Wednesday, 13 July 2016 00:00

The Hype Stuff: How Game Developers Can Learn from Bethesda and Fallout 4

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In just a few months, Bethesda's latest gem will hit store shelves and effectively ruin countless relationships. I'm writing all this down with drool in my mouth because I am so excited about this game. Fallout, as a series, has always worked to take the genre forward. Each iteration of the RPG introduced innovative gameplay, stellar graphics, and unique storytelling elements. To say that the franchise revolutionized gaming would be to sell it short.

Fallout 4 stands ready to do all of that and more. Introducing several game-changers for the developer--fully-voiced protagonists, base-building, vehicles--the latest installment in the post-apocalypse looks to be the best in the series. It's not going out on a limb to say F4 is a serious contender for Game of the Year, even coming out as late as it is. 

But Bethesda has done a lot more in the development of Fallout 4 than just move the ball forward. They have taken great steps in demonstrating the proper way to launch a AAA title. The marketing, scripting, and even the graphical changes all stem from a place of experience, and Bethesda has shown a deft hand in the past few months. I think it's something we can all learn from. So let's have a quick glance at four ways Bethesda is straight crushing this launch.

4) Timing

If you've followed any of the AAA launches of the past year, you've no doubt seen the effect of early-hype on sales. It seems like a no-brainer: Getting word-of-mouth started early will let the gaming public know what to expect about your upcoming title. The issue really becomes about staying power. Sure, everyone knows The Division is coming out, and if you really follow the industry you probably know a few things about it. But is anyone still excited about a game that has been teased for three years? Does the average person even know what it's going to be about. 

Halo can get away with the long con, because Halo has been around for more than a decade. It is an established franchise. People are invested in its success. A new IP just can't stand on its own for such a lengthy development cycle. 

Compare that to the relatively svelte timeline for Fallout 4. Only six months before the due date, Bethesda finally pulled back the curtains on their new baby. This meant that the gaming public only had six month to be excited before the product was in hand. Some might say that only leaves so much time for market saturation, but you have to remember that this is the digital age, the time of the Internet. Six months is an eternity to a culture that expects EVERYTHING INSTANTLY.

Many companies are adopting this new strategy, teasing a product and launching it shortly after. With attention spans at an all time low, it is more important than ever to get your shiny object to the public's greasy hands as quickly as possible. Apple demonstrated this with the iPhone launch plan, and it seems to be working out pretty well for them, considering they haven't really changed much for their IP in over ten years. 

But it's not just about when you start the conversation about your game. It's also about what you choose to reveal.

3) Leaking the Story

Pop Quiz: How many movie trailers have you seen where the ENTIRE story is told in the span of 3 minutes? How about where they reveal key plot points and spoil huge moments in the movie? I'm looking at you, Castaway, Terminator: Genesys, Nim's Island. And now we're starting to see this in video games as well. Metal Gear Solid V is so concerned about staying in the limelight that they've revealed just about everything you could possibly want to know about the game. Granted, this is Hideo Kojima, so there's always a chance you play the second act as the Fire Whale, but that's an outside chance. 

Bethesda has stated that they will not discuss anything story related until launch, as they want gamers to experience the tale first hand. It is a bold move, and one that should become a more common trend in the industry. Franchises like Halo can get away with revealing a bit of story because most buyers want the action, not the yarn. RPGs tend to play things a little closer to the chest, and that is a great trait. I for one play my games for story, and I invent a story if one is not readily apparent. Each of my units in Civilization has a history, wants, and needs. I appreciate the lengths Bethesda is going to in order to avoid spoilers, and I think that the industry would be better if more developers took this lesson to heart.

In the beginning, video games were a means to an end. You had to get block A to eat circle B so that a musical tone would let you know you'd passed a level. Games didn't even have defined endings until Crystal Castles (1983). But that time is long passed, and the industry has finally been recognized for telling some pretty amazing stories. I dare anyone to tell me they played Last of Us and felt nothing for the characters. Or that you got through Uncharted without chuckling at Nathan's dialogue. Imagine how much less powerful some of those moments would have been had the story been spoiled already. 

Games take a lot of work to create, and there is only so much time to focus on each aspect of the product. Bethesda is one of the few companies using their time wisely.

2) Graphics that Matter

If you're a game developer and you've spent 90% of your budget on making the game look photo-realistic, then you've wasted time and money. The age of "graphics first, story second" is long over. Some of the highest grossing games around have graphics worse than my old Gameboy. While the visuals in a game are important, they are by no means the only factor in a successful IP. 

Bethesda realized this years ago, which is why they had been so adamant about staying with an aging engine rather than rebuilding from the ground up. They put more emphasis on gameplay and story, and all to great success. 

No one is going to sit here and say that Skyrim or New Vegas weren't pretty games. Their graphics did an excellent job of building a believable, livable universe. You felt that you were walking through a real world, not just set dressing. Sure, the character models were dated, and the gore effects a little over-the-top, but players remained immersed in the realm. When you make a 300+ hour experience, and people actually stick around for every one of those hours, then you must be doing something right. 

1) Make it About Fans

Bethesda loves its fans, as is evident by the love and care applied to the development of this latest sequel. They listen to complaints and peruse forums, searching for ways to make bigger, better games for the people who play them.

Look no further than the abysmal launch of Ubisoft's latest titles to see how well lip-service pays off. Gamers don't just want a bucket of content dumped on top of a lackluster story. We don't need a million side-quests that all revolve around the same three minigames. We don't want a map chock-full of icons and madness. We want to discover our world organically, through the pacing of the story or our own curiosity. We don't need our story spoon-fed to us through liberal cutscenes. We can learn by doing, and through appropriate dialogue. 

Bethesda has set out to create an ambitious follow-up to their hit series, and all evidence points toward a looming success. There are still hurdles ahead, no doubt. Fallout has a tendency to paint female characters...well, as poorly as just about every other video game out there. Some of the karma choices are a little too black and white to be interesting. And there are still naysayers who think this looks too last gen. 

For my part, I am excited to return to the nuclear wasteland, to listen to old radio stations, to combat giant fire ants in the Thunderdome.

I just hope other companies can learn from Bethesda's battle strategy.





Read 12281 times Last modified on Wednesday, 13 July 2016 11:40
Adam "ManKorn" Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor

Adam Korenman, a.k.a. ManKorn, is a writer/army officer living in Los Angeles, CA. If you enjoy his scribblings, follow him on Twitter and check out his new book!

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