I like to use the term ‘hype marketing’ when referring to the unveiling of new video games in the industry that garner plenty of attention due to the way developers or publishers tend to reveal them to the masses. The past few years have had some truly remarkable marketing strategies that managed to both shock viewers and draw in a considerable amount of praise and attention for its unique revealing – including Hideo Kojima’s brilliant P.T. lead into Silent Hills, Rockstar’s virtual mic drop with Red Dead Redemption 2, and Capcom’s bait and switch for Resident Evil 7 at E3 2016. However, this year saw quite an unexpected turn for one company who practically built their hype marketing on controversy; Ubisoft. So what exactly ushered in this change of heart for Ubisoft’s marketing plan or can it possibly be misconstrued for a lack of empathy for consumers?
Hype marketing is a bold sleight of hand that companies vitally need to master. In fact, the success of their products thrive on it. One needs look no further than E3 every year to find this kind of marketing in full effect. As the single largest platform for developers to showcase their upcoming titles to a live worldwide audience, the opportunities are ripe for hype marketing. Ubisoft has become all too familiar with E3 in the past, using the limelight to generate enormous amounts of hype for their games. However, the downside to their strategies usually revolved around pre-rendered “gameplay” footage and graphics that were prone to downgrades upon release, such as the case with Watch Dogs and The Division.
So it was a rather peculiar moment when Ubisoft dropped four sequel announcements to their most coveted franchises; Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, South Park and The Crew in a rather unceremonious fashion – a financial report and social media confirmation. This is bizarre for many reasons completely removed from the usual patterns of the company. Instead of approaching each title with a bit of secretive marketing to generate buzz like most of its major competitors, Ubisoft casually confirmed the development of these games – an especially surprising and quite baffling move for the next Assassin’s Creed which, after a year of hiatus, had already built a following from eager fans; so the sudden announcement of its long-awaited installment was a bit short-handed and anti-climactic.
Objectively speaking though, this is both a positive and negative for Ubisoft, depending on the way the masses take it. After all the spills and pitfalls surrounding Ubisoft’s untrustworthy showcases, it’s quite refreshing to see the company a bit more restrained in their approach to future plans. It might exude confidence in their franchises that the name alone is already the games’ greatest selling point. As a huge Far Cry fan myself, I know for a certainty that, unless the product ultimately fails on every single level to appeal to me, I will eventually play each new iteration in the series, and this holds true for many fans of each franchise announced. This is unfortunately also a large negative and red flag for many who already view the company as a business-driven entity with the sole intent of making money, disregarding the quality of their own games entirely.
What separates a company like Rockstar or Naughty Dog from Ubisoft is the way in which the hype marketing is intentionally approached. The sudden announcement of these games could either mean that, as mentioned before, the company is already quite confident in their products and rely on the power of the franchise name attached to it while breaking the mold of their past fallacies in disingenuous demonstrations, or simply means that they show absolutely no care in their games – something which I highly doubt to be true for a company of their caliber despite an uneven past track record. If this was a much smaller developer, we may let this unceremonious announcement slide, but because this is Ubisoft, a giant in the gaming industry, there’s obviously a high expectancy of marketing finesse.
Perhaps we need to wait until E3 2017 to see how Ubisoft ultimately handles these franchises going forward. We might see Ubisoft sink back into their old ways and give us another grey-area demonstration, or they could be genuinely trying to change their business strategies for the better. As the hype marketing train continues to roll ahead for the rest of the gaming industry, all eyes are (very) ironically on Ubisoft’s complete subversion of this strategy. They most certainly dropped the mic, but the real kicker is how they intend to pick it up again and say what we all really want hear.