Gamescom has been another great games convention, highlighting yet again the strength and diversity of the industry that we all love and hate in equally passionate measures. For many though, particularly those of us who were unable to attend, one thing shone through brighter than all the other news and noise. At first a rather innocuous announcement during Sony’s press conference highlighted a small ‘Interactive trailer’ that was available to be downloaded from the PlayStation Store.
Called P.T. and developed by the totally unknown 7780s, it was a first person horror game that confused, scared, intrigued and frustrated players, possibly in that order too. For those that were able to get to the ‘end’ a few were lucky enough to be plucked by the ‘game’ where they were shown the true purpose of P.T. – a playable teaser – for a new Silent Hill game titled Silent Hills featuring the heavyweight talents of Hideo Kojima, Guillermo Del Toro and Norman Reedus.
The bomb had been dropped and for the first time in a long time a brilliant marketing strategy had fully engaged with its target audience. The whole experience from a gaming perspective was brilliant, cunning and perfectly executed and should be remembered for a long time to come. It is – in my opinion – the best reveal of any game in the last decade. Kojima you utter, utter troll.
The reason why I attribute so much acclaim to the way Silent Hills was revealed is not because of the bait and switch, there is nothing new about that or even the fact that it was a ‘playable teaser’, it was the simple brilliance and design of P.T. itself, forcing people to play and act in a particular way. Kojima and company have been incredibly astute in their latest endeavor. They have honed into one (large) aspect of gaming culture which happens online and in a move reminiscent of the early days of online advertising where viral marketing was rife, they created a stupendous amount of hype from next to nothing by utilizing how we as a community communicate and one particular area that was targeted to devastating effect was gameplay streaming.
Streaming has exploded over the last few years, with millions of daily viewers watching a multitude of content, but when P.T. hit it was slightly different. People soon found that they were getting stuck and lost in an almost incomprehensible maze which demanded unanimously that you go and seek help from your peers. So naturally you turn to the internet forums to resolve your current predicament and away you go again to apply your new found knowledge. It wouldn’t be long before you were stuck again though and this is where 90% of players ended up, myself included. Trapped in a slightly nonsensical loop of events that you knew must mean something right? There must be an end.
Back to the forums again, trawling through the posts to find any glimmer of a solution and suddenly I read that someone had a yellow flashlight, mine was green, someone else’s was blue. What did this all mean? After being drip fed enough of a story, and several good scares I just had to complete this, but after three hours I gave up and was totally frustrated. So I resigned myself to watching someone else streaming from their PS4 and I found that they had over two thousand people watching along as well. A recurring question kept popping up in the chat “where is the last pic piece?”
It made me instantly go back in and start looking as I had yet to complete the picture puzzle and maybe this will allow me to continue. I had no such luck so suspending the game I went back to look for another stream, by this point the Live on PS4 was filled with users streaming their P.T. experience so a dip into another stream revealed the secret behind all the noise, at first I shrugged it off as a load of crap, Kojima, Del Toro and Reedus, yeah sure mate, obvious troll is obvious.
Of course the true troll was Kojima and company all along. They took something that is generally peculiar to gaming – the watching of other people playing games – particularly horror titles and turned into a massive marketing ploy. They knew that as a community we overcome problems and find solutions together, just look at the huge efforts of people looking for the answers to GTAV’s Mount Chiliad mystery, or the hunt for Battlefield 4 multiple Easter eggs.
To use this power, to make it an experience places the Silent Hills trailer at the top of the pile of game reveals of the last decade and possibly even of all time. It got the brains turning, tongues wagging and fingers furiously typing of many who experienced it and crucially not because of the end result but because of the intricacies of the journey towards the seeming impossible but tantalizing end.
As history has taught us word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool available but increasingly difficult to master and I’m sure that other companies will try to follow suit but only a few will be able to do it right, so be prepared for more bumps along the way as others try to get a slice of the pie.
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