Phoney war: These misleading teasers for mobile versions of classic games need to stop27 Jun 2013
There’s an irritating new trend in videogame marketing: the ambiguous mobile game reveal. Publishers and their marketeer chums have realised that most general gaming sites already have entirely too much news-guff to be writing up to bother with details of iOS or Android titles. This is bad news for “brand awareness” or “market share” or whatever other devalued linguistic term has been shat out of the publicity bunghole this week. The solution? Ambiguous mobile reveals. Huzzah!
No, not huzzah.
You’ve probably seen an example of this from earlier today. Codemasters honked on their tweet pipe to alert everyone in the nearby vicinity to an enticing image of a car. Not just any car, a rally car! With a familiar typeface! Codies are totally doing another Colin McRae game!
That’s the thought process Codemasters were hoping you went through, anyway. More to the point, they were hoping enough gaming sites with writers eager to fill their news quota for the day would reach those exact conclusions.
Games writing is subject to the exact same kind of brinkmanship at play in the media at large. It only takes a couple of sites to run with the headline “Codies developing another Colin McRae game, maybe, possibly” to force most of the others into following suit. What, do you want to the one site that didn’t bother reporting on the new Colin McRae rally game? No, of course you don’t. So up goes the story.
The diligent and/or cynical writer is placed in a tricky position. If you have contacts at Codemasters, you could ask them “hey, is this just a mobile game, or what?” But as the actual ‘announcement’ in this case was scheduled for 27 June they would simply drop the curtain of silence until you either went away, or cracked and put the story up anyway.
As a result, Colin McRae speculation appeared all over the specialist games press. Except – uh oh – it turns out the New Zealand iOS store jumped the gun and confirmed it as a mobile remake. Not to worry though. The game sites can run updates and amendments, and the marketing folks still have a bunch of additional eyes on the story.
It’s the perfect publicity crime. Aside from the fact that most of those additional eyes are attached to heads and bodies disinterested in a mobile phone game, and you just pumped their brain full of disappointment.
I’m not (directly) knocking mobile games here. Maybe this Colin McRae thing will be alright. But the act of being willfully ambiguous with the announcement causes expectations to rise for an entirely different type of game. Publishers are acting like old fashioned carnival flim-flam men and expecting us all to like it when the prize is whisked out from under the shell. Oh, so sorry, try again next time. Maybe you’ll get what you’re after.
It’s exploiting the flaws in the news-reporting games press, exploiting fan fondness for classic titles and exploiting the series name itself; but for what? A bit more “exposure” for your mobile game? The short term benefits don’t really seem worth the inevitable backlash.
Despite what you may have come to understand about the games press, most of us feel kinda iffy about misleading our readership. We also like to keep them informed when there’s a chance of a classic series getting a revival. Therein lies the dilemma.
I’ve fallen into this trap myself, from both a games writing and fan perspective. On 4 June, just before E3, Square Enix popped out a seven second trailer for something called Deus Ex: The Fall. Accompanying tweets from the day before dropped references to Ben Saxon, a character from the tie-in novel released with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I put up the story, reasoning that E3 would be a fine time for a new Deus Ex reveal and that, despite Eidos Montreal being busy with Thief, the studio there is large enough that working on two major titles was a possibility.
They weren’t, of course. It was a phone and tablet game. Just as with Codemasters’ efforts today, Square disingenuously got their Deus Ex story on sites throughout the gaming media, while fans of the series had their hopes raised and dashed within a matter of 48 hours.
I felt soured by the reveal. Not because there wouldn’t (yet) be another sizeable Deus Ex title on PC. That was frustrating, but clearly not the end of the world. What bothered me was that I’d effectively been duped by publicity people to build false hype for something of next to no interest to IncGamers readers.
Square have form in this area. Just as with Deus Ex, they dicked around with The World Ends With You fans. A teaser website with countdown clock eventually revealed … an Enhanced Edition of the RPG for iOS. As well as being a disappointment, that reveal did serious damage to the meaning of the word ‘enhanced.’
So now, as well as being snarky about day one DLC, I guess I’ll have to add the disclaimer “PS: may be a phone game you won’t actually care about” to every news announcement that remains vague about platforms.
Maybe the lesson here is to hold off on stories until there’s a platform confirmation. I accept that the press has some culpability in this situation, ever-eager to post news that’s hot and likely to be widely read.
But there’s an easier, more obvious, solution, isn’t there? Publishers could just be clear about what platforms a game is coming to in the first place. Sites dedicated to mobile gaming will be only too happy to spread the word, and the information will actually be of interest to their readers.
I know we’ve just argued for more marketing vagueness here at IncGamers, but simple platform information doesn’t really fall into the spoiler territory Tim was concerned about.
Hell, this doesn’t even have to mean an end to gimmicky ‘teaser’ campaigns (I mean, I wish it would, but this is the stuff publishers get off on, I guess.) That bloated marketing budget has to be spent on something, right guys? Just remember to stick a few handy platform logos in there somewhere.
After all, the carnival huckster can only ply his deceptive trade for so long before the crowd turns on him.