Soon we’ll have a PSP design, Wii hard drive, and an Xbox 360 version of Metal Gear Solid 4. The video game industry does not seem to understand or respect the power of an internet rumor.
Last Thursday, a leaked Circuit City promo advertised the $599 Playstation 3 for $499 starting July 15th. Blogs began speculating on on an E3 announced price cut or a Circuit City exclusive sale. On Friday, Sony President and Electronics CEO Ryoji Chubachi told Reuters “At present we have no plans,” to cut the PS3 price.
Then, three days later, the exact $100 predicted price cut happened.
Fans of video games, movies, comics, and related media expect high levels of secrecy over the upcoming games, movies, comics, and related media. We even expect to be lied to. But in the age of blogs and average joe journalists, companies no longer get to write the rules.
Microsoft denied for an entire month how there was no new Xbox 360 even though blogs were publishing factory footage, box art, and a large assortment of circumstantial evidence. Finally, after about a week with leaked box art, Microsoft reveals their worst kept secret, the Elite.
Secrets are vital to many companies business strategies. Understandably, they want to control the story and flow of information. This is why so few journalists got such little time with the iPhone. Apple might have feared the phone’s flaws would be spotlighted and mulled over, drowning out the hype.
Video game companies seem to have less luck recently, lying repeatedly about updates that happen. Of course, the reasonable fear is people will hold off buying the system until the update comes. But maybe there’s a better way to handle these rumors. Cause denying them didn’t stop me from waiting for the Elite (and I’m still waiting for that PSP redesign).
In Sony’s case, the price cut was leaked shortly before the announcement (though they might have pushed up the announcement because of the leak). Instead of giving a blatant unquestioned, stick it to the fans “no imminent plans,” just keep quiet. Silence is golden, especially when you want to fuel rumors. Nothing gets rumors going more than a “No comment” quote. And while you may not want people waiting to buy the system, you do want them talking about the system. There’s no such thing as bad publicity.
For the longer run, like Microsoft, if you just can’t push up your announcement (like politicians). Or have some fun with the blogs. Play their game. Leak a little information at a time. Like the iPhone, give us a little information at a time. Then we can examine that over and over, debate whether we think it will be in the real version, how much extra does it cost, how will it really work? Speak in generalities, like “We really like HDMI output” so the blogs will starting thinking the Elite will have HDMI output (it does). And if you really play the game, maybe leak a little exaggerated information that is far from true (like 8 gb of flash memory of the PSP2, that’s so too good to be true).
I think the big thing video game, and other media companies, need to learn is the blog community and fans want to know as much as we can as soon as we can. You can put all the embargos, policies, and fake memos you want in the way, but in the end, there is a rabid fan base desperate for information. Use it.