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Why publishers are killing their own games with pre-release hype

Now, I understand why publishers take this approach to pre-release promotion. Publishers are increasingly new-media-savvy, and in AAA gaming they know that they’re fighting a turf-war for attention. There are only so many preview events a company can run in the lead up to a release, and there’s no guarantee that the editorial response to those events will be positive. So, many publishers are taking control of the information agenda themselves; taking the reveals out of our often critical hands (hands which at any given time are juggling editorial treatments for a whole bunch of other games at the same time) and releasing exactly what they want, when they want, in easily digestible chunks, optimised for inclusion within a quick news story. 

From a business perspective, it makes a Hell of a lot of sense for them to do that. And given the instantaneous, web-wide release of this stuff, it’s hard for any games site to not run it, even if we do think it’s going overboard with the spoilers. In these SEO-driven times, sites are fighting for attention on the big games too, and to not pick up a new bit of content based around a big game is to effectively hand hits to a rival outlet. Everyone’s hands are relatively tied. 

All we can do is hope that publishers become more responsible about the kind of material they’re releasing, and hope that readers exercise a bit of personal judgement when it comes to viewing things that may devalue the ultimate playing experience for themselves. But at the moment it seems to be getting worse. 

Square-Enix ran a similar campaign for Tomb Raider over the month before the game’s release. It had all the same problems as Bioshock Infinite’s video spree, compounded by the fact that Tomb Raider is a game built around a philosophy of discovery, progression and gameplay development. Given that combat, exploration and even action set-pieces in Tomb Raider are all built around a Metroidvania model, to blow much of that discovery before the game was even released seemed at odds with everything the developers were trying to achieve. 

But worse than that, Square-Enix followed up with a raft of post-release content (covering the two months after the game’s launch), comprising a set of dev diaries covering the developers’ favourite ‘hidden’ tomb, action set-piece and combat encounter. The latter two are the game’s climactic climbing section and penultimate fire-fight, respectively. The videos do very little to flag this up. And then, just this month, Square-Enix dropped a "Top 10 moments" video (a concept no doubt deliberately similar to games press post-release coverage), blowing another huge chunk of the game wide open. 

Yes, players can choose to not watch this stuff, but there’s a ludicrous irony at the core of the publisher’s thinking here. All of this material was created with the sole purpose of promoting the game. Anyone it is aimed at has therefore not bought Tomb Raider yet. Anyone in its target audience is therefore inherently going to have the game spoiled. Yes, there’s an off-chance someone may watch the video, remember their favourite bit, and then ‘sell’ the game to a friend via word-of-mouth enthusiasm, but it’s a very small off-chance. The whole thing just screams to me of a publisher losing the run of itself in a frenzy to secure post-release coverage whether the press wants to do it or not. 

There’s a lot of that going round at the moment. It needs to stop. Otherwise the games these guys are trying to sell are only going to be a fraction as good as they really are by the time anyone actually plays them. 

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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36 comments

  • brickman409 - June 4, 2013 8:52 a.m.

    yeah, I watched a whole bunch of trailers for infinite and got pretty hyped for it, I told some of my friends about the game. They never played the first two bio shocks and hadn't seen any of the trailers for infinite. By the time it came out, they both got it and I think they definitely enjoyed it more than I did, because it wasn't spoiled for them. I think alot of it had to do with the reveal of the setting. When my friends first got the game, they couldn't stop talking about the city in the clouds. But from the time that infinite was revealed in 2010 to the time it came out, I was already familiar with the setting, and wasn't as impressed with it as I could've been.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - May 31, 2013 10:25 p.m.

    The same can be said for modern movie trailers.
  • BlueScorpion91 - May 17, 2013 2:38 p.m.

    The worst, THE worst, absolutely has to be the Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots trailers, as much as I loved the game(completed 13+ times and earned Big Boss status) not one thing in that game surprised me, outside the final revelation. They ruined every characters, every location and 80% of the plot in the trailers, made me feel empty a little, especially when they even blew the Shadow Mosses level. Buggers.
  • ZeeCaptain - May 16, 2013 11:59 p.m.

    Ughh another dumb article, I mean seriously your complaining about the developrs giving out too much information while trying to build hype for their games? Are you incapable from not pressing the play button on the youtube video your about to watch? Seriously though with media now a days everything gets some juicy spoiler bits out there, not only games but movies too. Trailers are important, they help build hype, they get a little bit of the story out there, it's sort of like the first sentence in an essay, it's a hook to get the reader excited. If anyone is spoiling too much information about games it's probably the game news sites like GR and Game Informer, so I don't understand how you can whine about that when your the one's getting exclusive interviews and previews. Also on a latter note for the people who whine about the spoilers they hear from their friends or the media, you need to grow up, unless you want to walk around with your head in a bucket then by gosh your going to hear something about something.
  • Nikku7 - May 17, 2013 11:33 p.m.

    Yes it's true that the gaming sites spread this information around, but as he said that's just part of the job; their hands are tied. If the game publishers put out promotional material for a game, the gaming sites have to show it because their job is informing the readers about the games and advertising them. In order to be taken seriously as a gaming website even, they have to be up to date on this information with the other gaming websites. The big problem isn't so much that of gaming journalists as it is the way the publishers are advertising the games themselves. They're giving away too much is what he means. The website must simply report it.
  • ZeeCaptain - May 18, 2013 5:40 p.m.

    It seems more to me that their [game devs] idea of the situation is that these journalist websites love to get information so let's indulge them. It's obviously a never ending cycle, and not every developer is like this, you'd be lucky to get anything out of a Valve dev, while EA is all too happy to oblige the world on their plot developments, but this is simply because they have the wrong idea. The way that the journalist are all to happy to report on these things is yes part due to their job, but they also seem excited to get this information, so for them to them make an article such as this is hypocritical. It's sort of like how the newspapers handle tragic events like that Boston marathon bombing, they send these reporters that lack empathy and rudely question these people who fell victim, but them when they write the article it's about how everyone at the New York Times was all teared up when they were reporting on the story.
  • tomasspipass - May 16, 2013 11:57 p.m.

    They need to create hype so that their games sell. I do not like my games being spoiled but we can avoid information on the internet for the most part. However, at the cinema these days, more and more, trailers are spoiling films to the point i do not want to see them. The amazing spiderman had two previews before one film, one was an extended trailer that laid out the whole plot, and the second was several extended scenes from the movie. Those previews killed an interest i had for seeing the movie. The same just happened with fast and the furious 6. Not that i'm big into those films, but the just showed a 5 minute scene of what im quessing is the stand out action sequence from the film. So now, ive already seehey show a preview about a film and tn the most exciting part of the film, whats the point? Previews on the internet can be avoided, but in the cinema, if im excited about a film and they show a preview, to avoid spoilers i should probably have to run out of the cinema for 5 minutes, shouting lalalala and covering my ears and eyes (gaining a lot of odd looks and proabably end up falling over)
  • kpnut - May 16, 2013 9:27 a.m.

    I actually ignore and/or avoid all pre-release information about games that have piqued my interest in case I decide to buy that particular game. However I decided against buying Skyrim (a game I had been looking forward to since I completed Oblivion) not due to publisher spoiling it but because of the amount of hype it got and the fact my friends decided to spoil EVERYTHING about it for me so I don't feel the need to buy a game that I already know what happens and how it happens, I got my game play fix when my friend let me have a go on his game. Anyway I digress, yeah spoiling the game with information about stages midway through or even near the end is bad.
  • ZeeCaptain - May 17, 2013 12:04 a.m.

    So you avoid all information about games that pique your interest? How did you hear about these games in the first place? How do you know it will be any good, just because there's a lovely animated trailer doesn't really count for much now a days, seeing how some trailers have nothing to do with the game whatsoever. Also about Skyrim, you missed out on a game because your friend ruined "EVERYTHING" alright drama queen, you do know that the story line for Skyrim is less than a tenth of the actual game, hell it was the most boring part in my opinion, not to mention there's the DLC, the side quests, the random encounters, the guilds, etc... hell if you have it for PC there's a near endless amount of mods. So unless your friend was yelling in your ear for a few weeks he didn't come close to spoiling anything.
  • Twinkling82 - June 3, 2013 4:23 p.m.

    Reading about the game when it's first announced, or a friend briefly tells you what they've seen in a trailer, might be enough to pique the interest of a person. kpnut just ignore news and trailers of that game from then on. I actually do the same thing. I watch one or two trailers, and if the dev is spitting that many trailers out that this article is talking about, yeah sure, I stay away from these trailers. I watched ONE dev episode for tomb raider and that was it, I did not watch the rest.
  • axemahn - May 16, 2013 8:29 a.m.

    I don't read or watch previews for games I know I'm going to buy anymore, I don't even look at in game images, just like with movies: I want to go in without knowing a single thing. These spoilerific trailers publishers seem to like spoon-feeding to us over a year before release are really goddam annoying. After Bioware's PR got high and spoiled the shit out of ME 2's greatest parts, I realized this stuff is meant for Joe Need for Speed who would probably be enticed to buy a game based on "OMG boobies, lasers, I wonder when this relea...I CAN HAVE HAVE SEX WITH THIS ALIEN THEN LET IT DIE? Want!" Of course, there are more people (the mainstream) who don't care about this stuff and just want to play what looks cool and wouldn't be interested in "another" Tomb Raider, but would be more inclined to buy it after seeing the game's flashiest moments. If that means we..."hard core gamers" (I hate this term) have to shield ourselves from spoilers while Crystal Dynamics gets more sales/money because of whored-out trailers and therefore has the means to continue to innovate, the so be it, I'll take the bad with the good. But seriously, fuck Bioware's ME 2 interviews. Also fuck EA too, just cause.
  • Gemsa - May 15, 2013 3:31 p.m.

    it puzzles me when those "first 10 minutes of......" videos have spoiler warnings or that people complain about them. if its the first 10 min, it makes no difference whether you experience it pre-release or post release- as long as you experience it before the rest of the game chronologically speaking
  • FlyinMachine - May 15, 2013 2:22 p.m.

    This annoys me to no end. I remember hearing about the video of BioShock Infinite that was "The First 14 Minutes of BioShock Infinite" before the game came out and I thought "Who in the right mind would want to watch this?" This is why I greatly limit myself to the amount of games media I view, whether it's by choice or by circumstance. Now this naturally wouldn't annoy me because I could just chose "not to watch it" but the fact that money is spent on these crazy press releases and marketing instead of actually making the game better just... UGHH.
  • PatHan-bHai - May 15, 2013 12:58 p.m.

    Hmmmm..........
  • heartskuppy - May 15, 2013 12:31 p.m.

    i went into total media blackout mode for bioshock infinite, and i was absolutely shocked - but not surprised - when i finished the game and then went back to see some of the pre-release hype. it would have absolutely ruined the experience. i've known for some time to ignore hype for games i know i want to play, probably since fallout 3 when i realised i wasn't experiencing the first time you step out into the wastes as i should be, because i'd already bloody read about it and knew what was coming. though, while you are spot-on hooters, at the end of the day it is the responsibility of the gamers. all that pre-release hype is to hook in the people who aren't already on-board, who wouldn't otherwise know they want to play it. i'm pretty savvy nowadays about knowing what kind of games i want to play, so i tend to do a good job of not getting spoiled. i didn't even read the tomb raider section of this article because i haven't played it yet, but would like to at some point. if you're in the industry yourself though, you're fucked. sorry about that. speaking of us long-time readers, when's the UK podcast coming back? you said it wasn't going to be like the last time you went on hiatus, you.. you promised. :'(
  • Eo1spy - May 15, 2013 11:08 a.m.

    This article has really hit the nail on the head, it explains why recently I haven't been enjoying some games as much as I used to - there are no surprises. This is why I loved Dark Souls so much (aside from the fact that it's brilliant anyway), I bought it on a whim a few months after it was out, after previously having no interest in it (therefore not seeing any part of the game) and loved it immediately. I am going to do the same with Dark Souls 2, bar the initial gameplay preview. I am partly to blame I suppose, but there wouldn't be the temptation to look at previews if the material wasn't there in the first place. I remember a time when before the internet was so well established, new games had an air of mystery around them as you never knew what you were in for, and it was better for it.
  • ultimatepunchrod - May 15, 2013 9:55 a.m.

    I agree with what you said about trying to avoid this type of coverage since I try to do that with just about any game I'm looking forward to. However, that gets frustrating because I want information about the game; I just don't want to know that Nathan Drake is in an interactive plane crash months before I play that would-be cinematic moment in the game. I do wish, however, that more games included 'making of' featurettes on the disc like they did with Uncharted, Heavenly Sword, and all of the God of War games. I love seeing how this stuff is done, but I just want to beat the game before that happens. Also, when it's on the disc as opposed to being on Youtube it has the distinct advantage of not being promotional material as well as documentation of how the game was made. Take the Bioshock videos for example: they were informative about how certain elements were created, but they also had to try and hype up the game, and in the end, that serves neither purpose very well.
  • TheCakeIsaPie - May 15, 2013 9:34 a.m.

    What most people don't understand (including Hooters) is that knowing the story beforehand actually makes you enjoy it more. Read the opening sonnet of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." It gives away the ending in the first 20 seconds of the play. newsfeed.time.com/2011/08/11/spoiler-alert-knowing-the-end-of-a-story-makes-it-better-study-finds/
  • TheCakeIsaPie - May 16, 2013 1:17 p.m.

    No, that's not what I'd find; nor would any other researcher. If you want to disagree with me because you think there's something wrong with the study, then please feel free to contradict it based on the results of another study, not with your own speculation. It's not fair to say "Sure, the study subjects cried out in pain when their arms were chopped off, but I don't think that sounds right because I'm smart. You're incorrect." Moviegoers are perfectly happy to watch movies based on books they've already read and enjoy the stories even though every facet is known to them beforehand.

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