The Latin word preemption, as defined by Merriam-Webster, means "taking possession before others." In the general public’s vernacular it could be defined as "jumping the gun." Lately, the game industry has done a lot of this. The gaming public would often leap at the chance to get something early, just look at the wild success of demos that are released ahead of the actual title. We are a fickle bunch; the community would be great voters, "early and often" are mottoes many of us live by. Don’t believe me? Allow me to change those words to synonyms that fit the scenario. How many games do you pre-order, or pre-budget for a year? Exactly.
If recent trends are anything to go by, then the industry has decided to join in on the act. Just not in a fashion that makes a whole lot of sense. In fact, it’s been done in ways that should piss us off. The whole "next-gen" era of publicity subscribes to that same colloquialism. More and more frequently, publishers and developers have teased upcoming titles with little more than a single email, a slip of the tongue, or an actual piece of media. The scenario has become such a common occurrence that a trio of common styles has managed to form.
Viral marketing - This kind of early campaigning is likely the most successful when it hits, but certainly the most expensive. The most recognizable instance would be Microsoft, Bungie, and 42 Entertainment’s Alternate Reality Game (ARG) for Halo 2 know as ILoveBees.
Teasers - A far more common and substantially less expensive method to get the word out early is a simple teaser. Recent notable titles to use this method include Activision’s Modern Warfare 2 and Electronic Arts’ Mass Effect 2 and Army of Two: The 40th Day. The media, which is often vague and short on details, is generally distributed via websites or exclusive agreements with magazines.
Blank slate - Rather than actually divulge any information at all, the purveyors of this form of public relations simply state intent. This is an awful way to get your name in the press and unfortunately, it works. Rather than ignore an announcement of an upcoming announcement, the gaming press often picks up the tip as "news" instead of ignoring it as a waste of megabytes.
The first to forms of advanced marketing are fine and dandy, but teasing an announcement days to weeks ahead of actually making that announcement is where we as gamers (and journalists) should draw the line. With the act becoming more and more frequent, inching toward acceptance, we need to demand something from these "announcement" and "news" postings other than the headline. Honestly, is it really that hard to throw together a short clip, upload a few pieces of concept art to the company’s website, or drop an email to any number of outlets? The act boarders on gross misconduct… like cash-grabbing downloadable content (DLC).
There is no point beating around the bush on this one. Capcom, a company that should be respected and loved for its number of fantastic series, should be ashamed for how it has handled DLC lately. Weeks ahead of the two most recent big titles, Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil 5, the company announced that the games would be receiving premium DLC at launch or shortly thereafter. Premium content at launch is a welcome feature, if the content shouldn’t have been released on the disc. We pick on Capcom because the company is the most recent, and highest profile offender of the "Horse Armor" style DLC.
"Horse Armor" has become an industry term dedicated to bad or shoddy DLC. The phrase is based on Bethesda’s premium content for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, in which the $2.50 package contained nothing but shiny horse armor. The content does enable one’s stead to take more damage, but it was more often purchased as an aesthetic pleasure. Oblivion’s dip into the dark side is relatively benign when we look at Capcom’s recent offerings. First off, the Horse Armor was launched as one of the first packs of DLC EVER. Although it doesn’t offer a whole lot of gameplay benefits, it does offer some. The same cannot be said for Capcom’s Street Fighter IV DLC. The publisher had the audacity to lock character outfits that were developed for the Arcade edition and included on the disk, then offer it for "download" as five separate packages. Outrageous.
Months later, Capcom is planning to follow its incorrigible acts with Street Fighter IV via Resident Evil 5’s Versus mode. In its defense, the company has never released a multiplayer component for the survival horror series. Another boon to its credibility is that the package is actually adding gameplay, rather than pretty, already completed, outfits for Sheva or Chris. Unfortunately, the timing of the release is a bit off, leading many gamers to feel that Capcom may have neutered Resident Evil 5 in an attempt to make extra cash post launch. The timing of the announcement, along with the recent backlash from SFIV’s DLC, did nothing to help the publisher.
The only way either of these annoying tactics will be modified is if the community stands against them. In the future we hope to see publishers, developers, and marketing firms think before they act. DLC announcements too close to release can alienate the very audience they are catering to. Announcements with nothing to them, frankly are just a waste of time. Despite our best efforts, it is unlikely that shoddy DLC will go the way of the Dodo bird. The nearly useless Horse Armor release, the epitome of bad DLC, is still purchased by gamers on a daily basis almost three years after it was released. We’ve yet to see the Verus Mode for RE5, so we can’t fairly judge its contributions. Hopefully the same trend won’t follow for Street Fighter IV’s fake DLC. Don’t be mistaken, it is not DLC at all… just a quick cash grab.