Photo: Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Column: Developers should wait to announce games

With the recent announcement of “Red Dead Redemption 2” by Rockstar Games earlier this week, it has got me thinking about how video games should be announced and marketed. Rockstar had very little trouble getting the gaming-sphere excited just by tweeting two textless images (over 420K likes combined) before the announcement of a reveal trailer. At the time of writing, all we know is that “RDR2” is due for a fFall 2017 release, but I argue that that is more than enough time to promote the game.

Last year, Bethesda used a similar technique to reveal the next entry of their acclaimed “Fallout” series. On June 2, 2015, Bethesda set a countdown timer hinting to the “Fallout” franchise that would ultimately end up showing the premiere trailer of “Fallout 4” the very next day. Less than two weeks later, Bethesda held an E3 press conference that heavily featured gameplay and offered many more details about the game. In only five months, “Fallout 4” would already be played by millions of players.

Although “Red Dead Redemption 2” is apparently still about a year from release, Rockstar still did something that not many developers or publishers have the guts to do. Obviously, Rockstar and Bethesda both are incredibly revered developers that do not lose anything from revealing a game late, but I believe that this method of announcing a game is beneficial for the gamers and the developers themselves. A relatively short marketing strategy protects both consumer and producer from the adverse effects of hype, keeps the game from being delayed and excites gamers in a more genuine way.

The harmful effects of a prolonged marketing campaign can be seen most clearly in the recent release and subsequent backlash of “No Man’s Sky.” Hello Games first presented the game at the VGX Awards in December of 2013, but the game did not release until late this summer.

For an unknown developer, this sort of long marketing strategy makes sense because it gives them the ability to get in front of as many people as possible before the game releases. Unfortunately, with essentially the same vertical slice of the game shown for two years and some less-than-honest comments from Hello Games, enthusiasm for “No Man’s Sky” grew to an unattainable height.

This sounds like success from a marketing standpoint, but when the game was released, a number of players and reviewers felt like the game sorely disappointed in relation to the game they had imagined in their head the past two and a half years. “No Man’s Sky” critically underperformed as a result.

"No Man’s Sky" is a recent example from a list of games from just this current console generation that have been hurt from extended marketing campaigns. For instance, the first showing of “Watch Dogs” and “The Division” both showed far better graphics than they ended up having, therefore dishonestly setting expectations, and both games were also delayed. And let’s not even begin to talk about the train wrecks that have been “Final Fantasy XV” and “The Last Guardian.”

Bethesda and Rockstar have shown new ways of marketing to combat the variable hype machine and the unpredictability of modern games that leads to delays. By showing their games less than a year before release, they can be sure to be on track to meet deadline and gain a following of gamers that don’t even have the chance to overhype or lose excitement for the game.

As an avid consumer of all game media, it is refreshing to see announcements for big AAA games less than a year out even if it means radio silence from developers for years. We need more developers to learn from others’ mistakes and not prolong the promotion cycle. Besides, the occasional leak of the game map or casting call is far more exciting than a formal announcement two years from release.



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