WBlog: Mirrors for your money

Hype sells games; more precisely, hype can separate money from consumers before a product is even delivered.

There’s a word that’s been at the centre of video game culture for the last couple of years: hype.

Hype sells games; more importantly, hype can separate money from consumers before a product is even delivered.

The biggest gaming conference of the year, E3, has just been held, and I thought it was an interesting time to take a look at what is ‘hype’. In the video game space it refers to the huge expectations publishers create around new and existing franchise announcements.

A new Smash BrothersRed Dead RedemptionElder ScrollsFallout and (the hit of the conference) a sequel to The Last of Us were all announced at E3. But they weren’t just ‘announced’; they were ‘hyped up’ with glamorous scripted cinematics and demos all designed to pry open the wallets of consumers and pluck out their cash before anything resembling a full game has been seen.

This is hype. The building of immense expectations before any verifiable proof has been shown that the product is worthy of investment. Developers are increasingly using refined marketing, sales, social media and cinematographic tactics to draw attention to themselves in a saturated market. This is done not weeks or months, but sometimes years in advance of the actual games release.

A great example is the recently announced Fallout 76. While coming from a well-respected franchise, the game is going in a new direction with little being shown to consumers of the finer points of how the game will function. Yet a $300 AUD pre-order version is already available for consumers to purchase.

This all sounds just like the regular promotional campaigns that most companies and products use. The difference in the video game space is that there seems to be a distinct gross exaggeration by publishers when describing their new products. So much so that some publishers have had to publicly admit they misled consumers about past game releases.

The most notable example of this was the release of Halo 5. The game’s promotional material had seemingly been designed by somebody who had little idea of what the final product would be. Expensive story cinematics were removed from Youtube in the wake of the game’s release as consumers began to realise the advertising campaign used to entice them did not reflect the product they received.

To illuminate how effective this ‘hype’ can be i point towards towards StarcitizenStarcitizen is a pre-release title announced years ago with little more than a cinematic trailer to display future gameplay for consumers. Years later the title has raised $187 million USD from consumers alone, with no substantial product to show for it as of yet.

Hype clearly sells games. But it can also just as easily ruin franchises and destroy consumer confidence. See Hello Games 2016 release, No Man’s Sky, for the definition of a hype implosion. A game that had been talked about and shown for years in carefully crafted demos and cinematics was eventually released, but the final product scarcely resembled the marketing material consumers had been shown.

The community erupted in anger as buyer’s remorse set in.

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You can still hear No Man’s Sky being bandied around as a rallying cry to avoid pre-ordering today. I’ve even seen it mentioned this E3 season to keep twitchy hands firmly away from wallets.

In the current video game market publishers, big and small, seem to be using hype to sell units but some consumers are being left with nothing more than a bad taste in their mouth.

Genuine promotion of a product is a good thing. That’s how we find out what’s coming to us in the future, but at what point does hype turn into misleading advertising?

More than once this E3 season I’ve been tempted, by those same beautiful cinematics, to pick up my wallet and throw cash at my screen on a pre-order. But I have to gently remind myself how many times I’ve been burnt by hype in recent years. Yet I’m still scarily ready to throw my hands into the fire in the naive hope that a game may match the hype for once.

That’s the power of perfectly crafted advertising.

Jackson Rose

Digital Communications Consultant

22/06/2018