So Fallout 4 got announced today after a “mysterious” online countdown, and everybody on the internet either cried, fainted, or stained their underwear en masse.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve been super-hyped about games before, most people have. Not to mention that the Fallout Series has a proud lineage of some genuinely excellent games, as well as one of the most charismatic interpretations of a nuclear wasteland I’ve ever seen, a sentence I never thought I’d say. Bethesda are pretty good at delivering high quality games, and sandbox has always been their bread and butter, so yeah – this one’s probably worth getting a little excited over.
No, what I want to talk about is the way it was announced and the events leading up to it. I realise that this is the second article this week about ad campaigns, but I felt rather startled by the relative clarity of Fallout 4’s announcement. It was all very smooth, very clear, it all just made sense, whilst keeping us in the dark just enough to make us curious. It wasn’t only me who thought this – a friend of mine, the biggest Fallout fan I know, agreed with this too. The whole thing just ran like watery clockwork.
That said, I guess they didn’t want to make people too suspicious or to act too coy about it all, because there’s some rather raw history there. There was a rather famous hoax a couple of years ago, when somebody made a false site themed with nuclear imagery, also utilising a countdown, but this one went for two weeks before the lie was revealed. Everybody got really excited about it then, too, and of course got very, very angry when they found out the truth. Meanwhile, I had my fist in my mouth and was trying desperately not to laugh.
I know, people got upset by it, but a buddy of mine got upset when he was hit in the head by a Frisbee, and I laughed at that too.
But I rather admire Bethesda’s methodology here. They start with the mysterious countdown, except everybody knows it’s not THAT mysterious, so no chance of people’s imagination running away with them. On top of which, it only went for 24 hours, so that should stop any of the more extreme conspiracy theories about it being Nuclear Skyrim or Half-Life 3 getting any traction in the short time period. Of course, the countdown, though brief, did last long enough to get everybody who was on the lookout for such an event aware of it. Gold star there.
The trailer? Well, it’s pretty good. It shows the pre-war aspect of the Fallout universe, something we’ve never seen in much detail. It shows epic pirate ships, an updated version of the old deathclaws, and what looks like the killer Zeppelin from the end of Alan Moore’s “The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Enough to remind us of the stuff we love, mixed in with enough mystery to awake our curiosity, the most powerful urge we have. Now I WANT to know more, it’s the same as the XCOM 2 trailer we saw on Monday. There’s a lot of footage that looks like it’s from the game, though no gameplay itself, sadly. Except that at the same moment it was released Bethesda chirped that we get to see gameplay at E3 later on. Fair enough, now I know where to go for that info if I want it. Gold star again.
It may sound like all this is fairly normal or self-explanatory, but games are so often the subject of bizarre or damaging ad campaigns. Whether it’s Aliens: Colonial Marines lying to the public outright, or Ubisoft refusing to contextualize the cover of Far Cry 4 in order to stop it from looking racist (which it wasn’t in the end, but I wish we knew that), a lot of publishers will do weird things to advertise their games. It’s simply not true that all publicity is good publicity, at least not for games. So why do publishers indulge bizarre methods when it comes to getting the brand out there?
They get especially odd when it comes to leaked information. If a bit of gameplay info gets out onto the internet without clearance, the first thing everybody does is look to the developers, one eyebrow raised. Yes or no? True or false? And remember that if they say nothing, we’ll probably believe it anyway.
But they always go quiet, always go still. Like a crocodile lying at the bottom of a river, they’re waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Except that whilst they’re waiting, a lion has already killed the prey by the riverbank, and is starting to drag it off to eat. But still that crocodile just lies there, determined to come out when he’s ready, regardless of how badly he’s ballsed up his strategy or how much the world has altered in ways not to his advantage.
You see, I suspect that the publishers always have a Plan. A big, proper Plan. The kind with charts and folders and the like. You know the kind I mean, it would probably go something like this:
- Month one: make suggestive noises in an interview, but don’t commit to anything.
- Month two: surprise everybody at a convention with gameplay.
- Month three: Lie through your teeth, because anything will fly with enough hot air beneath it.
- Month four: Rent forklift truck to carry our pre-order money back to the office.
And whether out of pride, terror, stubborness, or just plain idiocy, they can never deviate from that Plan. Even when it’s in their best interests to give it up and just do something much more sensible, they never do. Too much investment, perhaps, or they just can’t work out how to react to events that fast. That’s why a rough plan, or one that is very simple, is much more beneficial. It’s less of a house of cards, less dependant on everything else. That’s why Fallout knows what it’s doing in this regard. Keep it simple, keep it memorable, keep it short. A+.
Now to remind myself of the series properly. Except for Little Lamplight, of course. That sequence can go suck on the business end of a MIRV.