Back on Friday when Gearbox and 2K started teasing out the Borderlands 3 “Celebration of Togetherness,” speculation went wild about what this upcoming announcement could be. Turns out, for all the eager anticipation, “Celebration of Togetherness” was everyone coming together in disappointment that the update they had all waited four days for just ended up being a cinematic trailer set to The Turtles’ “Happy Together.” Yup, no new information, no exciting reveals, and definitely nothing to do with cross-play. Just a dizzying and psychedelic trailer that espoused the lighthearted charm of Borderlands‘ violence and chaos, but was not worth four days of hype and anticipation.
So who’s to blame? Did the fans get all worked up over nothing because they are too eager to wring the sponge of information ahead of the game’s release? Or did Gearbox and 2K severely misread their audience, writing a check that they just couldn’t cash when it came time to deliver?
Gearbox has been really quite forthcoming with information about the upcoming game. New information seems to surface almost weekly about Borderlands 3, so when an official event gets teased, fans start expecting something really big, exceeding the scope of these other info drops. Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford was quick to shut down rumors about a cross-play announcement, but continued to hype the event by saying that what they had to show was “awesome,” but it wasn’t cross-play related. Little did we all know that it wasn’t really anything related.
2K got in on the action too. The company’s Australian Twitter account tweeted out comments about how they knew the reveal was late for that time zone, but insinuated it would be “worth missing work for.” Sure. It was a cool trailer, but just seeing the four playable Vault Hunters doing jigs arm in arm while extended firearms rain mayhem and hell down on those around them isn’t what I’d call a good reason to stay up overly late or miss work. Or wake up early the next morning for (the trailer released at 7 am Pacific time). In fact, the trailer is on YouTube, available to view at any time. There was nothing particularly special about it’s release time, and you really could have slept in and just watched it whenever you had the time. The “event” was a dud.
Marketing duds like this are often the result of false expectations built within the fanbase. Sometimes those false expectations can be overhyped by the players, a beast that grows out of control all its own. But in this case, I believe that Gearbox simply failed to read the room. After already giving us tons of information about Borderlands 3, teasing out and hyping up a massive named event days in advance with no additional detail was bound to lead to incorrect speculation. Pitchford leaned into it. 2K leaned into it. People really started to expect something… well, more.
So Happy Together?
When your intent is to release a trailer, and not just any trailer, but a cinematic trailer that has no new information, gameplay, or otherwise anything interestingly relevant about the game, you don’t promote it as this big mystery. You simply say “we’ve got a pretty epic new Borderlands 3 trailer headed your way on Tuesday, you won’t want to miss it.” Now any overhype and unrealistic expectations are on the player, because you as a marketer have set the baseline. It’s a trailer and you think it’s pretty badass. That hype for today’s trailer would have gotten the point across marvelously.
Instead, Gearbox went for an aura of mystery. They concocted this whole “Celebration of Togetherness” event, which would end up literally being nothing. Gearbox had been setting the bar far too high over the last couple of months as they revealed tons of information and gameplay about Borderlands 3, so releasing a trailer that has no new information, gameplay, or real relevance to the final game at all, is not a cause for celebration. Sure, it’s a cool trailer. The song is fun and upbeat. But it doesn’t do much to move the needle forward to release, and shouldn’t have been hyped by Gearbox as if it was some major milestone moment leading up to September 13.
Moments that are worth hyping for major reveals are things like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s multiplayer universe reveal, which is coming on August 1. That event will be massive, with tons of new information about this year’s CoD multiplayer gameplay and how the new unifed universe works within the game. That’s worth hyping up with an aura of mystery surrounding it. Zane, Amara, Moze, and Fl4k locking arms in a trailer that holds zero relevance or bearing on the actual game is not.
It’s a lesson that marketing and PR can learn, to read the room and understand how your audience will perceive something. It’s not always possible to step out of that myopic view of the self, but it can be valuable to understand the ebbs and flows of a fanbase. In this case, expectation was set too high for something that revealed the least of any new Borderlands 3 reveals we’ve had since the game was unveiled. Watch the trailer, it’s cool. Just don’t wait around for four days in anticipation of watching it. It’s definitely not worth that.
Of course, myopic PR isn’t something Gearbox is any stranger to. In the Borderlands 3 gameplay reveal, Randy Pitchford tried literally redefining words by claiming that microtransactions wouldn’t be in the game, when in fact they would in the form of cosmetics. He tried to backtrack and say that he meant pay-to-win mechanics, upset at people not understanding his personal definition of the word microtransactions. Instead of simply apologizing and saying he misspoke, he continued to assert that he was right in what he said, despite everyone telling him that the words he was using didn’t mean what he wanted them to mean.
Okay, so none of this is really going to impact the sales and inevitable success of Borderlands 3 at all. In fact, I’d argue that a broad majority of people that will be purchasing that game aren’t even remotely aware of these kinds of issues, and they’ll maybe see the trailer down the road one day on a screen at an electronics store and think it looks rad (and hey, they know that song! That catches their attention!). But for those of us that were here, waiting for the Celebration of Togetherness and then getting none of the things we’d been speculating on, it leaves a pretty bitter taste. Overhype is bad when fans do it to themselves, but it’s even worse when a brand really pushes it to its fans.
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