It used to be commonplace for video games to be announced years out from release. As we moved into the polygonal era and game budgets started to balloon, marketing departments adopted multi-year hype strategies in a desperate bid to cover production costs with a big day-one launch.
A teaser trailer. A full trailer. Drips of vertical slice gameplay that slowly hyped up the player base until they reached a fever-pitch and were ready to pre-order months and months ahead of release.
Today, in an era of early access, digital downloads, and surprise release windows, the gaming public doesn’t have the patience for that any more. It’s not necessary to hype a game up for years in order to make money off of it.
And yet some companies are still doing it.
DUKE NUKEM FOREVER
Duke Nukem killed the long marketing window dead. Or at least, it should have. It was the game that no one expected to come out, and then when it finally did after 14 years…no one really cared.
The sad irony is that the game’s voice acting includes numerous references to a 12 year delay, because the final version of product was planned to release two years before it actually did.
There was no way for the cobbled-together thing that was Duke Nukem Forever to live up to that long of a hype train. We live in an era of instant gratification. You can download a new game in an afternoon. You can immediately access developer interviews, gameplay streams, and the latest marketing content, and that creates a certain expectation of immediacy.
If a game doesn’t come out in a short window from announce, you run the risk of your player base moving on to something else that’s better before you’ve made it out the door. So many games exist now that it makes no sense to spend more than a year or so hyping up your new release.
DRAGON AGE 4
Last night, EA finally officially announced Dragon Age 4 with the world’s most unexciting teaser trailer. Featuring some animated concept art and a few seconds of music and voice acting, it’s the most under-produced and underwhelming piece of game marketing I’ve seen in the last five years.
I’m sure the thinking here was that what’s left of the Dragon Age fanbase is already standing on a knife edge due to waiting 4 years since the last release with nary a hint of anything.
And they’re no doubt worried, after the problematic release of Mass Effect Andromeda.
This is the sort of teaser trailer that engages only your hardcore fanbase…and means absolutely nothing to new players. Its lone bit of voice acting and weird hashtag are references for only the most die- hard fans.
The problem is that the game isn’t coming out any time soon. Some reports speculate the game won’t be out for at least three years, since most of the past development has been thrown out, there’s been some turnover at the studio, and Bioware is busy finishing Anthem and building the dev team for the new Dragon Age game.
So why spend any money making this teaser right now?
This teaser also certainly isn’t for new players. It does nothing to set up the world of Dragon Age. And all it really does for existing fans is say: Hey, we still want you to spend some money with us a few years from now please don’t forget us wait come back!
It’s a teaser made after a board room meeting in a desperate attempt to fulfill an underserved audience of gamers that haven’t had a new product to enjoy from a franchise in four years. It sustains the brand. Nothing more.
Once the gap between games hits seven years, as is likely, that’s so comically long that Bioware might as well reboot the franchise. Heck, EA thought that the much shorter gap between II and Inquisition was long enough for Inquisition’s story to have to stand more or less alone.
EA is not the only company to recently make this costly marketing mistake.
LAST OF US 2
It’s been two years since the announcement of this much anticipated sequel…and it still doesn’t have a release date.
We could probably make a safe assumption that it’s Sony’s big game for the Fall of 2019. Then again, Sony is sending numerous signals into the world that they are going to show new hardware next year for a 2020 launch, and a marquee title from Naughty Dog would be a great way to launch a PS5.
So why announce it so early? Did they steal their own thunder? The PS5 wasn’t on anyone’s radar two years ago, and it was easy to imagine that Last of Us 2 would have been out for Fall of 2018.
Sony and Naughty Dog PR had to get out in front of last night’s Game Awards, tweeting out repeated messages that Last of Us 2 would not be shown. While this prevented people from being let down by the lack of a trailer, it also lead to nothing but disappointment.
DOING IT RIGHT
Far Cry New Dawn and The Outer Worlds were tremendous surprises this week, and the fact that people don’t have to wait long to play them is just icing on the cake. Far Cry is out in February, and Outer Worlds has a more vague “2019” date, but looks far enough along that it’s not hard to imagine that it’ll be out soon.
This is the right way to do game marketing. It’s more naturally exciting when things happen sooner. Game pricing even capitalizes on this now, offering slightly earlier release dates for folks willing to buy Collector’s Editions.
I know how effective this type of short turnaround is because myself and all of my friends eat this stuff up. Dragon Age 4 might as well be a fake video game compared to the exciting stuff that’s coming out in the next six months. I’m sure that I’ll be excited for it when it’s finally a real thing…but spending marketing dollars on it right now is tantamount to throwing them in a landfill.
The game industry has come a long way from the awkward surprise US launch of the Sega Saturn back in 1995. It’s totally possible now, with today’s production chains and digital distribution landscape, to announce and release a product in a relatively short window. I have no doubt that Far Cry New Dawn will be a massive success despite having “only” a two month hype cycle. After all, it’s the follow-up to Far Cry 5, one of Ubisofts best-selling games.
Recently, Epic has drawn a ton of hype for a freaking digital PC store just by surprise announcing and launching it within a few days of each other. How weird/interesting is that?
It’s innately more satisfying not to feel like I’m waiting years for a thing to come out, even if I secretly am. It’s not like game production cycles are getting any shorter. Far Cry New Dawn wasn’t made in 8 months.
But ignorance is bliss.
And most game marketers have learned that. Those that aren’t are just wasting their money to get impressions that will fade away too soon.