Hi-Fi Rusha game built around the concept of pure joy, was notable last week for two things. One, it’s really very good! And second, he pulled off the rarest of video game feats: a successful surprise release.
By surprise, I mean absolute surprise. One minute nobody even knew the game existed, the next day it was available to download and play on Xbox and PC. In this year of our Lord 2023, how often does this happen… to anything? All over? Never is how many times!
As a result, the game doesn’t feel like a breath of fresh air, it’s like a gust blowing us away, and while I don’t want to underestimate any aspect of the game itself when talking about its success, let’s be honest. here: this game is so fresh not only because it’s an amazing game, but because it hasn’t been wrung out for 12 months by a long marketing campaign.
What I’m about to say here isn’t meant to directly disparage anyone who works in video game marketing: you have jobs to do to sell video games, and in the vast majority of cases, that involves people who do very good work. Whether it’s creating hit trailers or just chatting with (potential) fans on social media, it’s hard work and one that in the majority of cases I fully understand and with which I completely understand, especially since the system they operate in – selling games on storefronts obsessed with pre-orders and wishlists – requires it.
But I am not responsible for doing just one advertising campaign. I, like you, am the recipient of thousands of them, all at once, everywhere we look. From previews on major sites to YouTube to Twitter to Discord, anyone interested in video games on the internet is under siege from the second we log on to the second we log off. Here is a thing, pre-order it, learn more about this thing, pre-order it.
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I’ve covered this in my Death’s Blood previously saga pieces, but video game marketing still has some predictability. Not in terms of specific aspects of their campaign – a AAA blockbuster obviously has a different marketing budget than a small independent release – but in the way they can so often guarantee to burn us out.
It’s not enough to show us the world, genre, and premise of a game. We need to be told the backstory of each main character. Shown an explainer of traditions for the world. We’re told how many lines of dialogue are in the script, how many thousands of hours it could take to complete, who each voice actor is. We’re conditioned, and in many cases expected, to be fans of a game we haven’t even played by the time of release. Which of course, is all the interest.
Imagine if, instead of appearing out of nowhere, Hi-Fi Rush had been the subject of a traditional Bethesda marketing campaign. Image seeing it revealed at The Game Awards in December 2021, its bright light dimmed by the weight of the bigger, more expensive games it was revealed with. Imagine being subjected to Chai’s worst lines as part of a character reveal trailer on YouTube, instead of warming up to his Fry-From-Futurama-esque charms during the game’s opening hours. What if instead of the game getting so much fun revealing its cast and world on its own terms, we’d already spoiled it with a Meet Project Armstrong documentary?
It would have sucked! The game itself would still have been great, of course, but much of the joy of discovery that accompanied its release, a modern schoolyard buzz, would have been lost. To be clear, as I’ve said before, I’m not saying any of this to shame any particular worker, studio, or agency involved in bringing another video game to market. The trees are not the problem here. It is the forest.
That’s what makes Hi-Fi Rush so special. It’s one of the only games that could get away with it. Note that I didn’t call for an end to video game marketing here, or say that more games should try this, because the former would be pointless (it’s a big forest!) and the latter would be reckless advice. As much as Hi-Fi Rush looks like a remastered GameCube game, and unlike anything out there, it was developed by a reputable AAA studio and published by Bethesda, then released on Xbox Game Pass so people can try it out “for free.” It was perhaps lucky to be the only possible combination of style, range and pedigree that could even afford to try this, let alone hope to get away with it.
So I don’t mean Hi-Fi Rush should be a Example. I just want to say that we should all cherish this game for what it is and how it came to us, because either way the circumstances are as perfect as we could have hoped for, and we may never see them again. never to be lined up like Again this. Surprises are nice, but few are as nice as a good video game surprise.