Video gGame marketing is important, but some publishers have recently decided that stealth releases are just as good. Here’s why that might be.
Even at their smallest, creating a video game takes a lot of work. Generally, a publisher will want to take advantage of that work by letting the gaming public know about an upcoming release. Not all games get huge E3 banners and TV commercials, but marketing is a huge part of 99% of releases. The few exceptions are curious cases where a publisher dropped a game on the unsuspecting public, usually during a big event or a streaming presentation. Sometimes, this ends up creating a blockbuster hit that players enjoy for years. Other times, the strategy leads to a game that many players forget about instantly.
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One of the most notable examples of a stealth release is Apex Legends, which came out of nowhere in February 2019 and took the gaming world by storm. Respawn Entertainment, the team behind the Titanfall games, knuckled down and created a viable competitor to other popular battle royales. Furthermore, the team knew that Titanfall fans wouldn’t be receptive to a game that jumped on the latest craze, so they purposefully worked with Electronic Arts to keep the game under wraps until it was ready to go. Being a free-to-play release, people were able to jump right in and see that Respawn still has the talent to make shooters of all types feel great.
Free-to-play games are generally the best type of titles to release without warning, as players can then simply try the game without fear of financial investment. For paid games, publishers tend to stick to smaller experiences that wouldn’t necessitate a long marketing campaign. Nintendo has been doing this frequently with their indie releases, including games without an attached franchise like Good Job! and The Stretchers. Sony also did this at least once, releasing Entwined for PlayStation 4 during their E3 2014 conference. These games got some praise upon release but ultimately failed to make a huge impact, despite their quality.
Why Would Nintendo Release A Game Without Warning?
Nintendo has also occasionally released a smaller game suddenly as part of a bigger celebration of one of their characters. The recently-purged from existence Super Mario 35 was appropriately timed for Mario‘s 35th anniversary, and the Smash Bros.-esque Kirby Fighters 2 was released alongside new information about Kirby titles. These games got much more coverage than Nintendo’s indie efforts simply due to the characters involved, although the surprise releases just didn’t skyrocket to success Apex Legends-style. Even in the case of beloved Nintendo creations, some sort of news before release generally produces better results.
One way to guarantee success via surprise release is if a game releases onto a subscription service. Players who are already paying a monthly fee for access will appreciate the new content, and the game won’t have to compete in the marketplace with titles that have massive amounts of hype behind them. This has been Apple’s strategy with their Apple Arcade platform on iOS.
Just last week, Platinum Games released World of Demons onto Apple Arcade after two years of silence, and that came alongside a multitude of other games that had minimal announcements about their upcoming releases. Apple rightly assumes that players will simply browse what’s available, and finding something they’ve never heard of further encourages users to both keep hunting for hidden gems in the future and to keep forking out Apple’s monthly fee to do so.
Stealth releasing a game is certainly a tool in the toolbox for most publishers, but it can be a risky endeavor. If a game flops after a surprise launch, they can try porting it to another system with a more traditional advertising campaign, but some players will just see it as a port and remain unenthused. In the long run, unless there’s a thought-out plan in place, it’s a strategy best utilized with niche titles that wouldn’t gain a massive audience in any case. Still, with subscription services and free-to-play gaming taking over more and more of the industry, it may only be a matter of time before the next AAA studio shakes things up and drops a new game without even so much as a screenshot shared beforehand.
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