Why publishers are killing their own games with pre-release hype

If there’s one thing that gamers are sensitive about on the internet (and there are many, but I’m picking one for the sake of this argument), it’s spoilers. Quite rightly, no-one wants any game they’re looking forward to spoiled by the premature release of what would otherwise be exciting story or gameplay discoveries. Doesn’t matter if they’re blown by other gamers in the days following a launch, or journos privy to unreleased game content… it’s always annoying.

And guys, I know your pain on this one, I really do. An alcoholically-enthused colleague of mine (who will remain nameless, but if I say ‘angry scotsman’ then long-term readers of the site will know who I mean) once ruined my weekend gaming plans by telling me the ending to Red Dead Redemption (opens in new tab). As a direct result I have to this day not finished Red Dead Redemption.

So I, and in fact the rest of us, try our best to avoid spoilers here on GamesRadar. We write previews and reviews very carefully so as to not drop any sensitive information too early, and when in-depth discussion of a released game requires a no-holds-barred approach to content analysis, we make sure you damn well know that before you start reading. But lately it feels like we’re fighting a losing battle.

You see, as hard as we try to keep things under wraps like one of Dexter’s victims, lately I can’t help but feel that the publishers of the very games we’re trying to protect are intent on unraveling our every effort.

I first noticed it, rather fittingly, with Red Dead Redemption. Specifically with the release, two weeks before the game’s launch, of the “Revolution” trailer (opens in new tab). In case you’re not familiar with it, said trailer detailed the Mexican environment, its characters, and a good deal of the plot that played out in Mexico. There was a great deal of office discussion about the Revolution trailer that day. Yes, it all looked cool, but the thread of conversation that kept coming back up was built around the idea that Rockstar had just blown a brilliant in-game reveal a fortnight before anyone even got their hands on the game.

In hindsight, I think those of us who felt that way were right. The arrival in Mexico is undoubtedly one of Red Dead Redemption’s most majestic and game-changing moments, both in terms of the overall game experience and the emotional tone of John Marston’s journey. But wouldn’t it have been all the more impactful if we hadn’t seen it coming? Wouldn’t that beautiful, poignant introduction to the change of setting (alongside the stand-out use of Jose Gonzalez’s ‘Far Away’) have been immensely more dramatic if we hadn’t spent the whole of the New Austin section wondering “When am I going to get to Mexico”? Wouldn’t we have enjoyed New Austin itself a whole lot more as a result? And Red Dead Redemption was just the tip of a very slippery, spoilerific iceberg.

You see from that point on–maybe because I was more conscious of it after Red Dead–I felt like the whole approach of publishers towards pre-release promotional materials changed. Suddenly it felt like we were being bombarded with far too many videos and featured screenshots containing far too much stuff that I’d much rather have discovered for myself in-game.

Take Bioshock Infinite (opens in new tab) for example. Despite Ken Levine’s pledge to not over-expose the game too early, between August 2012 and the game’s launch in 2013 we got 14 officially produced featurettes (opens in new tab) covering backstory, plot threads, entire character histories and story arcs, the skylines, the parallel universe mechanics, the later evolution of the civil war storyline, the Handymen, the Boys of Silence, the Siren boss fight and the Songbird. Simply, if you watched all of them pre-release, there was barely anything left by the time you actually got the game. And that’s not even taking into account the number of what would later turn out to be major environmental reveals lurking in the backgrounds of those videos. Or the raft of standard trailers we were delivered along the way.

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