Bomb squad called when video game PR stunt goes wrong

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New open-world action game Watch Dogs has the distinction of being the fastest-selling game in Ubisoft’s history. It’s also likely to be the video game publisher’s only title to be associated with a real-life bomb scare.

In a creative, yet ill-advised attempt to drum up publicity for the game, released Tuesday, Ubisoft sent promotional copies to select media outlets. A reporter at one of those companies, Australian online publication Ninemsn, received a suspicious package on Wednesday — a black safe with a blacked-out note asking the recipient to “check their voicemail.”

According to Ninemsn’s account of the events, the reporter doesn’t use voicemail, but had received a hang-up call from an unfamiliar number the day before. When the editorial staff attempted to open the safe, it began beeping. Calls were placed to other newsrooms to see if they had received similar packages; they hadn’t, and the cops were called.

The floor where the package was sent was evacuated and the staff sent home. A police rescue unit scanned the safe, took it to the basement, and forced it open, revealing a copy of Watch Dogs inside.

“There was a bunch of reasons this ended up looking weird,” Ninemsn publisher Hal Crawford said. “The PR company no doubt got carried away with their creativity and ended up sending us something the bomb squad had to open up.”

The game’s premise involves hacking into top-secret information and using technology to take down a city essentially run by Big Brother. So it’s understandable if the press kit seemed like an edgy, cool idea to entice reporters. One major problem: Ninemsn doesn’t cover video games.

“As part of a themed promotion for Watch Dogs, our team in Australia sent voicemail messages to some local media alerting them that they’d receive a special package related to the game,” Ubisoft spokesman Michael Beadle told EW. “Unfortunately, the delivery to Ninemsn didn’t go as planned, and we unreservedly apologize to Ninemsn’s staff for the mistake and for any problems caused as a result. We will take additional precautions in the future to ensure this kind of situation doesn’t happen again.”

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