After the spotlights roam the stage and a pressure cooked exec plods on amidst unbefitting dub step and indifferent applause. After the awkward scripted deliveries through gritted grins, gifting .gif meme memories to the legions of nerds watching online. After the lights go down, then it’s time. Time for the big announcements.
Seem familiar? For years at E3, GDC, GamesCom, Tokyo Games Show, the VGAs and beyond gamers have been subject to the theatrics of many big announcements. The public is told what they should be excited for, what to remember. Unfortunately, sometimes the announced artifacts don’t materialize However, we still do our part as the consumer public. We still remember.
There are many exciting projects that have gone from the limelight of the showroom floor to the cutting room floor. What triggers the impulsion to announce games and systems that may knowingly be far too early in development and far too provocative not to invite a backlash. Whether for the sake of a sensible marketing strategy or for the trolling controversy meant to rile fans and press alike, or simply to amp up the cold war competitions between developers and publishers. Announcements are a measured risk. The risk is to allow the game/system/peripheral in question to mutate into something completely different, or worse -disappear.
Mutating Materializing Material.
Let’s start with some new games as examples. Platinum Games‘ Metal Gear Rising: Revengence has evolved dramatically from the mold cast by Kojima Productions‘ take on an internally dev’d title. Announced back in 2009 as Metal Gear Solid Rising, Kojima recently revealed his original intention of featuring Grey Fox (Frank Jaeger) as the silver haired cyborg ninja protagonist was overruled by Kojima Productions staff favoring Raiden. This may have something to do with the shifting image of Raiden in press released artwork since the game’s inception. Incidentally, Grey Fox will appear as a DLC skin in the US and as an alternate outfit in EU editions.
The dramatic change in studio approach and style has helped define the game as a world apart from previous stealth and Snake inhabited offerings. This has otherwise established the game as a spin-off, a new chapter. An important step in curbing the tide of rebuttal from series fans feeling an abandonment of the tactical espionage action that made the MGS brand so great. For them, there’s the Ground Zeroes/Phantom Pain (MGS5?) endeavors to keep everyone happy.
Bioshock Infinite‘s publicly changing art style has also garnered much attention. Since the game’s announcement in 2010, Ken Levine’s evolving sky city of Columbia has been mirrored in supporting character Elizabeth’s appearance. Her definitive design taking a more grounded inspiration from a cosplayer on deviantart rather than the heinous Bratz doll to Cabbage Patch kids demeanor of earlier looks.
If anyone wants to see how announcements to release can ensure a game bends to fan approval, need to look no further than DmC. Series fans hated the new Dante’s Emo twi-hard look. His side swipe was first to go as it was also suspiciously sported by Ninja Theory Co- founder and creative director Tameem Antoniades in well, to be fair to whiners, pretty much every photo of him online. More toys thrown out of the pram endured and Dante’s J-Rock tinsel hair and red leather look (complete with bare shaved chest, of course) returned as DLC. Storm (in a teacup) averted the game sold well, …but not as well as DMC4.
It will be interesting to see how the news on Tekken X Street Fighter reaches us. Yoshinori Ono and Katsuhiro Harada’s engaging twitter and youtube antics during Street Fighter X Tekken‘s marketing campaign were far more entertaining than the actual game. Yeah that’s right, that’s what I think about that game. In terms of building and maintaining hype after an announcement, drip feeding key information is a smart approach providing game companies can do it well. When Sora introduced us to characters and modes in Smash Bros Brawl they did it through Smash Bros Dojo! It is a site that would set times of information released and allowed gamers to discover who made the cut as soon as the press. The site took the public behind the scenes of development as it happened in such an intuitive way that people have rarely seen an approach as encompassing. The information was also measured so some more radical ideas (modes, Bosses and 3rd party characters, etc.) were only made public close to release to avoid U-turns and other major changes in approach being made public. The ethos of the site can be summed up by the foreword on its homepage; “-a place where I offer personal, straight-from-the-creator reports on the project.” – Masahiro Sakurai (Sora Ltd.)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Gamer.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale could have benefited from the Smash Bros approach had it not been compromised by leaks, the full roster was posted on forums and sites before release, and before Sony could spill the beans themselves. The game’s director; Omar Kendall commented that leaks may have sprung from early focus testing, damaging drives for publicity. It’s easy to understand his frustration. Leaks are an ‘Achilles’ heel’ that Sony always seem to suffer from when it comes to announcements. The games industry is like any other industry with multiple interested parties in competition and in the press, it’s a spy game. The PS3 Slim was common knowledge before anyone at PlayStation managed to make an announcement at Gamescom in August 2009, thanks to leaked photos on a Chinese gaming message board in May. Lessons learned? Not really. When the PS3 Super Slim was announced last year it may have been a surprise had everyone with a vague interest had not seen photos of it appear on Brazilian gaming forums on July. Rather than early announcements, late ones seem to be the problem for Sony. Although, a more pressing concern would be all those crazy leaks, which have left the company looking like a Swiss cheese bucket.
For years, video games have been announced amidst a fireworks display of buzz that eventually dissipates into nothing. Some games do not make it, and when and if they do, all appetites for them are long gone. Star Craft: Ghost was announced in 2002 and even went through the whole undeserved sci-fi game treatment of having a ‘fantasy novelization without the game actually existing. To this day, it is yet to be listed as cancelled. The game remained a ghost. Duke Nukem Forever, took forever (too easy). All the fans making pre-orders since 1996 were met 15 years later with a game that ranked 54/100 on metacritic. At least it showed up. All hail to the king, baby.
Even those games cannot hold a candle to the disaster of Mega Man Legends 3. Crap, where to begin. The title was announced for Nintendo 3DS on Sep 29 2010 as a game that would be developed with the help of fan participation. It was, before being axed on Jul 18 2011. The outcry saw a huge social networking campaign to revive the game with the facebook group, “100,000 Strong for Bringing Back Mega Man Legends 3″, numbering over 107,151 members to date. Lesson; if a game company wants to ax a game , do not throw it to the fans first.
When talking about game announcements, it is necessary to talk about the elephants in the room. Where is the Last Guardian? The much anticipated follow up to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Designer and Director Fumito Ueda has since left the project since its announcement in 2009. Conspiracies are abundant with this one, I’d rather wait and see. Or more accurately, wait and then wait some more, hopefully not forever. Then there’s Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Announced in May 2006, the game has been in development so incredibly long (since November 2005) that the regular FF XIII has already received 2 sequels in that time. 7 years on, there’s still no word of a release anytime soon. The impulsion for Square-Enix to announce things incredibly early has somewhat diminished with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII seeing release this year. Fingers crossed, 13 hasn’t been too much of a lucky number for them.
If a studio announces a game and cannot commit to its development up to the point of release, then all they’re ever really heralding is an impending disappointment. Like the boy who cried wolf, consumers these days tend to know a little better than to even expect the expected due to so many recent big name no shows. This is an age of gaming where something spectacular is always around the corner and impressive new studios are popping up all the time. The big announcements mean less than ever and are more about studios patting their own back in front of investors. From the outside it’s clear that it’s time to change the game, fortunately studios are getting that impression now too.
Nintendo Direct offers a smarter approach. Obstructing leaks by offering early announcements in the form of development reports. The strategy is sound but leaves it hard to shelve projects that have gained early fan interest this way. Mario Galaxy 3, Mario Kart Wii U and Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei were all announced with little more than a few passing comments and no screen shots or footage. No bombastic grandstanding. No idle promises. Yoshi’s knitted based game had a few seconds of test footage in a kirby epic yarn set up.
If it is properly emphasized that, yes, the game may change and, yes, the game may be cancelled, then Nintendo (or anyone else for that matter) provide themselves with a level of damage limitation. It allows for a more freely creative process. Mutation of ideas and concepts needn’t feel so bitter and fraught such as in the case of DmC. It also treats the consumer with a level of respect rather than pander to them. We, the ever entitled and demanding public need to accept a few things too.
Namely that we are not righteous for being angry and reactionary if a game like DmC or MGR:R does not look or feel like we want. Or that boycotting a company because a game was cancelled is just as short sighted as over promising a fan developed experience as Capcom did with MML3. Who knows? With the internet being the hive of ideas and commentary that it is and with developers tentatively accepting an encompassing yet ‘no-guarantees’ take on production news, we may be able to see a more advanced approach to big name game development. An approach that has caught up to the internet. We, as consumers, may become absolved from pinning all our hopes on the grand spectacle -the big game announcement.