The Last Guardian – How did Sony market 5-year delayed PS4 exclusive

The Last Guardian is both the game everyone’s been waiting for and the game no one ever expected to arrive – much like Half Life 3.

The title began its development journey in 2007 and was announced by Sony at E3 2009 as the game which would demonstrate everything the PS3 was capable of.

Developer Fumito Ueda and his Team Ico were aiming for a 2011 release date, but The Last Guardian missed its launch window and the decision was made in early 2012 to move the project to PS4.

The Last Guardian then disappeared from radars until a new announcement was made at E3 in 2015.

And now, almost ten years after the first draft of the project, it’s finally coming out on PS4, with the additional task to now demonstrate what the PS4 (and PS4 Pro) is capable of.

But that didn’t happen without the game being delayed one last time, as The Last Guardian was initially expected to hit shelves on October 28th.

The final delay in The Last Guardian’s route to market was a very difficult decision made by Sony and Japan Studio, especially given the complicated development history of the game,” Sony’s product manager Joe Palmer tells MCV.

Unfortunately, the studio encountered more bugs than anticipated while in the final stages of development. The Last Guardian is an incredibly important game for fans and Sony alike, so the final delay was put into place to give the team the extra time to work on those issues, ensuring that the game delivers on the experience that the creators have envisioned.”

The long wait isn’t the only pressure on The Last Guardian to deliver, as it must also match up to its iconic predecessors: 2002’s Ico and 2006’s Shadow of the Colossus.

Needless to say, The Last Guardian has been eagerly awaited by fans, but also by curious gamers who just want to know if it was worth the wait.

When you’re working on a game that has such incredibly high levels of expectation, it’s impossible not to consider the pressure of meeting player expectations,” Palmer continues. That said, The Last Guardian has a superb development team behind – with a clear vision. The teams do a great job of distancing themselves from the hype so as to not let it impact the final game.

From a marketing perspective we’ve tried to be respectful of the pressure on the studio and as tempting as it is, avoid fuelling the hype by playing on the fact that people have been waiting a long time for this. We want people to be excited because the game looks incredible, not because of its complicated development story.”

With The Last Guardian, Sony doesn’t want to only appeal to core gamers and has tailored a massive marketing campaign to ensure the game reaches a far larger audience.

In order to do so, the publisher is counting on the game’s easily recognisable griffin-like creature, Trico, to help push the title.

Although you won’t see Trico bursting out of X-factor TV spots or wrapping London buses across the country, there’s a sizeable marketing campaign for the launch of The Last Guardian,” Palmer explains. The core audience is reached easiest through data-driven online means, so the campaign is heavily weighted towards digital.

Where we’ve invested in broader mediums, we’ve tried to be remain relevant by tailoring our creative and only picking the right environments. Look out for our unusual concept-art print ads in the likes of Edge, GamesMaster and OPM [see right], and also don’t miss our 60 second CG trailer in cinemas where we’ve attached The Last Guardian to all showings of the anime blockbuster, Your Name.”

"With such incredibly high levels of expectation, it’s impossible not to consider the pressure of meeting player expectations."

Joe Palmer, SIE

He continues: One thing which has become clear over time is that Trico has resonated really well in the gaming community. Trico’s sheer size and likeness to a much-loved pet is endearing, and something we’ve tried to pick out throughout our campaign.

Our online AV creative plays on this by showing uninterrupted gameplay, focusing on a moment that perfectly captures the affection the boy and Trico share for each other. We’ve also played around with the perspective to give the illusion that Trico is so big that he breaks through the borders of the video. We’re already seeing that this bespoke creative is a far more effective way to drive these themes further.”

And although gamers play through The Last Guardian as The Boy (the only name the main character is known as so far), Trico appears to be the real hero here. His behaviour appears to be like some sort of giant silly dog – and there’s nothing people love more than big, silly pets.

I love that Trico is so easily related to a real-life pet because it provokes a feeling which millions of people have in common – one of trust and absolute affection,” Palmer says. At first Trico is a bit like a mischievous puppy, leaving a path of destruction in its wake and not always doing as it’s told, but you soon form a special connection and learn to rely on each other. To celebrate how well The Last Guardian evokes this sense of companionship, we’ve commissioned a real life mockumentary with the ‘real life owners of Trico’, so keep an eye out for that.”

So far, Sony’s strategy for The Last Guardian seems to be fruitful, says Palmer.

I can’t comment with specific details, but I can say that pre-orders for The Last Guardian are exceeding expectations. We’ve seen a really positive response to the Collector’s Edition in particular, which despite its higher price point proves there’s a huge appetite for the game.”

But the product manager has to admit that identifying who would be interested in The Last Guardian was a bit of a challenge.

The Last Guardian is unique. With the exception of Ueda-san’s previous games – Ico and Shadow of the Colossus – there really isn’t much like it, certainly on this console generation. This makes defining the potential audiences very difficult and has urged us to consider untraditional ways of determining the audience.

We undertook a huge amount of research, driven through our PlayStation Network data to build the target audience, taking into account gameplay mechanics, key themes, art style and studio heritage.”

The key words here are ”on this console generation”: The Last Guardian was initially designed for the previous gen, so will its relatively retro charms woo a modern audience? Fortunately, it largely has shelves to itself, as similar titles are digital-only.

Ueda-san’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus helped define the PS2 era … they are a vital part of PlayStation’s heritage, and a big part of why fans, are so excited for The Last Guardian’s release.”

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