This time last year Ubisoft was reveling in acclaim, as the unofficial 'winners' of E3 2012. The company wowed gamers with its surprise introduction of Watch Dogs, a modern-noire thriller about a world in which information-technology is paramount.
How much damage do these leaks really cause?
This year's E3? The power of information has delivered tougher lessons. The company's E3 2013 trailer for Watch Dogs was leaked, just one day before its official unveiling.
With 2013 devoted to hardware launches, a third-party publisher outshining Sony or Microsoft was never very likely. But Ubisoft's fireworks display has been somewhat dampened by the leak.
Tony Key is the company's head of sales and marketing. "When you spend so much time and effort on something and it leaks out a day early, it's disappointing for everyone involved," he said.
But how much damage do these leaks really cause? After all, people are watching the trailers, just not at the time Ubisoft had planned. Right?
"It was supposed to be a big moment at our briefing," explained Key. "If half the people have already seen it, then it's half as effective."
He added, "There's a lot of other triggers in place. It's not just what's shown in the briefing, it's all the assets that are about to be released associated with that, the press packages, the uploads to YouTube, the mobilization of your social media efforts. You may even have TV advertising tied to an announcement. We have an entirely integrated machine around these pulse points and when things don't hit when they are supposed to it causes a lot of inefficiency and generally lowers the impact."
He said that keeping secrets is very difficult in the gaming business. "It's hard to keep a secret. It seems like it always happens differently. Every time there is a leak, we figure out what went wrong and we address it. There's always new ways for leaks to get out, and we keep discovering them. It's not unique to Ubisoft. We're constantly trying to build processes that maintain confidentiality. We're never going to give up trying to do that."
At this year's Ubisoft press conference, the surprise package was The Division, a post-apocalyptic, multiplayer shooting adventure. The game has been well received, but did not offer the same impact as last year's Watch Dogs reveal.
Key said, "The reception for Watch Dogs last year was one of those, once-every-three-or-four-years occurrences, and that's a high bar to hold anyone to. But the reason why Watch Dogs got such an amazing reception last year was that it was a next generation game, even though we didn't say it was. That was the first next generation game that people saw and continued to be one of the few games showing off next generation gameplay, right up until yesterday."
He added, "This year, The Division is competing with many next generation games. When you don't have 100 percent share of voice like Watch Dogs did, you know, you've got to share."
Key said he's pleased with both games on their own merits, but added that the Watch Dogs' introduction was one of those very special occasions that's difficult to replicate. "It was not easy for us to have Watch Dogs ready for last year. They had been developing it with a series of specs in mind and they ended up guessing right and so we've got something that works."