Done well, the announcement of a new video game can send shockwaves across the industry. Consider the reaction to Kratos emerging from the shadows at PlayStation's E3 2016 conference, or the online meltdown that followed Rockstar casually drenching its logo in the colours of Red Dead Redemption. People like to be surprised as much as they like to get caught up in a snowball of building anticipation, but sometimes these marketing campaigns trip over themselves.
Earlier this week, WB Montreal – a studio best known for its work in the Batman Arkham universe – posted a number of images on its social channels which, when mapped together, revealed a mysterious symbol. This eventually led online sleuths to a page on the studio's website, suggesting even more symbols are to be revealed before the full picture becomes clear. It's not the first time WB Montreal has played riddles with its fans, having released another set of symbols four months earlier, along with the same caption ("Capture the Knight") before going silent once again.
Everyone and their dog knows what the studio is teasing; it's the long-rumoured Batman Arkham game that's said to be based loosely on Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Court of Owls comic book run from 2011. That's old news to everybody, it seems, except WB Montreal, which apparently believes that these frustratingly elusive teases are an effective method of generating buzz for the project, rather than frustrating those who just want to see something they're already excited for.
I can understand the reasoning behind this method of messaging. After years of operating in silence, there's no doubt a desire amongst the studio to make a big deal of finally unveiling its latest passion project. Marketing teams are notoriously fond of using publicity stunts to draw attention to new projects, and perhaps Warner Bros considered this latest internet treasure hunt a simple way to stay atop of the online Arkham chatter.
But the timing has been all over the place, with that four month gap between each logo tease severely undermining people's expectations for anything worthwhile to come out of this latest one. Granted, perhaps internal development bumps forced Warner Bros to delay its initial reveal for the game, but it still feels like this latest Batman adventure has hit the ground stumbling as a result of this convoluted messaging, especially when silence would have arguably been more effective at generating anticipation.
Riddle me this...
Protracted, histrionic announcement 'events', however, are no stranger to the games industry, but almost an exclusive part of the reveal process. You rarely hear about a new movie being slowly teased through cross-media info blasts, or the title of Stephen King's latest novel via an elaborate ARG. Meanwhile, Hideo Kojima announced Metal Gear 5: The Phantom Pain by setting up an entirely fake game studio and sending out actors playing fictional developers to be interviewed by Geoff Keighley, while Black Ops 4 held an hour long livestream of two men welding a block of iron just to reveal its logo.
These elaborate, needlessly overdramatised stunts are a symptom of an industry that has always been notoriously secretive, cagey, and controlling when it comes to the conversation around its ongoing projects, but this latest attempt from WB Montreal shows they're starting to rub people up the wrong way.
A new decade, and a new generation of consoles, marks a good time to reflect on where the industry can mature and evolve, so, in that spirit, consider this my formal plea to the industry to jettison the mind games and speak to its audience like normal human beings. If your game leaks, get ahead of it.
When it's clear that fans have already sussed out what you're working on, reward them with a full reveal. Give us the full three course meal of your pitch, and not a trail of crumbs that may or may not lead us onto the next helping. And please, for the love of Bruce Wayne, enough with the day-long streams of inactivity. As for WB Montreal, hopefully the studio will come to the realisation that these logos aren't having their desired impact. When you have the Batman himself, there's no need to act like the Riddler.
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