Hi-Fi Rush, a game based on the concept of unadulterated pleasure, was significant last week for two reasons. One, it is extremely, extremely good! Two, it accomplished a rare accomplishment in the video game industry: a successful surprise release.
By surprise I mean absolute surprise. Instantaneously, the Xbox and PC versions of the game became accessible for download and play. In this, Our Lord’s Year 2023, how often does that occur…to anything? Anywhere? Never, that’s the frequency!
As a result, the game doesn’t feel like a breath of fresh air, it feels like a gust of wind that knocks us off our feet, and while I don’t want to downplay any aspect of the game’s success, let’s be honest: this game feels so fresh not only because it’s an amazing game, but also because it wasn’t subjected to a year-long marketing campaign.
What I’m about to say is not intended as a direct criticism of anyone working in video game marketing: you have employment selling video games, and in the vast majority of instances, this entails individuals doing excellent work. Whether it’s putting together blockbuster trailers or just chatting with (potential) fans on social media, it’s a difficult job that I understand and empathise with in the majority of cases, given that the system in which they operate—selling games on shopfronts obsessed with preorders and wishlists—demands it.
However, I am not responsible for creating any advertising campaigns. I, like you, am bombarded with thousands of them simultaneously, everywhere we look. From previews on major sites to YouTube to Twitter to Discord, everybody interested in video games on the internet is under constant attack from the moment we log in to the moment we log out. Preorder this item, discover more about it, and then preorder it.
I’ve mentioned this in past Deathblood saga articles, but video game marketing is always somewhat predictable. Not in terms of specific features of their campaigns — a AAA blockbuster has a different marketing budget than a small indie movie, of course — but in terms of how often they leave us feeling fatigued.
It is not sufficient to introduce the game’s world, genre, and premise. We must learn the history of each key character. Given an explanation of the world’s lore. We are informed of the number of lines of speech in the screenplay, the estimated completion time in thousands of hours, and the names of all voice actors. We’re conditioned, and in many cases expected, to be fans of a game we haven’t even played yet by the time of its release. Obviously, this is the entire idea.
Imagine if Hi-Fi Rush had been subject to a regular Bethesda marketing effort instead of emerging out of nowhere. Imagine its unveiling at The Game Awards in December 2021, its brilliance dulled by the presence of larger, more expensive games that were also unveiled at the same time. Imagine being forced to Chai’s worst lines as part of a character reveal trailer on YouTube, as opposed to growing accustomed to his Fry-from-Futurama-esque charms over the course of the game’s first few hours. What if, instead of the game taking such pleasure in exposing its cast and universe on its own terms, a Meet Project Armstrong documentary had previously spoiled this for us?
It would have been awful! Obviously, the game itself would have remained excellent, but so much of the discovery-based excitement that has surrounded its debut, a modern-day schoolyard buzz, would have been lost. To clarify, as I’ve already stated, I am not attempting to shame any single worker, studio, or agency involved in the marketing of any other video game. The trees are not the issue at hand. It is a forest.
That’s what makes Hi-Fi Rush so unique. This is one of the few games that can get away with it. Note that I have not called for an end to video game marketing, nor have I suggested that other games adopt this strategy, as doing so would be meaningless (it’s a vast forest!) and irresponsible. Despite the fact that Hi-Fi Rush feels like a remastered GameCube game and is unlike anything else on the market, it was created by a renowned AAA studio, distributed by Bethesda, and launched on Xbox Game Pass so that anyone may try it “for free.” It was possibly the only combination of style, breadth, and pedigree that could afford to do this, much less hope to get away with it.
Therefore, I do not believe Hi-Fi Rush should serve as an example. I just want to stress that we should all cherish this game for what it is and how it got to us, since in both situations, the circumstances are as ideal as we could have wished for, and we may never see them align again in such a way. Few surprises are as pleasant as a good video game surprise.