Traditionally, video games have been announced like major construction projects. “Coming, three years from now, something you need to know about!” Developers thrust their stake into the market sands and proclaim that at some distant date, providing everything stays on schedule, a next-generation experience awaits the faithful. Queue aching months of sweaty anticipation, masturbatory fawning over leaked concept art and game-stills until, the holy grail, a gameplay video or perhaps an official release date.
That’s all still happening with Fallout 4, but this time the hysteria has been confined to less than six months. And, like a pressurized gas, it has become all the more explosive because of it. On November 10, Bethesda will harness that fuel and ride to the stars, or alternatively explode under the fiery rage of a fan base who can almost taste the apocalypse.
The hype train was set in motion on June 2nd this year when a 24-hour timer appeared on Bethesda’s Fallout website. With terrible and instantaneous omniscience, Reddit lost its collective mind in rapturous joy while the internet’s gaming press fretted over the countdown like it was the sign of the end times. On June 3rd at 10.00EST, upon expiration of the timer, there was a second, much greater impact as the existence of Fallout 4 was confirmed with several minutes of glorious, next-generation nuclear wasteland.
Less than two weeks later – Bethesda’s first E3 showcase. Game Director Todd Howard took centre stage like a reincarnated Steve Jobs with more hair and less malevolence. He paced back and forward as if he had something important to say. And then he didn’t say anything important, instead going on a tangent about what the E3 conference was like 20 years in the past. The glory days; a time when video games were next to porn in terms of fringe interests. But then, with a flare for narrative structure, Howard brought it back around with suspicious ease and dropped a big, fat ‘F’ bomb on the audience. Fallout, that is. A new crafting system, new enemies, even a companion app with a real life plastic brace to strap to the players arm, all released before summer. Howard was delivering the goods, feeding the masses. It was some real bread-and-circus, Ancient Rome shit. Then he announced Fallout Shelter, a free, standalone game for the smartphone. It went live immediately and was the top app in 48 countries almost overnight.
There’s an entire industry of YouTubers who make their living picking over promotional material like 9/11 truthers. Frame by frame they dissect trailers and developer blogs, searching desperately for a unique insight or some freshly conceived possibility to regurgitate to their audience. Kind of like me. Bethesda has them hooked on the product, and it’s been in plentiful supply as of late, with a weekly series of instructional cartoons detailing gameplay mechanics and character information going live every Thursday into November. The videos are edited in a way that removes segments of dialogue and intentionally obscures certain information just to really freak the information junkies out. They average over one million views every week.
The Bethesda blitzkrieg has left triple-A releases like The Witcher 3 and this year’s Fifa struggling for coverage on the sidelines. With just twenty minutes of Fallout 4 gameplay live on YouTube, some of the faithful are already ‘crying game of the year’ with the certainty of blind faith. Other, more reserved, commentators are quietly excited. Everyone, however, is unanimous – this is how to market a game for maximum hype.
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