PR materials of upcoming games find themselves under a lot of scrutiny, and sometimes intense debate. There’s always going to be an element of exaggeration in the old art of selling, but games in particular seem to have bred a culture of mistrust between the marketers and their audience. I’m not laying blame, though, because how to get people excited about a title in development is actually a more difficult question than one would first think. Speaking simply, we have three options:
A. Show something that’s not done yet and that doesn’t give an indication of the final game quality;
B. Spend a lot of time and resources creating a movie or a rigged demo in-game;
C. Just go with complete fakery made by an outside group.
All three choices are unappealing for different reasons. The first option contains the risk of people judging and dismissing the game based on unfinished work. The second is expensive and distracts the team from what they really should be doing – finishing the game properly. The third has the potential to be dishonest, generates knee-jerk sarcasm from the hardcore audience and sets the wrong expectations.
A lot of the bigger games get some combination of these three things, and this can provide much grist for the mill of hate. For example, a game’s early PR campaign might start off with C., because the game doesn’t work yet and there’s nothing to show, and then we’re in for a huge contrast and a cavalcade of self-righteous “I told you so”s when we finally release media in the A. category. Or, for another example, I once worked on a game where the PR campaign started with C., and then several months later we nearly killed ourselves getting B. done. When our awesome B. demo was finally shown to the world, commentators who style themselves savvy said things like “when are they going to stop releasing this stupid pre-rendered crap?”
If we as an industry had established terminology and were more forthcoming about what exactly we’re showing, all three options would go down better with our audience. Let’s say we all agreed to call the C. option the “concept video” - then we could be clear on the intent of the movie as well as eliminate the idea that actual gameplay is featured. We could clearly say that the point of the concept video is to represent the idea of the game and to provide a graphical bar for which the actual team will shoot. This way, we could still create these movies and get consumers excited about the game, while avoiding practices that contain the potential for deception.