Hey Publishers! You’re Doing it Wrong

One of the interesting, if not unique, aspects of the games industry is the way in which publishers announce new titles and the times they choose to do so.

Over the last week EA has accidentally leaked Crysis 3 before confirming it, Amazon leaked God of War Ascension before Sony officially announced it (though they were going to confirm the prequel today anyway), and Microsoft revealed the date of Halo 4’s launch to be November 6, the same date as the US Presidential Election.

While a poster released by Activision essentially confirmed a Black Ops 2 reveal for May 2 and Nintendo also recently announced a new Pikmin and Mario (probably Super Mario Galaxy 4) will also be announced for the Wii U at E3.

None of these games were particularly unexpected, especially the Call of Duty sequel.

Yet all this came in spite of the fact that the biggest trade show in the industry, E3, is less than two months away.

Similarly for the last several years major titles, Mass Effect 3, Skyrim, The Last of Us, and so on have been announced at the VGAs. Even ComicCon, which isn’t even supposed to be about games, has its fair share of announcements. In what other medium would that happen? They don’t announce new movies at the Academy Awards after all.

Even within the games industry no one announces new games at the Canadian Video Game Awards or the BAVGAs (British Academy Video Game Awards).

So why do publishers insist on announcing some of their largest games at times that make little sense? Yes this creates buzz in what might be an otherwise dry spell for new games and announcements but it leaves remarkably little for Gamescom, E3 and so on.

If you look back at E3 over the last few years how many genuine surprises have there been? How many games has no one known anything about in advance?

Take for example Nintendo’s E3 press conference last year. There was all of one Wii game, Skyward Sword, a handful of Wii U titles (many of which were in fact videos of the games on other systems), and a handful of 3DS titles, some of which had not been revealed before. But, for 10-15 minutes or so the conference was a Zelda concert, no new games, no new revelations.

This is not me picking on Nintendo. Ubisoft, by far, had the worst show last year (Youtube Mr Caffeine and you’ll see what I mean). There were no Earth shattering announcements last year, at any of the conferences. There were no major surprises. Overall there was very little that was new.

Imagine if God of War Ascension, Crysis 3 and Halo’s 4 release date had been saved for the companies press conferences in June. Apart from running games journalists off their feet trying to get their stories out by deadline the combination of these major titles, in addition to whatever will be announced (for some reason I’m sure most of them will have Kinect support and frankly annoying children playing them during Microsoft’s media briefing) would have surely made E3 2012 one of the biggest in years.

That of course, is unless there are new consoles set to be unveiled at in June. In which case we’ll surely be looking at few new games, and maybe some new IP announcements (new franchises always sell better in the immediate post-launch period). If either the PS4/Orbis or the Xbox 720/Durango (and/or possibly Kinect 2.0) then both Sony and Microsoft would surely have an excuse. As would EA and Ubisoft if they have dev-kits for the next generation consoles which they almost certainly would at this stage.

God of War Ascension’s reveal and Halo 4’s release date wouldn’t be lost amidst the new console announcements but they wouldn’t attract nearly as much attention as they did. And no God of War Ascension almost certainly isn’t a PS4 game. This is partly because it was announced before the system and partly because the PlayStation blog is hosting a live streaming event on April 30. Nor does it mean that Sony will not announce a new system at E3, after all God of War 2 was a PS2 title, arriving in fact in the same week that the PS3 launched in Europe.

The mistake Nintendo made last year was showing tech-demos that focused on the controller without actual new games. In fact some of the people in attendance (all of them either in the industry or in the games media) were slightly confused at the time as to whether or not the Wii U was a new system or just a new controller.

New consoles are always exciting but a console is only ever as good as it’s software. This is exactly why it’s so important to make major game announcements at these major industry events. Sony and Microsoft’s new platforms will of course draw massive amounts of media attention, but they’ll need games to merit that attention and there’s no better time than when next generation consoles are launched.

So keep your fingers crossed for some surprises this E3, new consoles or not.