Can’t Games Keep a Secret Anymore?

In lieu of a lengthy preamble, I'll get right to the point today: Publishers are devaluing their own games by showing too much of them before release. It used to be that we'd get enough information - maybe a fact sheet, maybe some screenshots - to give us a clear idea of what a game would be like, and the rest would be left for us to discover on our own. That is no longer the way things are done in the gaming world. Today, we're bombarded with info dumps, trailers, interviews, livestreams, and other tidbits that reveal so much about upcoming games that I often feel like I've played them before they ever hit store shelves.

I'm sick to death of seeing five, ten, or twenty trailers pre-release for a single game that detail every character I'll meet, every system I'll use, and every environment I'll traverse. When did the element of discovery become superfluous in the eyes of publishers? Looking at the marketing for Persona 5, the game that sits at the zenith of my most-anticipated list, I see individual trailers for every main character, and Atlus is working through the list of Confidants (Persona 5's version of Social Links) as we speak. Yet in Persona 3 and 4, discovering the identities and stories of each Social Link was among my greatest pleasures; I value narrative and characterization above all else in video games, and to have a facet of that experience taken away from me is immensely frustrating.


Atlus is not the only company to follow this trend. Square Enix released trailer after trailer for Final Fantasy XV, as well as three demos, each of which represented the game at a different stage of development. Some even contained scenes from the last hour of the game! Not that we would have known out-of-context, mind you - especially considering that the game is scheduled to receive updates to its story over the next year, making it a completely different product than what we were shown over years of marketing.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is quickly approaching release as well, and EA is releasing cinematic trailers that reveal story details as well as trailers to introduce each character. Similarly, Square Enix has planned another NieR: Automata livestream to show off even more of the game, which strikes me as totally unnecessary, given the lengthy demo that already released as well as NieR's legacy of being narratively unpredictable. Why ruin that by marketing it to death? Even The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game that remains tantalizingly mysterious, was recently confirmed to have a secret ending. I'd have preferred to find all of this out on my own instead of having it laid out for me in advance.


I recognize that my level of immersion in game news is atypical, as I work in the field five days a week and am required to keep up if I am to be a good reporter. Some people clearly prefer to know more about the games they're interested in to make more informed purchasing decisions. As a busy adult, I certainly understand the appeal of efficient time management. And while I long failed to understand the purpose of Let's Plays (I recognize their position now, though I still prefer to play games I'm interested in myself), at least these are created by players post-release instead of being forced on us by the news cycle.

So while it may be that more aggressive marketing results in greater financial gain for publishers, I find that I, the player, am robbed of the sorts of experiences I used to have when discovering a game for the first time. I want to know what I'm buying, of course, but do I really need to have every step of the journey laid out in excruciating detail? It's a shame that current PR practices have made mystery - one of the greatest assets a game can have - into a liability.

Derek Heemsbergen
Derek Heemsbergen

Contributing Writer
Date: 01/30/2017

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