I Can’t Believe it’s Not Better: Marketing and Computer Games

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Whilst surfing the internet, it’s a common occurrence to be swamped with advertisements and pop ups about the latest AAA game launch. An ad on YouTube might tell you that the game in question has raised the bar for excellence in our times, or that you should “Believe the Hype” irrespective of the fact that the hype has been generated by the same marketing department that created the ad telling you to believe it. Advertising a new release excessively in any media is obviously not a new thing by any stretch (anyone who has seen a Guardians of the Galaxy trailer knows that) but with the rise of the internet and social media, the way in which media is advertised has definitely changed significantly.

Now it comes as no surprise that very many games are over-hyped to the extent that they cannot possibly live up to the expectations built up through trailers, advertisements, dev-diaries and demonstrations of the game in an alpha or unfinished state. The hype surrounding bad games -thankfully-often fails when exposed early enough, such as ‘Aliens: Colonial Marines’ and it’s infamous demonstration.

It may come as a mild surprise however that often games that are actually quite good, which no major flaws and interesting ideas can often be labelled as failures for not selling as well as some of the best selling games of all time. An example of this would be the CEO of Square-Enix offering to step down from his position simply because the latest iteration of the ‘Tomb Raider’ did not sell as well as say Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Tomb Raider did in fact sell quite well and did not lose Square-Enix money, but it was still labelled as a failure due to the self-generated hype surrounding the game suggesting it would of sold in far greater numbers. It has gotten to the point where a publisher is willing to fool itself into believing it’s own hype without any particular reason to do so, and then base fiscal predictions upon that hype to appease stock holders with bogus reasoning. Game publishers will keep being disappointed due to this flawed idea of game development, even if the people playing the game are not.

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A trend in the games industry that is definitely making itself more known in recent years is the trend to make a game seemingly in a boardroom by pulling together anything that has worked in the past regardless of the particular game being made, and trying to appeal to the widest audience possible without any consideration of the franchise’s genre or previous audience. Hype around the game is often seen as a chief priority in order to guarantee the number of pre-orders and day one purchases are high. In contrast to this way of thinking, I think ‘Shadow of Mordor’ has shown that games can easily creep their way to the top without such over the top marketing or needing to raise any bars in an extreme(!) and totally radical(!!!) fashion.

For me publishers expecting more sales for their games based on their own self-generated hype is a smaller problem compared to the situation that it leaves consumers in. Games are now hyped to such an extent that it is not so much about buying the latest game because it is the best and greatest in it’s genre, but instead the one you know that your friends will be playing or that at least a lot of people will be. It doesn’t matter that the game is average or potentially worse than that, as long as you bought the game when it first came out in the eyes of publishers, as after all it’s the money that they made the game for.

I am not calling for game publishers to make games at a loss in order to fine tune them to perfection, or to honestly advertise their games without a little exaggeration here of there. I understand that in the end game publishers are businesses and are in business in order to make money, and make their money by selling you their games. I do however believe that if over-hyping a game continues as it has been, then even a Grand Theft Auto will sell less than expected, and maybe then we will see the slow death of AAA games.

Too many games are made in order to spawn long lasting franchises, even if the story in the game does not call for sequels and if the writers are strained to make further games interesting compared to the first game. Many games now survive and market themselves purely on name alone, happily re-hashing the same game-play features and similar stories and backdrops assuming the game will sell as well as it’s predecessors, which as previously seen is a dangerous assumption indeed.

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If publishers continue to force their developers to make similar games in the same franchises repeatedly, then it is entirely possible that new contenders can arrive on the scene and snatch away the franchise’s dominant position and popularity. A great example of this is when EA’s ‘Medal of Honor’ was superseded by ‘Call of Duty’ placing COD in the dominant position that it is in today alongside Battlefield also published by EA. MOH has made attempts to re-invent itself, but has a far smaller following than it’s contemporaries due to it’s inability to try something different and break the mould before it was too late and became less and less relevant. COD on the other hand became the household name it is today with it’s diversion into modern warfare in ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The switch came after many years of making purely World War II games, and therefore is a great example of re-invention and risk taking paying off big time.

I will end by saying that hype around a game is a much bigger risk for a game company that simply making a great game that people will enjoy. A good game that is marketed well will make your money back and then some, but a bad game exposed as such before release will not. Most importantly of all, a game must be able to reinvent itself and grow, lest it is improved upon and toppled elsewhere.


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