Last updated on August 7th, 2015
This article has been a long time coming. It was originally supposed to be a thorough reaming of the marketing push behind Dark Souls II, just after it launched. Time got away from me – as it tends to in Dark Souls II – and long story short you have to settle for this.
First I’ll congratulate everyone at From Software and Sony for such a stellar (hah! get it?) game and good enough launch. Normally I wouldn’t congratulate a company on “good enough,” but it’s so rare in this industry I think it’s forgivable. Certainly it was better than the campaign for its immediate predecessor.
Before we dive into the real meat I’ve got some quibbles to get out of the way. That the official Bloodborne twitter account was not reserved before the game’s announcement was magnificently clumsy – as was the fact that Sony accidentally allowed its trademark on Bloodborne to lapse for several days. One would think such a mega-corporation could afford a calendar.
It’s fortunate for Sony that a certain die-hard fan reserved the @BloodborneGame twitter handle before someone with more nefarious intentions was able (hint: it was me). That doesn’t change the fact that for several months the game’s online presence was open only to a Japanese audience. This is an even more damning fact when factoring that the Souls series has historically sold much better in the West than in Japan, and that the percentage of its primarily Japanese-speaking audience that knows English is hugely disproportionate compared to its primarily English-speaking audience that knows Japanese.
This pointless argument is based on the false assumption the account must only tweet in one language. In an ideal campaign – one which Sony can certainly afford – the account ought to tweet in many different languages to match the amazingly diverse audience that enjoys these games. And the game would launch on the same day worldwide. I digress, but there’s one more thing. Why the hell can’t I buy the Nightmare Edition in the US?
Now let’s get into the important thing.
You know what’s going to be great? Avengers 2. The first was insanely great, and you have every right to be wrong by disagreeing. It was so insanely great that it’s grossed over $1.5b at the time of writing. It’s got a good chance of beating Titanic and that Smurf movie within the next few years. By all estimations, Avengers 2 will do even better. Do you know how many trailers have been released for Avengers: Age of Ultron? Three.
Note that I usually detest comparisons between video games and movies. They are as similar as music and eggs. But since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the book, not the movie. Casual) didn’t get a trailer, the metaphor must strain under the weight of an Avengers 2 comparison. Deal with it.
The point is, this movie’s going to make revenues of over a billion dollars and it has three trailers. With a conservative estimate, that’s one trailer per $500,000,000. Maybe we’ll see another trailer just before release, so that’s a possible four. Compare that to Bloodborne, which had a staggering EIGHT for a game that’s slated to make a relatively paltry couple hundred million over its lifetime.
I’m not including extras, behind-the-scenes, gameplay previews – none of that. Just trailers. Eight of them.
WHY? Under what possible circumstances do we need to have eight trailers for a single game? Who are these trailers for? What questions could anyone possibly have that aren’t answered already in the first few? Is there some new piece of information parsed out in the eighth trailer that’s going to convince someone to buy the game that couldn’t have been in the first or second?
Before Bloodborne’s release I took to Twitter to vent on the subject and received some insightful responses. One in particular from @Tygravius caught my attention:
@dis_pear I’ve been saying this since Xmas. It’s just impossible for studios these day$. Advertise the unknown and mystique by saying nothin
— Tygravius (@Tygravius) March 19, 2015
I think Ty is saying it’s a beating-down-the-doors marketing campaign and intrigue are diametrically opposed. As a marketer by trade, I’m inclined to agree. The content required to complete 8 trailers will of course leave less to be discovered in-game. Case in point: not including Chalice Dungeons, nearly a third of the bosses in Bloodborne were revealed before its release.
This feels particularly caustic to our community. Whatever you feel about the game’s PS4 exclusivity (and I genuinely feel sorry for the folks who can’t play it), Miyazaki’s games have always struggled with a fragmented playerbase. Demon’s Souls players were separated by wide gulfs in time, since the game’s sales ramped up slowly and the cult hit made it to the US, EU and Japan months apart. Dark Souls came to different consoles in different places on different dates, with the Artorias of the Abyss DLC made available to PC players well before their console counterparts. Dark Souls II was played on 3 different platforms on release, which with the release of Scholar of the First Sin broadened to no less than 5 (6 if you count the folks who purchased the DX10 but not DX11 version).
In Bloodborne, then, From Software and Sony had the perfect opportunity to unite most of its fragmented players. Its failure to launch on a single worldwide release day is worth noting here again, but that’s not as tragic as the fragments of players Sony’s marketing campaign created in the form of knowledge gaps.
WTF is a knowledge gap?
For our purposes, knowledge gaps are the differences between what well-educated members know about a game and what ignorant members know. Put another way, it’s the difference between what someone learns from one trailer versus what someone learns from every trailer, behind-the-scenes feature, article and interview. Let’s use the previous Avengers analogy and get math-y. If you want to skip this, jump to the bold sentence.
John watches the first trailer.
Whitney watches the first and second.
Tim watches the second and third.
Pete watches the first and third.
Jay watches all three.
If they’re all equally observant, we can conclude Jay knows more than Whitney /Tim/Pete, and Whitney/Tim/Pete know more than John. Gather any number of Avengers fans into a room and they can all be segmented into one of those 5 groups using 3 questions: Have you seen the first trailer? Have you seen the second trailer? Have you seen the third trailer?
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say each trailer is one minute long. Each trailer has 30 seconds’ worth of “canned footage” they all share, while the rest of the content in each trailer is specific to that trailer. So in actuality, there are 120 seconds (2 minutes) of original footage over all 3 trailers.
The knowledge gap between Jay, the most-informed fan, and John, the least-informed fan, is 60 seconds worth of footage. If Avengers 2 had eight trailers with the same setup, then the difference between the least- and most-informed fan is 4 minutes worth of footage. What’s worse is there are not five but hundreds of groups of fans, each with its own knowledge base.
Why do we care?
This is not an academic exercise. When talking to fellow fans, both via my own Twitter account and the unofficial Bloodborne account, I’ve seen a definite trepidation when discussing the game. Have you seen the latest trailer? Did you watch the launch trailer? Spoiler alerts, muted keywords and “going dark” ran rampant in the weeks leading up to release day.
I think in some ways a lot of us are numb by now. Like the quibbles I mentioned earlier – different release days or special editions depending on region, lapsed trademarks, mishandled communication strategies – we have come to expect this from the games industry. The industry is still young, we think. Or worse still, What else do you expect?. Every time I hear that last sentiment, I feel a twinge of anger and disappointment for companies like Sony and Bamco. I’ve been doing this marketing thing for a while, and it hurts when people assume the advertiser-advertisee relationship is always negative. Not only have there been good, honest video game marketing campaigns in the past, but it’s a thought-terminating cliché. Saying “What do you expect?” is a way of dismissing the subject outright. Marketers can and should do better. As players, we need to hold these companies to higher standards. Because these asinine practices affects us all.
Let’s really look into the practice of going dark. For those of you who don’t know, when someone goes dark they’re temporarily disconnecting communication from their regular venues. They stop visiting Twitter or Fextralife or GameFAQs or wherever else they frequent.
Stop. Think about that. We are losing community members in droves for weeks so they can avoid new information about a game. Think about what that implies. Justified or not, portions of our community don’t trust Sony to not release spoilers. And considering the dearth of information available before Bloodborne’s release I think there’s a strong case those feelings are justified.
What do we do?
Do me a favor. If you’ve read this far, I appreciate it. You’re one of a very small group of people. Just one more thing. If you “went dark” – withdrew from one or more forums, sites, etc – for a week or more before the release of Bloodborne, please sound off in the comments or let me know on Twitter at @dis_pear. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think this is a growing problem.
I’m in an awkward position here, because I don’t have all the answers. I’m just the marketing guy. But maybe together we can all pitch in some ideas. A petition or email/Twitter campaigns to let Sony know we don’t want so much information spread before the release of our games. How about… #keepthemystique? Let’s start a conversation.