“You’ve been had! You’ve been took! Hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok! This is what they do!”. This popular “Malcolm X” quote seems perfect to set the ground for my thoughts regarding the declining power of video game previews, especially in the context of the recent Aliens: Colonial Marines scandal. For those of you who are not familiar with the case – a month ago, Gearbox Software and SEGA have finally released their long anticipated game. A game that was anticipated both by many Alien fans as well as regular gamers, especially after having watched numerous previews, trailers, and played the demo version available prior to the game’s release. People have patiently waited for over six years to get their hands on the game and when it was finally released… boy, were they in for a shock.
What went wrong with Aliens: Colonial Marines?
In simplest terms it turned out that the finished game was inferior to what was shown before the game’s release. Crazy, right? This doesn’t happen often and usually it is the demo version that is inferior, since it is still a so called “work in progress” – and all the flaws, bugs, low textures, etc. are improved before the game hits retail. This time, however, the retail version compared to the demo looked just… well, see for yourself in the comparison video by VideoGamerTV below.
The PR/Marketing side of the story
Now, instead of talking about all the issues and bad decisions that resulted in the game looking the way it does (honestly, I think so many things went wrong with the development of this game one would have to write a whole book or at least a very extensive case study to grasp the full picture), I’d rather focus on the PR/marketing side of Aliens: Colonial Marines, which I think in a way was very good, judging by what they had to work with.
From the PR side – a few teasers were released, followed by a number of trailers and previews that showed bits of game-play. What I liked the most, though, was an approximately 20 minute long developer walkthrough with Randy Pitchford, the President of Gearbox Software, where he himself explained things like the setting of the game, the areas visited, and even pointed out a great amount of movie references present within the game – all with a great deal of excitement in his voice. He claimed A:CM was a game made “by fans for fans”, and that they even had a few people who worked on the original Aliens movie working on the game. What more could anyone possibly want, right? Naturally all the footage present in the developer walkthrough was taken from a game build that was still in development, but the dynamic lighting and sharp textures were there; actually even some areas and scenes that didn’t make it to the retail game were shown too. It’s hardly surprising to hear people blame Gearbox and SEGA for false advertising and ask for refunds.
As for the marketing side, the early adopters who would pre-order the game were promised access to some additional unique weapons such as Ripley’s Flamethrower, or access to four playable movie characters such as Drake, Apone, Hudson, and Hicks.
Being a lifelong Alien fan I have to admit… I fell for it. I was promised a great-looking product from a rather successful game developer, and a great, thrilling adventure back at LV-426 where the original Aliens movie took place. Instead, myself, as well as millions of other fans/players, feel like we were given a nasty turd wrapped into a pretty piece of paper instead.
So why are video game previews losing their power?
Back to the point. Why do I think video game previews might be losing their power? Well, the way I understand it previews are essentially a tool that is used to create hype, or buzz around a certain product prior to its release. It is the thing that persuades people into buying it or even pre-ordering it before its release, based on how the game-play looks like. Now, I think consumers are not that stupid – they want to get the best value for their money, especially in times of crisis while having limited funds. They also learn on their mistakes – they fell for empty words of a video game developer President and pretty preview footage once, but now consumers know better than that. In the future they probably will think twice, especially those who were affected by the A:CM “bait and switch” and paid a full price for a game that was reduced by 1/4th in two weeks due to poor sales and reviews. Also, it’s not far fetched to say they might not be willing to pre-order a game next time based solely on a preview (which I know might not be the best idea, but nevertheless it happens), unless it’s a guaranteed blockbuster.
With all that in mind, I think it’s fair to say video game previews are still a great tool for promoting upcoming video games, but they might also be losing a part of their power – the power of convincing people to pre-order an upcoming game based on the favorable footage shown. After all, it’s in gamers’ best interest to wait for the reviews and only then decide if they want to spend their hard-earned money or not. Sure, they may miss out on an exclusive in-game item or so but it’s certainly better than wasting money on something that made many promises but failed to deliver in the end.