Navigating the Product Launch Chaos of Poor Game Launches

From the arcades in the 1980s to the digital gaming platforms of the modern day, video games have become a significant fragment of the entertainment industry. Approximately 65% of Americans play video games (which is equal to 212.6 million individuals), in addition to 2023 game sales increasing to $57.2 billion from 2022, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). As evidenced by these figures the industry is only projected to grow larger. This sales revenue, and recent best selling games such as Resident Evil 4 (2023) and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, showcases that a game’s launch is arguably one of the most important facets in a games development cycle. However, not all video game launches have gone smoothly, as we’ll discuss in this article.

 

Video Game Players Domestically and Abroad

 

History and Trends in The Video Game Industry

In understanding the role of marketing, we must analyze the history of gaming trends. As the video game industry continued to grow, it gave rise to the popular trends that emerged throughout the years. The pattern started back in the 1980s, when video games began to see their first major innovation: the emergence of story and replayability. A staple of these games dwere the settings and almost punishing gameplay difficulty. In fact, because the gameplay could be almost unfair, many players began using cheat devices designed to ease the difficulty. With the emergence of the 1990s, so too did many of the specific genres players know today, such as the first person shooter, survival horror, action-adventure genres. As the associated games gained their footing, demos of the game, with promotional items on one disc, were given out before players purchased the end product, a trend which started to occur less as time went on. As technology continued to advance, and consoles became more powerful, gaming innovated yet again. Graphics were capable of crafting stunning locations, using engines such as Unreal 5 engine, which has been responsible for the variety of games players see now.

Identifying Product Planning

We must first understand the role of production planning. There are several core tenets to this concept, starting with defining your game’s ultimate goals, such as what achievement the game is reaching for, and most importantly, the target market. These demographics have changed rapidly in recent years, with 36% players aged 18-34 years old in 2022. A slightly younger group, gamers aged 16-24 years old, had the highest statistics in the latter part of 2023, with 89.6% among females, and 92.6% among males. In the same year, 46%, nearly half of reported gamers, were women, while 53% were male. These kinds of statistics are useful to narrow the demographic the game will likely appeal to. Once the target demographic has been identified, then comes the next step: crafting a realistic scope, while considering the project’s budgets and timeframe. An overly ambitious project can lend itself to delays and a potentially lower quality. Other noted facets include a detailed plan and breakdown of tasks, assigning different tasks and responsibilities to respective team members, and consistently tracking the project’s progress. These combine into a production plan to help craft the game, and get it ready for its launch release.

The Number of Female Gamers is on the Rise 

 

When the Game’s Marketing Turns Controversial

Today, it’s relatively commonplace to see some sort of advertising or marketing promotion for an upcoming game. These may include short cinematic ads, similar to the trailer released ahead of the 2016 release of Doom, the critically acclaimed fourth installment in the franchise. However, some marketing efforts may hurt their respective game more than it helped it. For example, to market their 2010 game Dante’s Inferno, Electronic Arts (EA) invited attendees at Comic Con to commit “acts of lust,” which was a photo attendees could take at EA’s booth and upload to social media. The winner would receive a night out with a company rep, with all expenses paid. As the Houston Press, this was described to participants as a “sinful night with two hot girls,” a limo service, and paparazzi. However, EA faced significant backlash from this, with some saying the description made the prize sound similar to prostitution. This in turn had an adverse effect on Dante’s Inferno‘s sales.

Doom – “Fight Like Hell” Cinematic Trailer

Misleading Marketing Hurts the Game at Launch

A good marketing campaign can build an audience’s excitement for an upcoming game, but hype for a game can quickly fade if its marketing promises are left unfulfilled. The Day Before, developed by Fntastic, has faced its own set of problems in this regard, marketing itself as an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) survival game, set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie infested world, promising players an open world, multiplayer experience. The promotional material showcased stunning graphics, fluid and interactive gameplay, and players pitted against not only the undead, but other players as well. This reveal gave many people cause to be excited. Upon release, however, many players were left disappointed, with complaints that the player vs. player battles were plagued with server and issues and glitches, and players losing everything in their inventory and having to start over. Many more accused Fntastic of false advertising, as almost none of the game elements that were promised were available in the final product. Players even began to believe it to be a scam. The game was inundated with negative reviews, and the performance of the game led to the developers closing its doors only four days later. 

Marketing’s Impact on a Video Game’s Success

When analyzing examples of successful marketing campaigns, one might find avenues worth exploring. For example, given the rise of mobile games, and the popularity of gaming videos and influencers on sites like Twitch or YouTube, one publisher decided to combine the trends in one campaign. Supercell, the developer behind Brawl Stars, worked with 10 influencers to promote the game ahead of launch, leading to 5 million registrations once the release date was announced. The coverage the game has received by influencers led it to become the most played game on YouTube in 2020. It continues to be downloaded, climbing back with 4.96 million downloads in 2023.

Brawl Stars – Gameplay Walkthrough

Games Launched in Poor State After Good Marketing

An important aspect of game development is ensuring the finished product meets player’s expectations and is accurate to its marketing. A notable example comes in the form of Batman: Dark Tomorrow, which released in 2003. The game was touted to be an open world adventure, allowing players to traverse Gotham City using different vehicles. However, upon its release, the game was inundated with negative reviews, with frustrations about the gameplay and presentation of the game itself being a main focus of criticism.

More Technical Issues Plaguing A Game Launch

For every success, there are several games that launched to poor reception due to poor performance. Technical issues, such as unplayability, can significantly hinder the game post launch. One such example was the PC release for Batman: Arkham Knight, which emanated from the critically acclaimed Arkham series developed by Rocksteady. The action/adventure title was panned by players on PC, for whom the game was virtually unplayable, a reception which led to a complete sales freezing for the PC release. The importance of playability is only outshined by the importance of performance. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series had a sterling reputation, but their 2014 release, Assassin’s Creed:Unity seemed to break their streak, suffering from numerous bugs and glitches at launch, such as characters missing faces. The outcry from fans led Ubisoft to try and compensate, giving away a free expansion for the game, Dead Kings, and offering the choice of a free game from Ubisoft’s catalog to those who bought the season pass, in addition to an apology issued by the developers. Despite the game’s reputation, technical problems plagued their releases, leading to backlash which adversely affected sales or overall perception.

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