The other tactic that video game publishers employ to move units now is sadly a bit more damaging to consumers. It revolves around over-promising and under delivering, it’s a by-product of an exponentially expanding, highly competitive game market where publishers are constantly striving to have the best, or most innovative title. Unfortunately it also has an effect on the developers, who are caught in the middle and are trying to please their publishers and customers at the same time.
A classic example of this was 2016’s No Man’s Sky. Probably one of the year’s most highly anticipated games, Hello Games and Sony Entertainment were promising what seemed impossible: an infinite, dynamically generated universe teeming with life where players could explore, discover, and engage in epic battles together. All packaged up with beautiful marketing and thought-provoking artwork.
Sadly all of this was impossible. While No Man’s Sky had many impressive technical achievements that were stunning to look at, it failed to live up to the hype in terms of gameplay. Fans were bitterly disappointed when they realised that No Man’s Sky was devoid of any player-to-player contact, making the experience repetitive, isolating and ultimately unrewarding, despite the hours injected into it.
The consequential outcry wasn’t handled well either, with neither Hello Games nor Sony being able to give any clear answers as to why the game didn’t deliver what was initially promised. For months after release the hatred online raged on like a tyre fire that no one wanted to take responsibility for, fueling it even more. Despite later updates, the damage had been done and No Man’s Sky went from being a videogame darling to an industry villain.
In a lesser form, this same “under deliver” tactic happens all the time thanks to downloadable content. Often games will be released into the wild with extensive Day One patches, indicating that the game wasn’t 100% ready when it went into production. Having to download a 20GB update file when you first try to play a game is annoying, but what about when you invest in a game and then never even see it?
The digital world has led to platforms like Kickstarter, where members of the public can fund the development of a game and be the first in line to receive it. Unfortunately there’s never any guarantee that the game will be produced, as seen with the title Yogventures – an ambitious Minecraft-inspired title which managed to raise over half a million dollars back in 2012 and will never see the light of day, with no chance of fans getting their money back.
Even when games are delivered, they can be disappointing. The now-legendary Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter raised over $4 million in cold hard cash and after years of delays, finally arrived to abysmal reviews. Despite being helmed by the co-creator of Mega-Man and supported by exciting concept art and a talented team, it was a complete failure.
A prime example was the tone-deaf marketing that accompanied the game: “Make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night.” Not a brilliant move considering this anime-looking game has probably been funded by a lot of anime fans. The Ouya console was even worse, raising over $8 million and failing to produce a console that was either desirable, or even have functional controllers.
These funding platforms allow small companies, or even individuals to market their games to millions of people directly. However the downside is, consumers can be left out of pocket and even lose faith in industry through false promises and good intentions.
The world of pre-orders have ushered in another dark side of marketing and selling video games too. There are a lot of arguments that pre-orders are one of the reasons games are being shipped in a “broken state,” with many bugs that require that aforementioned Day One Patch.
When the concept of pre-ordering a game first emerged over a decade ago, it made sense as games were only available in physical form – pressed discs which needed to be manufactured in quantities to suit demand. Pre-orders allowed publishers to get a gauge for how popular a game would be, and therefore try and get enough units onto shelves to avoid disappointment.
But now that games are available digitally to download, this doesn’t really make a lot of sense. So instead, the publishers realised that pre-orders are great because it means money up front – and there is a lot of evidence that shows that once money has been put down, most buyers will follow through and pay the remainder.
So how do publishers entice people to continue to pre-order? Through marketing. Often in the form of “free bonuses” for consumers, which come in the form of exclusive items, or content that other people can’t get (not at launch anyway). You might also get a snazzy artwork book, or maybe a figurine – but at the end of the day, it’s mostly fluff. Early access to games is another way to entice consumers, by giving buyers the opportunity to play a game a few days before all the other non-pre-ordering folk.
But pre-order culture can be blamed for a lot of negative things: the disappearance of free playable demos; unbalanced multiplayer due to competitive advantages; and sadly a lack of quality control because in the eyes of publishers, you’re a guaranteed sale, regardless of what kind of state the game actually ships in once it’s deemed finished.
The art of selling games hasn’t changed all that much in the past four decades. It’s all about creating that illusion. Back in the 70s and 80s they utilised illustrators and artists to convey a much bigger, or deeper experience for gamers. Nowadays, that illusion is delivered through promises of the “most immersive game ever”, the “best graphics” or “ground-breaking technology” in an attempt to secure presales or gain funding.
It’s partly the cause of the sequel phenomenon. Creating a whole new IP and franchise is a risky business for publishers. Instead doing the umpteenth Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty title is much easier. A lot of the marketing has already been done, meaning that selling a game with a known audience is safer. But sadly it has also led to some concerning methods by publishers, opening the doors to content exclusivity and ruthless marketing, which can hurt the consumer’s faith in the industry.
What are your thoughts on the world of game advertising and marketing today? Do you pre-order games? If so, why? Let us know in the comments below!