Video Game Announcements - Why the Secrecy?
This week, Sony officially announced the Playstation Pro, the official name for the codenamed PS Neo. Also, at this announcement came the reveal of the PS4 slim, the newer, sleeker model that will replace all PS4's. Cool, right? Well, as most videogame fanboys know, the PS4 slim had been rumored for some time now. In fact, the PS4 slim was so not a secret that the cat had officially left the bag months ago and the cat had enough time to move to the big city and make a name for itself. Weeks before this announcement there were unboxing videos, shots of the hardware disassembled, and even a couple of reviews. So, Sony had to address this, right? As it turns out, Sony had put on its best Tyler Durden and decided that the first rule of the PS4 slim is that you don't talk about the PS4 slim. Even though there were several videos of people playing it online, Sony was mute. So, I guess my question is, who cares? Why not announce it early? In fact, why not announce everything early?
Even though videogame announcements have always been fairly guarded, I believe that the current state of video game announcement secrecy stems from the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. At E3 2004, Nintendo announced Twilight Princess and people lost their collective shit. It was anarchy, there were tears. Nintendo had a huge moment at this conference and we were all as giddy as schoolgirls but, let me propose a question: would the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess had sold less copies or generated less excitement if we knew that the announcement was coming? I don't think so. In fact, can you imagine what it would have been like if we all knew ahead of time? Cut to E3 2016 when Nintendo announced that their entire presentation was going to be all Zelda, all the time. Look how stoked everyone was. There was no less excitement because we knew about it ahead of time. What do developers think that they are gaining?
I understand using anticipation as a marketing technique. Teaser trailers and aggressive marketing campaigns have always been a good way to get the consumer excited without giving away too much information. This always make me think of the Final Fantasy VII remake. People were begging for years for an HD FFVII remake. Square Enix was very dismissive, almost cold in some cases to fans who asked for this. Then, lo and behold, the remake gets an announcement in 2015 and it turns out that they had been working on it for years. So, if it had been in development for a while, why would they deny it? If you are going to announce the game three years before it even has a chance to be ready for release, why not just tell everyone that it is in development? If Square had said, in 2010, that they were working on this game and they didn't know when it would be ready, people would still have been pumped about it. What is the benefit of a delayed announcement? It simply doesn't have to happen.
When thinking about these secretive announcements I always think of all the games that we've known about for years that haven't been released yet: Kingdom Hearts 3, The Last Guardian, etc. The fact that the wait for these games has been significant has not caused fan excitement to dwindle. I also think about things like P.T., the demo that was the announcement for the now defunct Silent Hills. This demo announcement was a unique way to bring the knowledge of a game's development to the gaming masses. I realize now, since this game has been cancelled, that this announcement created disappointment and I can see the risks some developers might see when worrying about announcing a game too early. However, I think it would more often than not make fans a lot more secure if we knew ahead of time that studios like Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo were working on a new Gears of War, God of War, or Metroid. It would instill confidence in us, the consumers, that the developers we love are going to continue creating the content that we want. Unless I'm missing some giant component of video game marketing, it seems to me that secrecy in announcing games has no benefit to any party involved.
P.S. - Rockstar, can you please just announce the new Red Dead? We all know that it's coming. You're just embarrassing yourself.