Silent Hill Screenshot

How Silent Hills’ “P.T.” Teaser Set the Bar for Video Game Marketing

On August 12th of this year, Sony updated their PlayStation Network store to include a listing for a game named P.T, developed by a totally unheard-of company named 7780s Studio. At surface level, there isn’t anything particularly striking about this fact – it was an independent horror game, a genre that has seen a huge spike in popularity in 2014; there certainly did not seem to be any reason to treat P.T any differently to the slew of similar titles that had arrived on Sony’s online marketplace this year. 

But the reality, as it turned out, was actually a little more interesting. It didn’t take too long for particularly eager players to solve the game’s tough final riddle and reach P.T’s conclusion, and it was at this point they learned the truth about the gaming experience they had just undertaken – P.T actually stood for ‘playable teaser’, and the whole game was a marketing stunt for Silent Hills, the latest in Hideo Kojima’s critically-acclaimed survival horror series.

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The teaser game, a first person psychological horror complete with a warning for those with heart conditions, was as far as you can get from the well-trodden Silent Hill gameplay, with the player looping around a small section of corridor. As the game looped, more changes were made as a haunting by a ghost called Lisa grows more intense, from the subtle (lights glowing red), to the terrifying (doors slamming very suddenly in front of you). The uniquely creepy atmosphere suggests a change in the style and tone of the Silent Hill franchise itself.

So it turned out that this intense blend of atmospheric exploration and puzzle solving was little more than an attempt to announce a new iteration of an established franchise.

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And did it work? Oh, you bet it worked. Word quickly spread about P.T’s true nature and just a few weeks later on September 1st, Sony announced to the crowds at the Tokyo Game Show that P.T had been downloaded more than one million times.

What, then, does this mean for games marketing going forwards? The numbers speak for themselves here and you can guarantee that other big companies are taking note. Gaming as a medium is saturated with yearly ‘instalments’ into existing franchises that are announced in the same bland press releases at the same gaming expos (see: Call of Duty). But as games become more original and imaginative, so must their marketing techniques.

For a company as large in stature as Kojima Productions to reshuffle the deck like this is a statement that the future of games as a creative medium requires change if it is to avoid slumping into tired repetition. Yes, at its core, P.T might technically be ‘just another yearly installment’ (Silent Hills is game #11 in the series), but the way the news of its impending release was announced is a jab at the played-out nature of the mainstream gaming industry. If P.T heralds a new period of imaginative marketing stripped of cynicism, then all the better for it.