7 Marketing Trends That Need To Stop
We get why marketing departments exist. Really, we do. There are a lot of games out there, so it makes sense that people are paid a lot of money to make their game stand out. But my word there is a lot of BS that comes with it.
There are some elements of marketing we like. Raw gameplay footage is great because it shows confidence in the game and we actually get to see what the game looks like without smoke and mirrors involved. Honest developers who aren’t afraid to speak their mind. Collector’s Editions available to all and at a good price, as Namco Bandai did with Ace Combat and Dark Souls.
But the bad seems to outweigh the good and here are seven of the worst trends…
7. Developer Diaries
Day 1: Time to start work on Dudebro Shooter 3000! Wooo!
Day 4: Argument over the main character’s name. Apparently John Shotgun is “too obvious”. One of the guys in marketing said alliteration is important because it makes the character more memorable, so after toying with the idea of Dangerous Derek, we’ve gone with Chris Cody.
Day 8: Rebecca in reception made a joke about the Mario t-shirt I was wearing today. I couldn’t think of anything witty to say so I kinda did a nervous laugh. You know, like “ha… ha”. Like, when you’re stalling thinking of something to say but you can’t think of anything to say so then it’s all awkward and silent and stuff. And then she did a nervous laugh because I looked like a moron and we both knew it and it was so awkward and oh god how do I find the courage to tell her how I feel about her I hate this
Day 12: Character’s name changed back to John Shotgun
Day 13: Big board meeting today. We had a discussion over what to cut out for post-release DLC that comes free with the online pass. The shortlist was level 3 (not that important), the trees (there are too many of them anyway) and the crouch button (who the hell uses crouch this is an action game dammit)
Day 18: Secured Skrillex soundtrack. Yes! Working on new audio technology so that every Skrillex song on the soundtrack plays at the same time. I’m going to ask Brad if we can use it for the end boss of level 5, the one with the warships for hands.
Day 21: Got in the lift with Rebecca! Oh man. It was so bad. I tried to think of something to say. Anything. It was so bad. Surely she knows how I feel. I’ve got to tell her. Yeah. I’m going to do that. I’m going to tell her how I feel.
Day 22: Rebecca handed in her notice.
Day 26: Character’s name changed back to Chris Cody.
Until the day developer diaries actually run like that, then 1) they’re boring ways of showing off the same old footage from a new angle and 2) they’re not actually diaries.
6. Online Passes As A Good Thing
When publishers look back at trends they introduced this gen, their greatest success will no doubt be not just the introduction of online passes but to somehow convince some sections of gamers to actually defend them, with an army of mini-CEOs hammering out ‘revenue streams’ on their keyboards in parrot-like fashion to support those raiding their wallet.
“What we saw when we did the online charge for the second purchaser of UFC was we found a pretty good attach rate – it confirmed our suspicion that there are a lot of people participating in used games,” said THQ CEO Brian Ferrell. “It is one of those things of how much money could you have made if it wasn’t for piracy or used games? It’s a tough question because you don’t know.”
Online passes didn’t save Homefront, with Kaos Studios being closed down by THQ. So erm, what was the point?
The weirdest comment, though, belongs to EA Partners executive producer Jeff Gamon, talking about EA’s decision not to include an online pass for Syndicate.
“We want as little resistance or barriers to entry as possible,” Gamon said. “The co-op is equal billing in this. We wanted everyone who owns a copy of the game to have access to the entire product.”
Is this EA pretty much acknowledging that online passes are a barrier to entry for the online mode? Says it all, really.
Look, we get why online passes exist. Really, we do. We don’t have to like it to understand. But stop pretending online passes are a good thing for any of us because if it looks like BS and smells like BS, then hey, guess what?
5. All CGI Trailers
The poster child for this entry of what-you-see-isn’t-what-you-get is Dead Island, its trailer propelling a game few had heard of and even less gave a shit about into the public eye.
What we were promised: A new type of zombie game with powerful emotional drama at its core, focusing on the plight of a family succumbing to a horde of undead attacking. It played backwards, so we start with the dead girl on the ground, and the trailer eventually ends with the smiling family, oblivious to the trouble ahead. Smart, poignant, touching, promising.
What we got: A standard zombie smack-‘em-up where you rifled through people’s luggage for money and completed ‘get my teddy bear’ quests, having the same emotional pull as a cold plate of chips.
At least with CGI trailers, they’re so far removed from what the actual game will look like, very few are taken in. It becomes much more of a grey area with bullshots, which are screenshots that have been churned through the marketing machine, touched up by five different artists and approved by three different Men In Suits.
It won’t have the user interface, the camera angle will usually be one you won’t actually have in-game and the screenshot will be taken from a version of the game before everything is scaled back for the sake of a smooth frame-rate, loading times and so on. Sometimes they’ll fall under the ambiguous label of ‘visual target renders’, the small-print description of bullshots at the highest level.
Our favourite bullshot? NBA Live ’08, where someone was scrubbing out one of the players in the background, went to get a coffee or answered the phone or something, forgot what he was doing and hit submit when he presumed he’d finished his work. Whoops.
3. Retail Exclusive Special Editions
Once upon a time, games used to be released in regular editions and special editions if they deserved it, with the really big releases getting Collector’s Super Duper Uber Noober Boober Lamer Gamer Ultra Special Limited Edition releases. Then at some point retailers decided they wanted their own exclusive special editions, so publishers began creating special editions for them as well, and then we end up with situations like the Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood release:
What? What does any of that mean? There are Play.com exclusives, HMV exclusives, GAME exclusives… figuring out what store has what versus what you actually want has become a perverse game of retailer bingo.
The fiasco with GAME not being able to stock Mass Effect 3 Collector’s Edition highlighted the problem, as the Collector’s Edition was exclusive to GAME (again – why?), so the end result was a desperate scramble at the 11th hour to try and secure the Collector’s Edition elsewhere.
Obviously the GAME situation isn’t the norm but still – are there any benefits to retail exclusive special editions, where someone will miss out on something someone else has?
2. Unboxing Videos
Because honestly, there is nothing less exciting than watching a man take something out of a box.
Once upon a time, dubstep used to sound like this:
And then bass wobbles became a massive thing with students, and we started getting more tracks like this:
And then marketing men took notice, late to the trend as they always are until they hear the music played while picking up the milk in Tesco or wherever, and now dubstep has become the marketing equivalent of tomato sauce – slapped on everything with reckless abandon because hey, why not, it’s what the kids like right?
It’s a fad that’ll fade away, as all fads do. Before dubstep the trailer trend was for quiet, reflective music thanks to Gears of War’s Mad World trailer and when dubstep eventually dies down, marketing men will be on the lookout for the next thing. And sometimes, dubstep does fit the trailer in question – Borderlands 2’s Doomsday trailer is a decent example.
But we’ll say this now. If The Last Guardian re-emerges from its hiding hole with a dubstep trailer with wubwubwub stuffed up every orifice, we’ll puke blood until every last member of the games industry is soaked.
And that is a promise.