Thank God for Leakers Who Do What Microsoft and Sony Don’t
In nine and a half weeks, the next generation begins. First the Xbox Series consoles will be on shelves, followed swiftly by the PlayStation 5. Nine and a half short weeks, and most of the stuff we know about these devices has still come via dodgy Twitter profiles and 4chan posts.
It’d be easy to blame coronavirus or some dripfeed method of teasing, but it’s simpler than that: video game marketing is broken – and those dodgy Twitter profiles are putting it right.
Xbox Series S
A pretty hefty leak including pictures and a price point forced Microsoft to announce the Series S in the early hours of this morning. This is the Series S that has been unofficially confirmed four or five times now, usually through Microsoft themselves.
But for whatever reason, this leak was one leak too far. A call was made. A few tweets were hastily put together. Finally, the console was announced.
I think the Series S is a gamechanger for Microsoft. This thing packs a punch for its price point, and will be a perfect entry point for youngsters, those wanting a Gamepass machine and for people who want a second console for their bedroom. It’s going to sell like cheap hotcakes during a famine. Especially true during a recession.
With that in mind, why has Microsoft been acting like the S is the poor relation. Shout it loud and proud: this is a great bargain. Unless Sony cut its price, the Series S, probably with a few months of Gamepass, will be available for about £50 more than a PS4. That is insane.
Twelve months of speculation, finished by a midnight tweet. Ridiculous. Why was it kept a secret, despite everybody knowing it exists? Video game marketing.
Sailing the sinking ship
Marketing people in any industry have just one goal: to sell you stuff. That’s true whether you’re talking about the marketing team at PlayStation or at your local hospital, or even in Government. They want to downplay bad things, get you to focus on good things. It’s why every conversation about the PS5 focuses on SSDs and audio. It’s why Xbox decided the Series S was worth keeping under wraps.
But marketing in the video game industry is different. It’s different even from other entertainment sectors. I’ve never worked in video game marketing, but it’s like someone at some point made an equation for how to hold the attention of gamers, and everybody who tries to publicise games is terrified of getting off that equation.
It doesn’t matter if everybody already knows Fable is being rebooted. Nevermind if we have it on good authority that a Bloodborne remaster is on its way to PS5 and PC. It just matters that each company gets its moment – that their marketing plan is followed to the letter.
Of course, you announce a Fable reboot years after everybody else already knows it exists, you better be able to show more than that it just exists. That should be obvious… shouldn’t it?
Nope, it’s not in the marketing plan. It’s as simple as that.
In other industries, journalists can look at published papers and hold companies to account. That’s not possible in the video game industry. You rely on PR companies, and nothing else.
Enter insiders – and thank God they’re there.
Rise of the Insider
Over the last few months, we’ve seen how bad marketing can hurt a brand. The excitement about next-gen has slowly disappeared. Here we are, nine and a half weeks away from the launch of these devices, and we can’t pre-order. We don’t know why we would need to, as there aren’t any locked in lists of launch titles. We don’t even know a price.
The only thing that’s kept us going through lockdown has been rumour. Unconfirmed details about these devices haven’t been hard to come by, because every six-year-old with Twitter has been adding to the noise. But there’s been enough of interest to keep the conversation going.
Some rumours have been wild, while others have been blatantly false. Some have turned out to be true.
The more reliable leakers are giving hints at things to come, and more often than not turn out to be right. These people are the reason Xbox were forced to finally announce the Series S, and Microsoft should thank them for it. After all the speculation, all of the leaks, a big announcement would have been cringey at best. An understated tweet, followed by a few red-faced marketing people saying there’s more to come is much better than an all-singing all-dancing reveal that surprises nobody.
The insiders – the actual successful ones, not the six-year-olds – are taking a common sense approach to information that turns PR people’s stomachs. When all the world knows about your product, stop pretending they don’t. If you blatantly say in your notes to investors that you’re bringing your first-party titles to PC, have the same respect for your customers and announce your plans already.
At that point, it’s not even about marketing. It’s about fooling your own userbase.
Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo should be terrified at how they’ve been shown up by internet randoms over the last six months or so. Their first move will likely be to try and put a stop to the leaks, but that’s trying to fix a symptom of a much bigger problem.
I get it, PR people – you want to have your moment in the sun. If Microsoft is going to make Xbox Live free, you want to scream it from the rooftops. You want to have a plan to get it trending on Twitter, at a time when the most people possible are looking at it.
But there’s no smoke without fire, and when your big exciting reveal ends with a whimper, ask why you couldn’t have announced it three months ago. Scheduling doesn’t cut it. Insiders know that, and that’s why they’re so valued.
There will always be new surprises, new exciting games and changes to services. Announcements come every week. You keep that under wraps, so what’s the problem? When your actual news is coming via a blue egg on Twitter well, you’ve got to start asking yourselves some serious questions.