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Videogame Marketing and Hype – What Is to Be Done?
Gaming's Andrew Price analyses the marketing machines behind our favourite games and discusses whether these hype engines could really deliver on their claims on purchase
As the amount of money spent on producing videogames has increased, the funding for marketing has gone through the roof as publishers produce high-quality television adverts and embark on social-media campaigns. Although marketing is a necessity for new videogames, the current marketing culture has led to grandiose claims by developers and near impossible expectations for new games. This is problematic as customers are given false impressions and games publishers and developers lose the trust of their fan bases. This begs the question, what is to be done about videogames marketing? Well it may be possible that a look at the marketing tactics employed in the film industry could be the solution to the current videogame marketing culture.
On October 16th 2016, Rockstar Games changed its Twitter cover photo to a faded black logo with a red background. An inconspicuous change, yet it led to speculation from fans of the Red Dead Redemption series, hoping for the announcement of a new game in the franchise. Fans were granted that wish two days later when Rockstar posted the trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2 on their Twitter page. This news trended on Facebook and Twitter, the story was covered by news media websites and within weeks YouTube channels had posted in-depth analyses of the trailer. Rockstar had started their new marketing campaign with a bang and the hype around the game had appeared overnight.
Despite the wide coverage of this story, the end of the trailer states that Red Dead Redemption 2 will not be released until Fall 2017, at least a year away. That means that there will be months of speculation as fans consume any little bit of information Rockstar releases, sometimes jumping to conclusions with only the tiniest shred of evidence, and building up expectations of the game. This marketing style implemented by Rockstar is just one example of a trend within the videogames industry, in which companies announce upcoming titles long in advance; whilst creating a buzz around the new titles. Another example is of Fallout 4. Bethesda posted a countdown clock on their website without giving any information as to what it was for. Instantly, fans of the Fallout series assumed that it was counting down to an announcement of a new Fallout game. When the countdown finished, the trailer for Fallout 4 started to play, marking the start of a marketing campaign that included a live-streamed showcase to start E3, television adverts, posters in city centres, a series of short videos and several pre-order bonuses depending on how much customers spent and at which store they bought the game from.
The problem with this form of marketing within the video games industry is that creates an environment in which fans are desperate for more information and expectations increase as the release date approaches. This desire for information leads to embellished claims by developers in interviews. During an interview at E3, Fallout 4’s lead producer Jeff Gardiner claimed that he had played the game for nearly 400 hours, suggesting that Fallout 4 was set to be a big game with lots of content. However, Fallout 4 lacked the depth of previous installments, relying on ‘radiant’ quests which were just simple tasks that were repeated with no real impact on the game other than gaining some experience. Whilst on the Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert, the founder of Hello Games stated that players of the game No Man’s Sky would be able to meet each other in the enormous game universe, although it would be highly unlikely given the scale of the game. However, this was debunked when two live-streamers realised they were close to each other and attempted to find each other. Despite being in what seemed to be the exact same space, neither could see the other. This created speculation that Stephen Colbert may have been overstating the games capabilities.
No Man’s Sky has been the subject of criticism about another marketing technique used within the games industry, that is the use of misleading materials in trailers. It was claimed that Hello Games used promotion materials that were supposed to represent the completed game but were not actually taken from the finished version of the game, a practice known as ‘bullshots’. Consequently, they are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority. This is not the only case of these tactics being used by a games developer. There was significant anticipation for the release of Watch Dogs, however it soon came out that the games graphics were weaker than the graphics of the trailer; which was supposedly showing gameplay. This discovery was met with criticism from consumers and critics alike.
The use of non-gameplay footage in trailers also poses a problem for consumers. Although game trailers state when a trailer is using footage that is not gameplay, it is still misleading to the consumer. The Battlefield 1 trailer that has been seen on UK TV channels states that none of the footage used is gameplay. Although it clearly states this, the footage used gives the impression of an action-packed game with beautiful graphics and dynamic gameplay, without actually showing what the game looks like. Technically they are letting the buyer beware, but it is still misleading. Furthermore, fans tend to want trailers with actual gameplay, rather than cinematic shots, as they would want to see what the game looks like.
It is clear that these marketing techniques have negative consequences for consumers. They are misled into buying games through embellishment of comments during interviews; they watch trailers that consist of non-gameplay footage or bullshots; and they must wait for months for games to be released whilst being bombarded with marketing ploys. Furthermore, these techniques create immense hype that builds up expectations that, when not met, lead to disappointment and frustration.
What is less clear, is the impact of these techniques on game publishers and developers. These techniques are employed to build up hype for a game to increase pre-orders. However, when the hype of these games is not met, and customers have to deal with unachieved expectations, they lose trust in the companies. Watch Dogs was highly anticipated as one of the first new IPs (intellectual property) for the current generation of consoles, but was met with generally average reviews and a rather negative reputation. This in turn has effected the sales of Watch Dogs 2. Most critics believe that whilst Watch Dogs 2 has its flaws, it is a substantial improvement on the original. Despite this, the pre-orders of Watch Dogs 2 were below the expectations of Ubisoft. This is likely due to initial scepticism of the game because of the marketing of the first Watch Dogs.
Therefore, the current climate of marketing within the videogames industry needs to adjust. It is possible that looking at the marketing techniques used by the film industry could provide the solution. The marketing of films is by no means perfect. Trailers often consist of the best parts of the film and in some cases, social media websites are used to build hype, increasing expectations which are not achieved, Suicide Squad comes to mind. However, there are still lessons to be learned.
Firstly, video games should be announced at least a year or two in advance, but that is not when the marketing campaign should start. Films tend to be announced years ahead of release, Marvel have already announced the next 8 films they will release including ‘Captain Marvel’ which will not be released until 2019. Games companies could do this too, to inform fans and consumers of upcoming releases, instead of shrouding them in mystery until a grand reveal followed by a long marketing campaign.
Secondly, video games should not start their marketing campaigns until a few months before the release of the game. The longer the campaign, the more marketing materials used, the greater the expectations and so the more likely consumers will be disappointed. Films normally advertise a month or so before their release, why do video games need to start over a year before the release? A marketing campaign can be done effectively in a shorter period of time. Moreover, this would stop marketing campaigns of games from overlapping.
Finally, only use footage from the game itself. To use footage that is not from the game is misleading to consumers, even if the trailer states that the footage is not gameplay. Not only is it not consumer friendly, it goes against the wishes of gamers who desire actual gameplay. Although film trailers are often criticised for using the best clips of the film, at least the footage used is from the film.
Marketing in the videogames industry has started to become more prevalent within mainstream media such as television adverts. This is good as it helps to fight against claims that videogames are for children, and reinforces videogames' claim as a legitimate form of media that adults can engage in. However, the marketing techniques employed are becoming increasingly consumer unfriendly. In order to maintain the trust in the games industry by customers, publishers need to change their methods quickly or face a decline in pre-orders and possibly sales.