Resident Evil 7’s Most Welcome Change is its Marketing
Resident Evil 7 is just a few days away, and I’m still beside myself with the fact that it just might be the saving grace for this series. Based on everything we’ve seen (and played), Resident Evil 7 will no doubt be an exciting new direction for the series that has certainly lost its way since Resident Evil 4. The jury is still out on whether Capcom has successfully developed a proper survival horror game in this long-standing series, but they have most definitely succeeded with its PR and marketing. When you think about it, we’ve seen so little of Resident Evil 7 — and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Much like with Kojima Production and Konami’s P.T., Capcom opted to surprise-announce their new horror game during a press conference with a simultaneously released playable teaser. Where Konami and Capcom differ here is that P.T. was unmarked and not initially known to be tied to Konami’s horror IP, Silent Hill. Capcom showed off an eerie trailer set to the tune of a cover of the folk classic Go Tell Aunt Rhody with added sinister lyrics. The trailer then closed with the surprise title of the newest entry in the Resident Evil series. No originality awards to be given here, but the reveal was exciting nonetheless.
Capcom’s enigmatic KITCHEN VR demo that was shown only behind closed doors to press stealthily started off Resident Evil 7’s promotional campaign. It wasn’t until the game’s full reveal that we were made aware that the signs were in our faces the entire time. A fully playable demo kicked off Capcom’s campaign proper for Resident Evil 7, containing content separate from the main game. With the full Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour demo, Capcom gave us a small taste, feel, and look at what the game will be like. Beginning Hour set out to prepare prospective buyers without carving out a section of the core game, avoiding spoiling its surprises. Brownie points already!
Without digging too much into Beginning Hour’s content, Capcom strung players along with cryptic clues and puzzles in the demo. Like a carrot dangled in front of a horse, the dummy finger became a focal point for fans and would-be conspiracy theories, inspiring countless hours of speculation. Its true purpose remained unknown up until the final demo update, and even then was tied to an incredibly obtuse bonus puzzle.
Beginning Hour kept fans satiated until Capcom started their regular release of new game assets in the form of iconic Resident Evil items including signature weapons, herbs and more. Capcom’s ostensive mission with its promotion of Resident Evil 7 was to retain its mystery. This held true even after they revealed the second “Lantern Demo”, which was exclusively playable at tradeshows and events. The World of Resident Evil Vignettes, a few collections of screenshots, and small gameplay clips peppered the game’s pre-launch timeline. Most surprising, though, is that most of what we’ve seen from the game is mostly limited to the same batch of in-game locations: the Baker Home, garage, dining room, save room, and the hallway where Jack Baker demolishes a wall. All of these areas were revealed to be within minutes of each other.
If you look back at the promotion of contemporary-styled Resident Evil games, starting with Resident Evil 5, a trend began where Capcom would say and show too much about the game’s story ahead of release. Remember the cloaked figure from Resident Evil 5? Remember how heavily they pushed the “death” of Jill Valentine? It didn’t take much to deduce that these two things were intertwined. They pretty much even told us ahead of launch. Case in point: the February 2009 trailer. A month before Resident Evil 5 released, Capcom dropped a trailer showing multiple boss fights, major story events and lastly, a not-so-vague hint that Jill was indeed the cloaked figure. I know the Resident Evil games aren’t renowned for their writing, but let players discover things for themselves, you know?
Successive Resident Evil titles suffered similarly from this heavy-handed approach of pumping out pre-release assets that showed off as much content from the games as possible. Way back we reported on the Resident Evil: Revelations trailer from Capcom’s 15th Anniversary live stream. We were among many fans who heavily criticized it for how much it spoiled. The trailer was faithful to the game’s namesake, telling us too much about the game’s twist-filled story some days before it became available for purchase. Give that a watch if you don’t recall.
This type of promotion probably came from same forces within Capcom that wanted the Resident Evil series to be bigger, bolder, and more action-focused. Explosive trailers with lots of story-beats to compliment games, admittedly, chasing the Call of Duty audience. All of this changed with Resident Evil 7, a mainline entry in this incredibly popular and recognized series that’s seemingly bringing about a major turn in the franchise.
The horror genre is meant to instill fear in players in various ways. Dread, terror, anxiety — these emotional states are crucial to the effectiveness of horror. The element of surprise — whether it’s tied to a jump scare, revelatory story detail, or unique scenario — must be kept intact. We’ve talked about this many times on this site. As former Rely on Horror writer, Zack Furniss, wrote on Destructoid, “horror and secrecy need to be better bedfellows,” for reasons most obvious to us as fans. Or dare I say “connoisseurs of horror”? No? Fine, that’s too much.
Great things are to come from Resident Evil 7 if it’s reflective of its PR and marketing. Capcom’s whole promotional campaign for this game has shown a restraint that they lacked with previous entries. For starters, the first glimpse of Resident Evil 7 was the “working title” KITCHEN demo, which began making its rounds to press a full year before Resident Evil 7’s announcement on June 13th, 2016. Once Resident Evil 7 was formally revealed, Capcom continued to keep the game surprisingly close to their chest.
Resident Evil 7’s first trailer, TAPE-1 “Desolation,” was composed of content majoritively from the Beginning Hour demo released the same day (July 13, 2016). Shortly after the announcement, Resident Evil Ambassadors started to receive teases, with messages confirming the return of classic items and weapons in the game, another hinting at the significance of the finger & dirty coin, and more (starting in July 2016). The subsequent “Lantern” (August 17, 2016) and TAPE-2: “The Bakers” (September 14, 2016) trailers continued practicing restraint, only going so far as showing new areas closely tied together. The World of Resident Evil 7 vignettes (released between October 14 – November 8, 2016) all fell under a minute in length and focused on small, out of context scenes — from finding a new weapon or briefly showing an encounter with one of the Bakers. It wasn’t until the TAPE-3: “Resident Evil” (December 3, 2016) and Welcome Home (January 12, 2017) trailers that we begin to see a string of new areas revealed. Even still, these videos refrain from falling into the old trend of outright spoiling key scenes from the game.
I could go on and on about every bit of content released from Capcom during Resident Evil 7’s promotional campaign, like additional screenshots, gameplay clips, and TV spots, but I doubt you want a full play by play. The fact is that Capcom completely changed their marketing approach with this game. They’ve also delicately reintroduced Resident Evil to the world as a survival horror series, taking the gamble that we’ll just have to believe them this time. They did this without pushing an endless sea of spoiler-filled content in our faces to say “we’re serious this time!”. That deserves recognition.
In many publishers’ pursuit to interest players into pre-ordering their horror games, they have continually undermined what makes these games most effective. In the case of Resident Evil 7, I couldn’t be more excited for the game … because I’ve seen and know so little about it. That prospect has me anxious to discover just what they’ve cooked up after all this time.