The recent unceremonious announcements of high profile titles Halo 5: Guardians and Far Cry 4 beg a certain question. Should you announce games before E3?
With certain games, the answer is obvious. E3 can be a great platform for news, the world is watching video games in a way it never usually does and that widens your potential audience hugely. However, the sheer size of what is going on makes it easy to get lost. Smaller games suffer the most from this, especially ones that can’t get a showing at a press conference. They fall under the radar and taking this kind of game to E3 means spending a lot of money to be ignored. Not a great proposition. However, if you are confident that people will want to see your game, getting out ahead is a great move.
If you announce during E3 you are one game amongst so many others, if you announce in a week before it then the stage can be yours alone. This leads to people being aware of your game and, if it looks really cool, people will come and see it. In this regard announcing before E3 is the best move, you won’t get lost in the shuffle because people will come in wanting to know more about your game. If you don’t do this, your game could be an afterthought that people return too later, then you would be best served skipping the whole event all together. In this situation, announcing puts you in a better position to take advantage of the positive side of E3, while avoiding the potential downside.
Halo and Far Cry are different beasts though. These are the kinds of games which cause others to get lost. They tower over like behemoths, the more dedicated gamer may be interested in the more niche scene but overall coverage has to cater to the wider audience. As previously hinted at, E3 is the time when national press start to take notice of games. These outlets only want to report on the mainstream; things that will appeal to a wide readership that perhaps play only a couple of big releases every year. After all, those that are more involved in the gaming scene will get their news elsewhere. All of this means that these big ‘triple A’ releases get the lion’s share.
However, one cannot rule out the competitive angle of E3. Far Cry 4 and Halo 5 are coming from Ubisoft and Microsoft respectively, both companies that have major press conferences at E3. The press conference is your chance to wow everybody, to show the world that your company is the one to look at in the following year or two. They want people to watch their press conferences so that they can advertise to a larger audience. Though Ubisoft and Microsoft aren’t in direct competition, they still both want the most people possible watching them on stage. Also there is the issue we will soon refer to of ‘winning’ E3.
Known quantities are safer bets than mysteries. Knowing you are going to see the new Halo is probably more enticing than presuming you will see it. By adopting the tactic of merely announcing a game, showing nothing else (bar a vague promotional image), you leave the audience wanting more. So many people will be interested in seeing what direction known franchises like Halo and Far Cry will take, especially in regard to new hardware. This opens up a lot of possibilities in our minds and the only way to find out is to check back in at E3. It’s a clever tactic, you know Far Cry 4 exists, but that is all. A lot of people are probably very excited and know that the first chance to properly see it is at E3. This probably means more people rushing to watch the press conference (or paying attention to it). This makes you the one to watch at E3 and creates a lot of buzz around you. You also have the benefit of people going into E3 wanting to hear about your new game, guaranteeing a lot of press coverage. It’s nice to be a surprise hit, but you can’t plan for this as effectively as you can for a known quantity.
This all being said though, I still don’t think this tactic is the best. Though these games are almost guaranteed to be big hits at E3, do not underestimate the power of a surprise. Newly announced games are inherently more exciting than known quantities and greatly contribute to ‘winning E3’. This is something that makes a lot of people groan, but it’s something that undeniably happens. People do care about who ‘won’ E3 – meaning, which of the press conference giving companies had the best showing. The reason why announcements matter is because E3 is all about that moment; it’s about spectacle and showing off. Announcing what will surely be a popular title in front of a room of people is an exciting thing to do. It makes the conference far more memorable and just makes E3 in general more exciting. After all, that is kind of the appeal of E3, finding out about new games.
I think a middle ground is needed though, people being aware that something is going to happen will ensure they pay attention, but this shouldn’t detract from the fun of E3 (or the company’s presence at the show). Instead of announcing before the fact, and taking away a great opportunity for an exciting E3 announcement, they could tease it. Put people in a position where they are intrigued, they know something is coming (not just think) but they don’t know what. A teaser image and a countdown to E3 will make people watch your presence at E3, even if the teaser is obvious. For a new Halo game, show a Spartan’s helmet, or something very particular to the franchise with a countdown. We are then left in the position of knowing there’s something Halo shaped coming at E3 (for definite), but there’s some uncertainty. At the moment we are left asking what Guardians is, but I feel even the tiny information we know is too much. A name reveal is a big thing and the underwhelming announcements of Far Cry 4 and Halo 5: Guardians haven’t done the name power justice.
Admittedly, teases are annoying and even this is perhaps too much. I would personally just prefer big surprise after big surprise. One observation you could make though, is that Ubisoft and Microsoft throwing these out so casually does imply that they have bigger things to get to in their press conferences, which is very exciting. But they are going to show these games anyway, announcing it then with a proper stage demo adds only a few seconds (all you need to do is put up those promotional images and have somebody say the game exists). It would be much more exciting, and much more effective, for the companies if they kept big reveals to E3. If you feel you need people excited beforehand, hint and tease. A secret is a powerful thing, revealing it should be a careful process if you want to get the best possible reaction. For this reason I think big announcements should be kept to E3, they make it more exciting for the viewer (and make boring press conferences worth watching) and they garner a lot of excitement for the companies involved.