Here in a dark basement, a former bomb shelter under a big industrial building i sit in front of screens set to monitor the Internet for signs of Internets nerdier denizens buzzing about our game. Every time someone says something remotely interesting, my computer spits out sharp sounds making my heart jump in hope/fear of it being a review. Sometimes an hour passes and there is nothing and I start fearing that the interest has died forever, that there will be no more pings, no more tweets no more Facebook nonsense. To kill time I am trying to finish Netflix for the "End of Entertainment" achievement but my thoughts are elsewhere, dreaming dreams of loving journalists writing reviews searching for synonyms for the word heavenly, (because lets face it, that word no gaming journalist should use in any review). At the same time I watch seconds go by fearing for the reviewers to misunderstand, be bad or find that one in a million bug that destroys the 3DS unit in a way that blows off their hand. My job is to monitor the internet so that the others don't have to. My job is to not start drooling lik a Pavlovian dog at the sound of TweetDeck.
There might be more to see behind the curtains than we think regarding the strange case of Randy and the Aliens. A project that started such a long time ago has of course had its ups and downs and probably seen the end of the tunnel of possibilities more than one time. Obviously the game has been built, rebuilt and then taken apart again several times.
Good marketing kills bad products!
Now, the real mystery is of course why they kept on showing a version of the game so different from what would later come out. As a marketing guy I must say I am very surprised by the discrepancy between final product and the marketing material. It is such a fundamental thing not oversell a product, at least to that degree. All differences between the promises made about a product and what the product can deliver is very damaging both in the short and the long run.
The difference between what was promised and what was delivered I call an expectation gap. All expectation gaps will turn into emotional reactions. When the gap is negative you will get disappointed and feel cheated. When the gap is positive you will get positive reactions and people will spread a positive word. (side note on spreading the word. Rule of thumb says that a disappointed buyer tells 3 times as many persons about a bad product than a satisfied customer tells about a good product).
So, the simple fact is that if you make a very good marketing campaign for a bad product it will in the long run actually make it sell less. The marketing will bring a critical mass of disappointed customers to complain to their friends and warn them about the product. There are several cases through history when products sold better in markets in which they had no marketing than in markets where the marketing effort was high. The other way around, to undersell a product, will of course result in fewer people wanting to buy the product. (In the case of games it probably might help the reviews since reviewers will get positively surprised).
This might not have been a mistake!
This is, as I said earlier, very well researched and its about the first thing you learn in marketing 101. So why did SEGA do this huge mistake? My answer is that they probably didn't. My guess is that after the game was delayed for so long, SEGA decided to make it a launch game for the new generation of consoles. This would explain the very good looking game we saw in the preview material sinced it was aimed for more powerful consoles. Current console generations simply couldn't handle all the graphical goodies and the AI resource hogging and when they changed course and decided to launch it now due to some unexplained reason (perhaps IP rights or economics or something like that) all the changes needed to strip down the game broke it. I can easily see a game break horribly when you take it apart to make it fit into a weaker system.
I choose to believe this is probably why this calamity went down. Alternative reasons all boils down to pure stupidity and in this day and age businesses and marketeers should, and must, know better.
I am surprised that so few have grasped what Nintendo tried to do with this press conference. Granted, they failed miserably, but still.
This was an education effort. They know that the key to success, and to sales in general, is to educate the customer. In this case everyone needs to grasp the idea of asymetric gameplay. I feel they have not really found their “elevator pitch”, the one sentence that brings light into darkness and ease into worried minds. This is not easy to achieve even for simple products, but for a thing like the Wii U it is almost impossible. A Wii U is larger than just the hardware, it is a an idea, an abstract thought that is hard to convey. Communicating the Wii was much easier. All you have to do is to aim a camera on a guy that stands in front of a TV, frantically flailing about with that white stick in hand. It simply looked fun!
In the Nintendo E3 press conference, Katsuya Eguchi, a guy I am sure is a wonderful man, was ungratefully tasked with explaining the idea of asymetric gameplay via a mini game called Luigis Ghost Mansion. A game which in short is a reversed tag game and is quite easy to understand, but which he spent over 3 unsuccessful minutes explaining in a way that should be bottled and sold as a sleeping aid. The discrepancy between poor Katsuya and the E3 king of energy and short pitch efforts, Randy Pitchford (The man even has the word pitch in his name!) was enormous! His 30 seconds on what the Wii U GamePad does for gaming during his Gamespot appearance for Aliens: Colonial Marines did more for the Wii U than Nintendos Whole hour.
What they should have done is what they said they would do, namely show games. Less talk, more colours, explosions, cute thingys and strange gameplay that captures the mind. With great great games comes great realisations and I think that using the E3 press conference for an educational effort was an erroneous act. They should have invigorated their fan base with mind blowing videos, surprises and promises of a wonderful future. If they had been able to arouse the minds of gamers they would have sought out the knowledge by ourselves, would have read, spread and evangelized.
The know what the have to do but cant find the way to do it! This is, however, far from over and I adhere to the old wise men that says “Never bet against Nintendo”.