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Why Does Rockstar Make Such Weird Game Announcements?

Sometimes weird is good. Does Rockstar have one of the best game announcement strategies?

As anyone in marketing will tell you, word of mouth is good. It's especially useful when you have people outside of your target demographic talking about and sharing your material. Viral ads often have that effect, as they can subtly hint at products without blatantly stating it's an advertisement. Rockstar Games seems to love the viral approach for announcing games.

The recent announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2 arrived in the form of Rockstar's logo on a blood-red background. Those who played Red Dead Redemption recognized the color as the one used on the menu screens. When you consider Rockstar's marketing history, jumping to the conclusion that it was a hint at a Red Dead game wasn't farfetched. 

Announcements for some of Rockstar's games have popped up in other forms. Often, you would have to be familiar with the companies franchises like Grand Theft Auto to notice. Take a viral campaign for Grand Theft Auto V for example; Rockstar published a website for The Epsilon Program which is a fictional cult in the world of GTA. The site was actually a way for fans to enter a contest in which the winners would be cast in GTA V as members of the cult.

Grand Theft Auto IV marketing took the form of 'Wanted' posters featuring characters from the game. While some of these viral campaigns and announcements can be considered controversial, they are effective. In only ten days since the first teaser for RDR2 was revealed, the hashtag '#RedDeadRedemption2' made nearly 19 million impressions (the number of people that saw posts containing the hashtag). One could safely assume that the marketing team is celebrating those numbers.

Why does this strategy work? Speculation gets people talking, plain and simple. They'll mention your Twitter account, create hashtags related to your brand and products, and share. Sharing is the big one. Sharing a post crosses platforms. A post shared from Twitter can end up on Facebook and every other app in between. One great post on Twitter can save a marketing team lots of legwork on other outlets. 

Occasionally, major news media like CNN might mention these viral ads. Their reasons are usually not to talk about the games, but rather to quell any silly rumors. A 'Wanted' poster can quickly generate bad press. Even though Rockstar took the time to put details on their fake posters, a casual passerby might be legitimately worried about someone matching Niko Bellic's description.

So goes the proverb, "any press is good press." In a world stuffed with social media, trending topics, and hashtags, that saying is probably truer now than ever. While the RDR2 announcements have been on the safe side, there are also rumors buzzing about an impending Grand Theft Auto VI announcement. Will it happen closer to next year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3)? Could Rockstar be brainstorming the most controversial and shocking ways to announce their next GTA? I wouldn't be surprised if they made the announcement in the form a fake bank heist, to be honest. Even if they don't go that far, we can assume it'll be talked about by millions, if not billions.

Published Oct. 28th 2016

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