Overhyped and Overpromised: The Problems with Marketing in the Gaming Industry
If there’s one thing that can be understood about the media in terms of the gaming industry, it’s that nothing ever meets expectations. Games are taken as some separate entity in terms of advertising, marketing, and budgeting. When compared to television shows, dramatic theatre releases, and other forms of big media entertainment, we rarely see the same dynamics that we witness within gaming corporations.
From branded institutions to independent developers, the concept of serial lying in the form of overpromising and overhyping has been a huge part of the advertising and marketing strategies behind some of the biggest flops in the past few years.
From Peter Molyneux’s repeated “pathological lying” and Ubisoft’s horrendous handling of “Watch Dogs” to the laughable failure resulting in Hello Games’ “No Man Sky”, the methods and guidelines of marketing within the industry need to be recreated.
Or maybe developers need to learn to shut the hell up.
The annual exposition for gamers, commonly referred to as E3, is the prime example of overhyping and overpromising. That’s the point of having any type of organized media involved in the process of marketing. The best of publishers, developers, and manufacturers spent tons of money each and every year in order to use the prime time event to advertise their latest games to industry masterminds.
It’s not just E3 either. Other events like Gamescon and PAX are nothing more than festivities dedicated to marketing that are vaguely disguised as ways of “celebrating” the culture that gamers around the world share. All of these events, whether they be corporation-based or open-to-the-public, are what end up determining the trends for that year through organized and passionate advertising budgets.
These events are literally the definition of hype-making machines. Think of it like any commercial on cable television. No product wishes to discuss the problems or lackluster details within their dedicated 30-second advertisement.
The goal of commercials and newspaper clippings in a capitalistic society is to get consumers interested in their product. Anyone who’s ever bought one of those plastic x-ray glasses from the back of a comic book or a Snuggie from the late night infomercial power hour knows where I’m coming from.
Advertising is the way into consumer mindsets. Rather than have consumers blindly roam the world of capitalism to find products they consider buying from first-person judgement, messages bought and paid for by black suits and ties make their way into daily life. From television commercials and billboards along the side of the interstate to ads between music videos and popup ads on the side of websites, the concept of marketing “benefits” everyone involved at first glance.
Companies involved with the creation of the product make money through sales that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred had consumers not been persuaded by advertising. Companies involved with the creation of the advertising itself make money through the contracts and paychecks given to them by their clients. Websites and television channels that allow the advertisements to play end up making money through settlements and clicks.
But what about the consumer? If advertising is done ethically, then the consumer basically receives a free notification of a product that they desire that doesn’t result in buyer’s remorse. Meaning, in short, that the product received is exactly what the advertisement informed of. If the advertising is done maliciously, on the other hand, then the consumer is left with a product that doesn’t meet the expectations promised by the advertisement itself.
In the “real world”, this would be labelled as false advertisement. The product can usually be legally refunded depending on the circumstance, corporations that indulge in these false advertisements can be sued and lose all credibility, and consumer values change based on what they imagine.
Think of movies as an easily justifiable synonym for this example. Not too many people immediately judge a movie based on trailers anymore. It’s pretty much universally understood that movie trailers usually grab the best scenes in the movie and sew them together to create hype for entertainment value.
Think of the horror-movie flop Unfriended, which created semi-decent amounts of hype for a movie which literally takes place over a poorly recorded Skype call. A perfect example of sewing the best scenes together to make something look better than it actually is.
Or maybe, for a more recent example, turn to Suicide Squad, which has generated major backlash for putting scenes in trailers that didn’t even make it to the final movie. A perfect example of overpromising to the point of straight up misleading consumers.
Thus, in the end, trailers usually end up accomplishing nothing more than spoiling the movie in return for generating consumer hype.
So why don’t the majority of gamers feel the same way about these gaming conferences, institutionalized messages, and trailers released months before a game’s release date? Well, the gaming community is really, in short, different.
There’s no global “early access” for a movie’s release. As in, moviegoers cannot vouch to pay full price to watch a movie throughout its entire development.
We don’t have “early access” for appliances showcased in commercials on all platforms. Meaning there is no way to pay full price to be a beta tester for an untested machine with promise of receiving the completed design when it was finished.
There’s no such thing as a global “early access” for concertgoers to pay full price to hear a band’s thought process before their music goes on sale.
Yet…there’s a global “early access” for video games. Multiple different versions of this “early access”, even!
Early access release dates which provide the barebones layout in promise of it being updated alongside development, crowdfunding processes promising everything consumers would ever desire in a game in return for money upfront before development even begins, and even pre-ordering a game that only has a 10-second trailer teaser!
Many developers and publishers put their careers on the line to provide people willing to pay full price in hopes for a premise to actually pull through. And for some reason, this doesn’t create a sense of sketchiness for consumers within the community. It actually generates hype.
It’s as if people feel as if promises are good enough. When put in any of the situations previously described – with movies, products, and music – the concept of giving a product at full price before it’s even near completion seems incredibly disturbing. Consumers have the right to know what they’re buying; and, in more ways than one, countless “early access” titles lead to disappointment and negative reviews.
Why? Because the game usually doesn’t turn out “as it was promised”.
Yet the same people that are click-clacking their angry rants in the review section of one early access game have already put all their hopes and dreams into another one. Or, better yet, they’ve already starting looking forward the next game by the same developers that just let them down.
Let me get into the meat and potatoes of this article: No Man’s Sky. Or, as one angry consumer by the name of Blyatkip left under the store page for the game, One Man’s Lie.
Sean Murray, who will probably go down in history as Peter Molyneux of 2016, was the leading voice of 15 developers behind one of the most overhyped game of the industry. A passionate indie developer with a dream, Murray made several major mistakes throughout the elongated cycle of planning and advertising. The biggest? He didn’t know when to shut his mouth.
Above is a fan-made compilation of Sean Murray’s “promises” that, after release, can be boiled down as “little white lies”, “false advertising”, “community gullibility”, or “overpromises” depending on how you view the whole situation.
This type of marketing face-plant has a large cost, however. Consumer backlash is real. Refunds are being offered by PlayStation and Amazon (and, according to Reddit posts, perhaps even Steam when a ticket is put in manually) regardless of hours-played or money-spent.
On Steam, where you can purchase the indie title for $59.99, only 38% of the 63,466 reviews are positive. And even though the game has “gone gold”, their active player base has dropped over ninety percent in the past two weeks or so.
Simply put, this game was the biggest let down because of the enormous hype it had built before release. I’ve honestly never in my life been so disappointed with a game I purchased at launch. Sure, they can patch it to hell and back but the core game itself should not be this terrible.
— Reinhardt, 7.3 hours in game, review left on Aug 31 @ 4:49pm
Institutionalized community overhype, developer overpromises, and the harsh lack of criticism during the process of marketing is what will end up ruining any potentially great video game.
While No Man’s Sky may be simply explained as, yet again, One Man’s Lie; there are countless examples of games in recent years that are actually decent in terms of gameplay that are recognized as terrible simply because of the process of “overhyping” in initial marketing. I’m looking at you, Watch Dogs.
If consumers in the industry allow this to keep happening, then the overall quality of games will become increasingly shittier. From rehashing iterations of the same first person shooter game to consistently disappointing fan-bases through overpromising the hype train, nothing will let up unless the sales stop because of it. That’s how marketing works, people. Once people stop giving into it, then it is forced to reform in order to make sales once again.