Holding Back: How GTA 4's Marketing Paid Off

Don't worry, I'll keep this short, because I'm sure you want to get back to Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3, X360) as much as I do and the last thing I wanted to do was write yet another piece on the game.

On launch days like today, we're supposed to put the years of advance coverage and hoopla behind us and focus on more pressing issues, like the discovery of some game-stopping glitch, or debating the minuscule difference between multiple versions.

But after playing Grand Theft Auto IV, and becoming so engrossed in merely exploring Liberty City that I completely lost track of time, I feel the need to praise developer and publisher Rockstar for keeping such a ridiculously huge game mostly under wraps.

"What the hell are you talking about?" you may be wondering. "This has to be one of the most highly-promoted game launches ever. Even Blockbuster opened up at midnight for it!"

Sure, I get where you're coming from. You've probably seen the four trailers Rockstar put out, not to mention the 100-plus screenshots. You may have even read up on all the new gameplay and multiplayer details. I know I did.

But the amazing part is, despite all the media and the coverage, I had no idea how the game was going to start. I had no idea what my first few missions would be. I had no sense of the world of Liberty City. Sure, I might see a familiar storefront or two, but I'm free to explore, to discover it at my own pace.

And the more I think about it, the more I find it a welcome change from the exploitive marketing efforts of most publishers. I believe that many companies are simply showing too much of their games, which ruins that sense of discovery and makes me feel like I've seen it all before.

Take D3Publisher, for example. The company spent an entire week blowing out movies of Dark Sector's enemies and the various strategies used to defeat them. By the time I actually got the game in my hands, I felt like I'd already seen most of it before. It felt like going through the motions instead of experiencing something new.

Electronic Arts is another prime offender. We had over a dozen Army of Two trailers before the game arrived on store shelves. I think I spent more time watching them than actually playing the game.

In fact, Sega has recently flooded us with so much Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk media that I am fairly sure I don't even need to play them anymore. The entire Sega marketing effort has been akin to the routine of a worn-out stripper, my excitement only decreasing as more is revealed.

Meanwhile, Ubisoft pulled back the curtain on Haze's mid-game plot twist nearly a year in advance of the title's eventual release.

The simple solution is to not watch the trailers, to not look at the screenshots. And while that may work for some, shifting the blame from publisher to public isn't exactly the best solution, let alone fair.

And sure, Rockstar may have it easier than most. Let's be honest, Grand Theft Auto IV basically sells itself.

Still, the company has proven that you can still market, still advertise a major title without showing off every square inch, without throwing the game's best moments in the trailers.

It's the same dilemma that movies face. Sometimes they give away the entire flick in the trailer, as evidenced by any Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller effort. In others, the best scenes of the movie are given away. And yet some studios still manage to elevate their work by holding back. Examples of this exclusive group include Cloverfield and WALL-E.

And just like some of the best flicks, Rockstar merely teased us with tidbits. They made us want the details, made us chase it. Made us care without giving everything away. And that's something other companies could stand to learn from.

Chris Faylor was previously a games journalist creating content at Shacknews.

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