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Game Pass: embracing the hype
While Xbox Game Pass started with a foundation of Microsoft-owned titles – the Halo, Forza, Gears of War, and Minecraft titles that formed the foundation of first-party releases on Xbox consoles – the service has grown into the biggest value in gaming over the last couple years through its timely additions of wanted titles. And Microsoft has not been shy about promoting which games are coming to Game Pass.
It’s how we discovered that the service was getting Square Enix’s third-person looter shooter Outriders on launch day, hyping up the game a month before its release in a way that drew more interest to an unknown IP.
The team running Game Pass leans into its role in the hype cycle, teasing new additions by publishing ‘emails’ from the fictional and ridiculous Melissa McGamepass, Executive Senior VP Lieutenant of General Video Game Communications. It’s mad corny, but adds a little levity that tames some of the intense energy surrounding game reveals, like this one ‘leaking’ Outriders coming to the service before a more buttoned-up official blog post confirmed the news.
There’s probably a hint about a game in here somewhere honestly we can’t even keep up with all the announcements lately pic.twitter.com/Qz6LmX1Cs4March 12, 2021
Game Pass, and the Xbox blog, regularly communicate which games are coming to the service, and give ample notice – even for games coming this year that don’t even have a release date yet.
That’s how we found out that, of the many games announced at the March ID@Xbox online showcase, around 20 would be coming to Game Pass, per an official blog post. They included games like the lovely date-your-weapons Boyfriend Dungeon and the Moebius-styled Sable that wowed crowds at E3 2018, both of which we’d known about before and were more excited to see coming to the service.
We knew about the games because they, like Outriders, had followed traditional gaming hype channels – debut trailers, tease gameplay, announce for multiple platforms – and connected with fans who loved their premises. That hype only increased when we found out they’d be coming to a service we’re already subscribed to.
That’s why, when we saw Apple start talking openly and early about or Fantasian, we were surprised – Apple doesn’t really do advanced press for games. And we wondered how it would change the service if Apple could work with the gaming hype cycle as it exists today, openly adopting far more titles already generating interest instead of cultivating their development under a cloud of secrecy.
Coming Soon to Apple Arcade: Fantasian.Enter a beautifully crafted, handmade world and unravel the mystery of a bizarre mechanical infection slowly engulfing all that is known to mankind.⏰ Click to get a reminder when it’s available: https://t.co/xFwsia7Vcm pic.twitter.com/wiJA9SQWcLMarch 2, 2021
Rising hype tide raises all boats
To be clear, Apple does engage in some publicity efforts, often reaching out to press and even connecting media to developers; this is how TechRadar spoke with the folks behind new games that followed up on the well-known Oxenfree and No Man’s Sky as well as those working on licensed games based on Game of Thrones and Star Trek. But these interviews were embargoed until the games went live on Apple Arcade – without giving players and potential subscribers time to get excited.
And yet, Apple gave TechRadar and other publications advanced access to Fantasian lead and Final Fantasy co-creator Hironobu Sakaguchi to talk about the game, and it felt oddly normal – like how buzz is usually built before a game comes out. It put Apple Arcade on the lips of games journalists and atop headlines that weren’t just surprise announcements of a few new games coming to the catalog.
You’ve never seen a game like Fantasian. @Mistwalker’s new RPG has a thrilling story, set against a spectacular backdrop of over 150 handmade dioramas that blend physical environments and 3D characters. Join the battle today: https://t.co/xFwsia7Vcm pic.twitter.com/mTjjw8XpjgApril 3, 2021
Not every game Apple signs to its service will generate the buzz of a Final Fantasy creator’s next project, but some should. More headline-worthy additions raise the quality and desirability of the service, generating more appreciation and interest in the smaller titles that get added to the catalog.
Apple shouldn’t stop adding the lovely, oddball games that may not have existed without the patronage of its undisclosed financial support – Outlanders, Takeshi and Hiroshi, Inmost, Nuts, Cozy Grove – but they, and the service itself, could get a boost if Apple Arcade started including more already-visible games and actively promoted their acquisitions. Apple should harness games that have generated buzz to shed light on the service’s games that go unseen.
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