the environment. However, the balloon drop stunt in San Francisco was created by THQ, the publisher of Homefront, and GameStop had no prior knowledge of it. THQ has since informed us that they released soy-based, biodegradable balloons”

Gamestop, covering their bases

This comes up a lot. “It’s okay!” cried THQ, “The balloons are biodegradable!”. Cool. What about the little postcards attached to each balloon? No one ever made any comment on those. Time for a quick science lesson. The balloons were made of latex. Latex, so far as I know – I am not a balloonologist – is not soy-based. Maybe it was some new soy-based latex. Fine. Latex takes about 6 months to degrade in optimal conditions. Optimal being exposed to full sunlight or fully submerged. While the balloons in the bay would be gone in 6 months, what of the balloons that fell in other places? As the situation worsened, THQ brought in the professionals the world was asking for. That’s right, they brought in the Balloon Council. It’s a real thing! It’s a trade organization dealing with…you guessed it: Balloons. Put on the defensive, the Balloon Council was quick to assuage fears.

“Latex is a 100 percent natural substance that breaks down both in sunlight and water. The degradation process begins almost immediately‚ĶResearch shows that under similar environmental conditions, latex balloons will biodegrade at about the same rate as a leaf from an oak tree. The actual total degradation time will vary depending on the precise conditions.”

Balloon Council FAQ

Well, that about settled it. The Balloon Council had spoken. People were still upset about the trash, but it was very temporary trash. THQ could see the way the wind was blowing and put out a definitive statement.

“The balloons released at the Homefront rally event today were made from a 100 percent organic product and are 100 percent biodegradable. The balloons have no history of causing any environmental pollution on land or in water. Although we’re confident that there will be no harm to the environment, we’ve retained a cleanup crew to remove any potential lingering debris. This was a THQ sponsored promotion and GameStop had no involvement, whatsoever.”

THQ Statement

So they hired a cleanup crew to remove debris. Everyone was happy, and that is the end of our tale of balloon-ery buffoonery. Or is it? While putting out statements, consulting the Balloon Council, and retaining a balloon clean-up crew is all good and well, THQ still had one more entity to answer to: The law. The PR company behind the stunt was fined the princely sum of $7,000 for their delayed effect littering. It’s delayed effect because the balloons had to float for a while before becoming litter.

In the end, Kaos, the company that developed Homefront folded shortly after its release. A year later, THQ folded. Nowadays, no one is releasing balloons in a mock protest against the occupation of America by North Korea. Oh, wait. Did I not mention that? The reason for the balloon release was a staged lunchtime protest. In Homefront, the United States has been occupied by North Koreans. The PR company had heard that in South Korea, people sometimes release balloons near the border with the north, containing inspiring messages of hope for North Koreans. I’ve still not gotten any confirmation of whether those inspiring messages of hope come with a small postcard promoting pre-orders of Homefront.