Hype. Hype is the secret behind every great marketing campaign, whether that is designed to promote the next Avengers film, this Spring’s upcoming fashion line, or Rockstar’s long-awaited Red Dead Redemption II. There’s always something to be excited about within our age of consumer culture.
As the power and reach of the Internet has drastically increased over the last decade, so has its ability to influence our excitement. The internet trailer has changed how we get roused for upcoming movie and video-game releases. A better noun to describe these launches might even be ‘event’ or ‘landmark’, as that is what the Star Wars: Episode I launch was: a global event, similar to the launch of Grand Theft Auto V.
These marketing hype machines affect the gaming industry with as much intensity as the next media format, and yet, it seems that there is a specific type of hype that helps you prepare for a game to launch that you’ve been waiting for for well over 4 years, as is sometimes the case (Fallout 4).
Xbox being one of the main home consoles, showcasing its hardware and software every year at multiple electronic expos and conventions, is not excluded from creating, or should I say, attempting to create, hype for its upcoming games and hardware. Its apparent next-gen console codename Scarlett is coming sooner rather than later according to rumours and reports.
People can get very ecstatic when it comes to a new game launch, and for the most part, I understand this enthusiasm. Video games are cool. They’re a fantastic medium of entertainment, it goes without saying. But some might say this leads to many individuals getting too excited for game launches, cursing developers and publishers on online social media platforms after they announce that they’re delaying their video game (again), or that they are including micro-transactions into their product.
The marketing teams at large corporations are very good at their job (most of the time). When a publisher wants the gaming market/general public to know about a particular game launch or to get hyped for a release coming soon, odds are that with enough smart marketing gamers, and sometimes the general public, will know the release date off by heart after seeing an advertisement on their work commute every day.
Just look at the excitement gearing up to GTA V’s launch. You couldn’t quantify how many people were dying to get their hands on the latest third-person action masterpiece before it was released back in 2013. Though I’m sure GTA V selling tens of millions of copies and becoming one of, if not the most, popular game of all-time is a great estimation for Rockstar.
Xbox, to both positive and negative effect, exists within this bipolar marketing world. They can create hype for a game with some fairly prominent marketing ads, which they haven’t been afraid to do before – I’m looking at you Gears of War 3, advertising during the X-Factor final – but they can also cause great distress from hyping a game for years instead of months, or worse, hyping up a game that eventually gets cancelled.
Unfortunately, there are many examples of this happening within the Xbox brand, and measuring the current situation, it seems their marketing can only hurt them when it comes to Xbox exclusives releasing in the next year:
Crackdown 3 – Even hardcore Crackdown 1 fans like myself have heard enough about this game. From multiple delays to frighteningly bog-standard graphics, any marketing for this will forever be a reminder about the troubled development journey. I really hope this is as fun as the first instalment, and I send my regards to the developers for continuing to develop this game until release. That being said, until Crackdown 3 finally arrives into players’ hands and overcomes our concerns and worries, this game will be a plague to any marketing campaign behind it.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps – Ori has a dedicated fanbase there’s no question. I am not part of that fanbase, though its beautiful graphics and tight gameplay helped it earn its place amongst the top indie heavyweight titles. It has an audience eager to play through its lengthy platforming challenges and engage with its no-doubt very emotional story, so any marketing seems futile. Providing an extensive marketing campaign will be costlier to Microsoft Studios than not having one, so it’s quite possibly better to just leave this for the hardcore Ori fans and let word of mouth do the rest.
Gears of War 5 – Gears of War games have always had huge marketing campaigns to drive player engagement levels (as I noted before, X-Factor final!). And in a sense, that’s all part of another entry being introduced into the reputable franchise. It’s traditional to see Gears of War adverts leading up to its anticipated release, and each entry has come with an exceptional final trailer with suitable background music to maximal effect.
I expect Microsoft will do the same here, and yet again, although I imagine a lot of you may disagree with this idea, I believe Microsoft are better off leaving the huge marketing campaign for Gears 5, and instead using the resources to help Gears 5 become the best game it can possibly be. Gears of War interest is waning, much like its spiritual brother – Xbox’s own action-oriented franchise – Halo.
People don’t play or buy Gears of War like they did back in the franchise’s peak during the release of the second and third instalments. Gears of War fans are going to purchase Gears 5 on launch day without a second thought, no doubt going on to love every minute of its intriguing campaign and brutally addicting, ever-expanding Horde mode.
For the franchise to reach new players and a new audience entirely, it needs to put its trust into the many online gaming personalities and streamers to spread its praises, which will allow success to grow organically through word of mouth over a period of months if not years. In similar fashion to Friday the 13th, or a more historical example, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.
It’s likely Gears 5 will achieve a good level of sales and great critical reception on its own without a marketing campaign. But a marketing campaign with a laughable budget won’t be able to ever create the organic growth that has changed many games’ player base and longevity capability.
Look at Ubisoft’s latest success stories: Rainbow Six Siege, For Honor, Ghost Recon: Wildlands and The Division. All have dedicated player bases which continually consume the latest content releases and patches and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future thanks to streamers and online personalities playing the game over and over again.
Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course – This might be the only entry on this list which probably does need some marketing, but like Ori, it already has a dedicated fanbase. And that fanbase will sure as hell purchase this DLC as soon as it is made available. I know I’ll be admiring its beautifully bizarre new bosses and impeccable gameplay as I die over and over attempting to achieve an A* rating.
To finish, I’m not saying Microsoft should not have ANY marketing campaigns for its upcoming releases. That would be foolish. What I am saying however is that there are other ways to sell your game; other non-traditional avenues that help to sell in the long-term as well as the short. And what I am also saying is that Microsoft needs to spend its resources wisely moving forward in order to maximise the achievement in game quality it so desperately needs.
All this being said, I’m sure there are professionals at Microsoft who already know all of this. At least I hope there are.