A wise man once said ‘times, they are a’ changing’. And while Bob Dylan was probably referring to social revolution, or the end of stifling patriarchal authority, I prefer to think that he was actually referencing the state of the video games industry in the late 20th century. See, since the beginning of the three dimensional era the concept of video games has changed dramatically. Contemporary games now want you to move with them, interact with them and take them out into the real world with you. And really, all that stuff is pretty freakin’ cool. The industries technologies are undoubtedly moving forward into uncharted territory, and it’s probably the better for it.
All the ‘glorious progresses of man’ aside though, what do we do with the technologies which have become obsolete? Previous historical ingenuities, like the aqueduct and the horse-drawn carriage, have been made irrelevant in modern times and so we’ve practically done away with them (except in a few niche’ instances). In terms of video games though, it seems like consumers are less inclined to ditch previous gaming genres or concepts, even if they have ceased profitability.
When you look at these phenomena relative to the recent emergence of Kickstarter campaigns, a few questions about the worth of such projects must be raised.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like Tim Schaeffer’s adventure game proposal, and I respect all the individuals who donated money to Double-Fine’s cause. But my respect mainly stems from the admiration that I hold for Schaeffer’s abilities as a writer and a creator. The guy makes great games, there’s no denying that. The emergence of dubious game projects who are hitching a ride on the back of Double-Fine success however is troubling. The fact that people are investing money into these products which could very likely be out-dated oe just plain irrelevant is more troubling still.
See, the point and click adventure game as it existed in the 90’s is no longer particularly relevant. In fact, a lot of video game genre’s from the 90’s are no longer relevant. Eighty dollar, 8’ bit, side scrolling beat-em-up’s are difficult to market towards audiences who are used to HD graphics and orchestrated soundtracks. So when people donate money towards projects that most publishers wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole, I really question why.
At what point are participants in Kickstarter campaigns crossing the line between supporting talented developers, and flogging the dead horse of hipsterism and nostalgia?
I think in Double-Fine’s case, the talent involved is enough to warrant investment by fans of the genre. I cannot say the same for some of the other projects which are being proposed however. And the thing is, though at the moment this is mostly a video-game centric concept, it does have the potential to reach out to other mediums of entertainment. Would it be cool to hear new music by Minor Threat, which is independently funded through the Kickstarter website? Yes.
Would it be cool to hear music by some dillweed’s who claim to be the next Minor Threat, independently funded through the same website? No, not even a little.
What I’m really trying to say is that investment only earns its worth when talent and inspiration are behind the development, anything other than that can be a bit like (to put it in economic terms) propping up a dead industry with bailout funds. Except this isn’t just our tax money we’re talking about, it’s our actual money. Money which could be better spent on beer, or failing that, JRPG’s featuring scantily-clad teenagers.
So let’s try and be responsible with our investments, shall we?
‘Viral Marketing’ is a concept which, by now, most of the gaming community/industry has begrudgingly accepted. Personally, while I find it to be fairly uninspired, I don’t particularly mind it. It does seem to me however, that the Ubisoft’s PR folk have taken viral marketing to a whole new level with the ‘announcement’ of Assassins Creed 3. Let me take a second to explain.
Late last week, Ubisoft officially announced the October release of Assassins Creed 3, a project that I knew was being worked on, but didn’t expect to be officially unveiled until sometime around E3. While the actual announcement wasn’t overwhelmingly spectacular (some official box art and a short, ambiguous trailer) circumstances leading up to the reveal proved suspect to say the least.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The first slice of information regarding a new AC game came on the 15th of February, when it was uncovered that Ubisoft had informed investors of AC3’s official release date. Nothing too mind-blowing there.
A few days later, the Assassins Creed facebook page changed its panorama image to that of a snowy night, proclaiming that ‘an announcement…would be made soon’. This did not prove face-meltingly exciting either.
Proceedings took a turn for the interesting on the 1st of March however, when Kotaku published this story at 11.49am. Stating that they had been contacted by a worker at Best Buy with ‘two images snapped from their employee news section’, Kotaku posted a pair of grainy pictures, depicting what appeared to be the new protagonist from AC3.
Interestingly, at about the same time Game Informer changed their website banner to this image, before promptly removing it a short time after.
Naturally, the internet devoured these snaps like a fat kid on a cupcake, postulating all sorts of wonderful and exciting concepts regarding the game from what limited and highly speculative samples it was given. Unsurprisingly, the game and its box-art were subsequently announced by Ubisoft one day later on the 2nd of March, confirming the legitimacy of the Best Buy and Game Informer leaks.
Now here’s the thing.
After letting the world know on the 15th of February that AC3 was most definitely a thing, Ubisoft were perfectly poised to stoke the dormant coals of gaming excitement. I propose that, rather than simply announcing Assassins Creed 3 with a trailer or an expose’ in Game Informer (as they did with AC: Revelations) Ubisoft opted for a more hyped approach to the unveiling. ‘Leaking’ (read: purposely sending poorly scanned PNG) images to Kotaku served as the first step in this plan. Intentionally leaking these images initiated intrigue from AC fans, as well as the greater gaming community in general, who are ever please to see a prominent dev fuck up something relatively simple like keeping a high-profile project under-wraps.
The next step came from Game Informer, the magazine behind the AC: Revelations reveal. I propose that the odds of someone fucking up that freaking badly by posting what I assume is next month’s banner, at more-or-less the exact time that AC3 had revealing images leaked, is astronomically low. Either this was part of the contrived plan to get Game Informer some publicity regarding its impending and exclusive cover story on AC3, or a web designer got his arse all kinds of fired.
Now before you claim that I am just being overly paranoid about the whole situation, take a look at the Google trend data. It clearly shows that interest in AC3 went up during the 1st of March, and then spiked around the official announcement on the 2nd of March. This is exactly the kind of PR result that Ubisoft would want. An interesting rumour backed up with an exciting announcement has created a hyped up product.
It’s difficult to say that Ubisoft have engaged in traditional viral marketing throughout this fiasco, though it is also difficult to not define their actions as such. In my opinion, they have most certainly released information under the guise of a rogue third-party which likely does not exist. Of course, this isn’t really a bad thing; it’s just an interesting utilisation of marketing tools, as well as human behaviour on Ubisoft’s behalf. Perhaps Ubisoft have not been 100% transparent regarding AC3’s marketing strategies, but in the process of doing so, they have not necessarily exploited or harmed anyone (perhaps with the exception of Kotaku.com). What they have done though is provided an interesting spectacle of excitement within which the entire gaming community was potentially involved, hence the definition of ‘viral marketing’. What’s more, they probably did it for 1/10th the cost of a traditional marketing campaign.
I accept the fact that what I believe to have occurred in this instance and what actually transpired may be two mutually exclusive entities. Sure, I could just be letting my imagination get the better of me. Though the method by which Ubisoft has been releasing information for the game, contrasted to the frequency of detailed ‘leaks’ does seem to support my hypothesis… I believe.