Arkane Studios released their latest action RPG, Prey, last week and it’s already on shaky ground. Despite critical favor and a whole lot of positive word of mouth, we might be witnessing the biggest failure of Bethesda marketing in some time. This week in the RPG Files, we’re going to look beyond Metacritic and what our gaming friends are saying. Although according to Google Trends, they’re not saying much of anything.
Have you heard of Google Trends? It’s a wonderful little tool we can use to see what people are searching for. It’s a fun metric to gauge interest in any particular topic, but isn't transparent enough to use for hard data. Still, we can see that a whole lot more people are interested in dieting rather than exercise or PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One. It’s also a nice way to see how much buzz a particular game is creating.
In my offline circle, few of my friends have even heard of Prey. As a games writer, I’d been watching the game for what seemed like ages and these guys, gamers who don’t live on social media, had no idea what I was talking about. This is a AAA game published by the megalodon that is Bethesda, a near household name to gaming fans, and from a studio that put out two separate critical hits in the last 5 years. Dishonored 2 reinvigorated the entire stealth genre!
I decided to do some digging and see what Google Trends had to say. Trends works by displaying an interest over time graph based on searches. It’s not perfect, so we should take it with a grain of salt, but let’s play a game. I’ll name a game and you guess true or false that Prey was more popular on Google.
And for the record, Prey is a downright excellent game.
Fallout 4/Skyrim - HOLY COW EXTREMELY FALSE
No surprise here, but wowza. Both of these games so far outmatch search interest, Prey is a blip on the radar.
Prey is winning in its launch week, but otherwise this year old JRPG has the upper hand by a good margin.
Okay, this one is an MMO, but hey, it’s not exactly a hot new game. Even limiting the search to 30 days, Guild Wars 2 just demolishes Prey’s search count.
This crass, mediocre sketchbook brawler managed to get more attention than Prey. How is anyone’s guess.
Hey guys, remember this awesome shooter from 2011? Yeah, beating Prey. Keep in mind, the remaster wasn’t announced until December 1st, and it was still beating Prey.
This was the breakout game for the Persona series. Still, Arkane already “broke out’ with Dishonored. There should be a little more parity here, no?
DISHONORED 2 - FALSE
This is an interesting one. Same dev team, same publisher, much better results.
Lego Worlds: A game with so little marketing, most of us forgot it existed. Still more interest than Prey.
See, I told you CRPGs were back!
TITANFALL 2 - FALSE
The excellent shooter that was so disappointing it received almost an immediate price drop. Yup, winning.
Battleborn - FALSE
The excellent almost-MOBA so disappointing it received almost an immediate price drop. SO MUCH WINNING.
You know what, this is taking too long. Rapid fire!
PaRappa the Rapper - FALSE
DiRT: Rally - FALSE
7 Days to Die - FALSE
DriveClub - FALSE - Even tightening it to the last month!
Black Desert Online - so, So, SO FALSE
Super Meat Boy - FALSE
Army of Two (2010) - FALSE
MAG (2010, defunct) - BIG FALSE
Heavy Rain - FALSE
NIOH - … TIE? (But it still false when you tighten the scope around the launch window)
I could go on. I have to admit, by the end here I literally went back to a release list from 2010 and still found the notable releases beating Prey. Even accounting for searches over time, you can narrow in on almost every game in this list and still find it beating Prey in three months leading up to release. If Google is right, that’s astounding.
Now, some outlets would have you believe this is a case for why Bethesda should allow early early reviews. I can see that line of thinking, but while that might help sales, if we believe Google’s data, I think this speaks to a larger problem in how the game was being marketed. Chatting amongst ourselves, the team at MMORPG has seen Prey ads all over the place. So what gives?
Frankly, I’m at a bit of a loss. The super generic name is probably one piece of the puzzle. Second, I don’t think Bethesda did a particularly good job of explaining what Prey actually is. If you’ve played the game, you can see why that might be a challenge. But did they target too much and not market to a wide enough bracket? Or is it the real world ads they used just didn’t get through? Take this one, which one of our writers came across:
I hope there’s something on the other side of that housing, because “not a mimic” doesn’t mean anything to most of us. Even knowing the game, I’m not sure I would get that.
If you haven’t tried Prey, or are just hearing about it now, I encourage you to check it out. It really is excellent, which is why this article needs to be written. Prey has this wonderful, tense atmosphere and one of the most intriguing opening hours I’ve ever played. It’s world is well realized and mysterious and like a sci-fi version of Bioshock. This is a game Bethesda should have been shouting from the rooftops about, and this is a problem that shouldn’t exist.
So now I turn it to you. Is Google way off base? What happened here?