Tasting of the first “gamer” flavor of Coca-Cola and the history of the links between games and sodas

Hats off to the marketing director who thought
Enlarge / Hats off to the marketing director who thought “Coca-Cola Byte” sounded good.

Sam Mashkovech

If you are looking for a TL; DR on the taste of the first “gamer” flavor of Coca-Cola, I can answer at the top: it’s weird. Blueberry, maybe? But only if a blueberry was dipped in a pool of Red Bull. It’s “Coca-Cola Byte”.

When it was announced, I asked Coca-Cola if I could sample Byte, which is slated to launch in the US in early May, as I found its existence adjacent to the game fascinating. Many other soda and junk food makers have had a cozy marketing relationship with video games for decades, so much so that you can close your eyes and picture a stereotypical “gamer” holding a sugary soda by default. (It’s probably Mountain Dew. There are so many Mountain Dew “gamers” out there.)

Yet somehow Coke has avoided direct ties to the gaming world in most of the world. We’ve never seen a limited edition Super Mario coke cans. We’ve never had Coke bottles hidden under their caps that give free XP in online games. And things hardly ever show up in the virtual worlds of gaming, despite so many brands clamoring to capture gamers’ eyeballs and available budgets.

An introduction to Creations, from Starlight to Byte

That changed this month with Byte, which Coca-Cola advertises as “inspired by the humble, iconic pixel.” His publicity card about it puts a can of Byte on a tron-like a grid of black, green and purple neon lines, next to two colored 3D blocks. (Are they supposed to be pixels? They have a Z-axis, Coca-Cola, so they’re technically polyhedrons.) And its launch was associated with a fortnite “creator island” area, full of Coca-Cola branding (but made by an advertising agency, not Epic Games). So I had to know: what did all this look like and how did it fit into the pantheon of games and sodas?

If you’re wondering where Coke is going with this on a pure flavor basis, check out the Coca-Cola Creations line of limited-time sodas. The first, dubbed Coca-Cola Starlight, launched earlier this year and was pretty decent, at least in a world where every flavor of cola is seemingly possible if you experiment long enough with one of these Coca-Cola Freestyle machines. . In the case of Starlight, Coke blended cinnamon and cream soda syrups into its standard formula, resulting in something best described as Coke Roasted Marshmallow. Unique! Drinkable! Not bad. Doesn’t necessarily go with Doritos, though.

Byte, on the other hand, goes for a fruity flavor, and I had someone photograph my first impressions as I sipped it. For context, I liked the atypical flavor of Starlight, and I can appreciate the bold, weird, and sweet flavors. In particular, I occupied the soda fountain of a fast-food joint in high school, where I devised a bizarre mix of pink lemonade, root beer, and lemon-lime soda as a daily driver, much to the dismay of my colleagues.

And yet:

I finally drank the rest of the can I received, and it probably got better a few days later without carbonating, revealing more raspberry flavor. But unlike Starlight, or even standard grocery aisle variants like Vanilla and Cherry, Byte’s new flavor mix strongly highlights Coke’s recognizable nutmeg base. It may still be there, buried beneath the lab-generated berry formulation of this drink, but the recognizable core of Coke is virtually non-existent in this drink.

And, yes, it goes well with snacks like tortilla chips. But that’s because the texture and saltiness of the fries balance out the kick brought on by the phosphoric acid.

Avoid Coke Legal’s Laser Beam Eyes

Byte is technically Coke’s second overt gaming link. The first came in 1994 as a Japan-only Game Gear game, made by longtime Japanese support studio Sega, and it revolved around the Japanese mid-’90s Coca-Cola Kid mascot. that Coke’s Japanese office felt that this exception to the company’s history was okay if it happened on the go – and the game was played on the Japan-exclusive Coca-Cola Game Gear model, which was as red as a can of Coke. Either way, players must run, jump, kick, skateboard, and throw red Frisbees through a colorful city while beating anyone who gets between Coca-Cola Kid and his Coke habit.

Beyond this game, the Coca-Cola Company has been surprisingly silent inside the billion dollar gambling industry. This stands in stark contrast to film and television, where the company is obsessed with finding ways to incorporate its beverage variety into productions – and it has an extensive network of company historians, experts from product placement and supply chain wizards eager to make sure you see as much creepy coke as possible in your entertainment. Era-appropriate signs, 80s cans, desperation to make SmartWater look like something modern people love: they have it all…as long as the content in question is, as one marketing executive puts it Coke, “in line with [Coke’s] brand values ​​and strategically in line with the direction we are heading as a company.”

Statements like this are the best we have for understanding Coke’s general lack of gaming: they probably didn’t think their in-game products reflected the brand well. Even so, Coke and its sugarwater rivals had every chance in the world to organically appear as brand items in decades of gaming. This Tumblr site will have you spending hours browsing the rugged history of soda makers in video games, and the brightly colored aluminum cans have often served as an arcade-style health item. The most Coke-like of these virtual cans appears in Data East’s 1991 Arcade Blaster Desert Assaultand if the game ever saw an official re-release, it would honestly need a touch-up to avoid Coke Legal’s laser-beam eyes.

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