The benefits of hard to find secrets in Games

So if you’ve been paying attention to gaming news on Twitter recently you may have seen that Nier: Automata has been trending like crazy despite being a pretty old game at this point. This was mainly due to the fact that a new unseen area of the game had supposedly been discovered. This set the Nier community a blaze with rumors and theories about what the new area could be, what it means for the future of the series, and what it could possibly be hinting at. However, it was later revealed to be a hoax by a group of insanely skilled modders showing off some new modding tools for the game that they will be releasing to the community soon. And while it is somewhat sad that this is where the story ends for this supposed secret, it got me thinking about how secrets like this can not only bring a community together but also help promote games in general!

Now to clarify, when I mean secrets in games in this contexts I’m not talking about the typical secrets you’d find in games. Things like a secret ending or special weapon that the game designer intends for you to find by dropping plenty of hints here and there. I’m talking about secrets that designers put into games that are either not meant to be found in general or purposefully hard to find. It’s generally pretty rare for games to have secrets like this, especially nowadays. In fact, a lot of people argue that secrets of any kind in games are basically dead at this point with people able to mod and hack games to pull out each file and bit of data, making it near impossible to hide anything or at least not hide it for long. And while there is certainly truth to that, I think adding any amount of mystery, regardless of how quickly it’s figured out, can go a really long way. And even if there aren’t many examples of this sort of thing, there are still a few! So let’s talk about them and discuss how they can benefit the games they are a part of.

Easily the biggest benefit to putting in hard to find secrets is the fact that it will draw people in and get people talking. Looking back to the Nier hoax, despite the game being rather old at this point, the community came together again in an instant to discuss and figure out what was going on. Even from an outside perspective like the one I had, it was a lot of fun to see the community for the game go wild again. But this can go beyond just helping bring life to a dormant community. I think the primary example of this comes from P.T. or the Playable Teaser for the now canceled Hideo Kojima developed Silent Hills. Despite the fact that the main mystery of the teaser, the fact that it was a new Silent Hill game being made by an all star cast, was found rather quickly, people spent weeks trying to figure out every little thing they could about the teaser. This was mainly because the teaser was packed full of mysteries. Even people who managed to finish the teaser didn’t really understand how they did it in the first place. P.T. was perfectly designed to spark conversation and be misleading. In fact, the game wasn’t even announced to be a Kojima game, it was suppose to be from an indie developer called “7780s Studio”. Funny enough, this is actually a tactic Kojima has used before when it comes to announcing games! The man just loves to be misleading in just about everything he makes.

I will never forget when P.T. was first released. It was announced by Sony at Gamescom 2014, being introduced as brand new horror IP from a smaller company. The night it was released, myself and many others hopped on our PS4s to download and play it. And what we found was a mind bending and horribly terrifying slice of a game filled with so many scares and mysteries… And while it didn’t take too long for people to figure out what was really going on, the mysteries surrounding the game last for weeks! People were picking the game a part, trying to find any thing new or hidden inside of it, and just trying to figure out how the game worked as no one seemed to be able to nail down how exactly the game even functioned. Hideo Kojima went out of his way to make things as confusing as possible with all of the different ways you can interact with the game. The craziest one to me was the fact that you had to plug a mic into your controller and speak to the game to get certain things to work! This was actually discovered by accident by some people who just happened to have their mics plugged in while playing the game. Making things this way led to a community quickly forming around the game to discuss and work things out together. Even if you weren’t playing it yourself and had no intention of doing so, as a lot of people actually found it a little too scary to play, it was hard not to hear about it and all the crazy things going on just from how into it people were getting. P.T. was easily the most discussed game at the time, and it wasn’t even technically a full game! Not only that, the game had basically zero marketing to it and it was still able to reach this insane level of success. Word of mouth was all the game needed and about a month after release Sony announced that the game had been downloaded over a million times already! Which makes it even more puzzling that after all this, all this hype and build up, all this excitement for the full game, Konami decided to cancel it. Ruining the community that was actively promoting the game for them. But that’s a sad story for another time…

P.T. will forever remain a mysterious teaser for a game that never will be. It was the first time I had been so invested in a big mystery hunt like this. And even though it didn’t have a great ending to it with the cancellation, it was a super fun ride! And the reason why I will never get rid of my PS4 or delete my download of P.T. on it.

Moving away from P.T. though, there is a more recent example of a big secret being hidden rather well in a game. And that example comes from the remake of the iconic Demon’s Souls! From Software’s Souls games generally have a lot of mystery and secrets around them but this particular one comes from the developers of the remake, Bluepoint Games. While the remake largely stays faithful to the original version, besides making the game look beautiful and actually run properly, Bluepoint decided to add a secret of their own. Late in the game, a new hidden wall was discovered by players. It would lead to a thin alley way with a door that could not be opened. However, using the game’s photo mode, players were able to see around the door and were able to find a corpse holding an item! Well sometimes. For some players, the corpse wasn’t even there, only adding that much more to the mystery! Given that this was not in the original game at all, it really made players go crazy trying to figure out what exactly the item was as it implied whatever it was it was something completely new. None of this was in the marketing by the way, but the moment it was discovered and widely spread, Bluepoint began adding fuel to the fire. Poking the community here and there to get people to try and figure things out. And the community certainly took the bait!

Here’s the actual tweet Bluepoint made to spark even more discussion and rumors.

People began scanning over everything they could find in the game, trying new things to see what made the corpse appear and what didn’t. Trying to figure out what was different between each player that allowed them to see it. Players were going crazy hunting for secrets! However, unlike with P.T. the hunt didn’t last for too long. The community was able to figure out that there were a few new items scattered about the world and collecting them all would unlock the door. Revealing the item to be an armor set from one of the game’s popular bosses. And that’s where things ended for the mystery. Which left some players with rather mixed feelings regarding the end result. Some were really excited to have the new armor set actually in the game, and just enjoyed the wild goose chase the community went on trying to figure it out. Others felt the secret was a bit flat in the end with it only being a new armor set and nothing too crazy or original, and for the fact that it didn’t take too long time to figure out. But it did get the community talking and to band together and that’s honestly the most important part! The fact that it brought people together, even for a moment, means so much. The Souls community has always been a strong community, but it was nice to have something that everyone could work to and discuss. And it’s not like people suddenly stopped looking for more secrets after it was discovered. After all, if there was one secret like this, who’s to say there aren’t more? And while there wasn’t, people still looked and spoke about it. It kept everyone engaged that much longer, and probably brought even more people into the game just to see what was going on. Making the community that much bigger in the end!

Despite those big successes when it comes to make things very hidden in games, we rarely see developers attempt these sort of things. And there’s a couple of reasons for that. First of all, it can be kind of hard to do. You have to balance making sure the secret isn’t so hidden that no one will find it and not too obvious that there doesn’t need to be a discussion to figure it out. Personally I don’t think developers should ever be that worried about players not finding a secret regardless of how well hidden it is. Players have shown that if they like a game enough, they will basically tear it apart looking for every little thing they can find. The real worry should lie with making the secret too obvious. There’s no reason to ask for help with something if everyone can figure it out on their own, after all. And that discussion between players is exactly what you should be aiming for when it comes to secrets like this. That’s what helps the community grow and get noticed. I mean, there’s a reason why none of the Nier developers stepped in to say that the recent hoax was in fact a hoax! I’m sure they were all happy to see people talking about the game again for any reason.

Both of these things are pretty understandable concerns for any developer when it comes to adding in hard to find secrets. Not only that, it can be pretty hard to convince a publisher to allow this sort of thing too. You are basically arguing that you want to spend time developing a part of the game that players may never actually see. Which sounds like wasting time to most publishers, and probably most developers too! But I firmly believe that the benefits out weight the risks when it comes to this. Don’t get me wrong, super hard to find secrets aren’t really important for every game out there but for games that it makes sense to have them in, I think developers should go for it! Mainly because if you do manage to hook players in to discussing and find that big secret, you basically have some of the best free marketing around. Positive word of mouth is always important for just about any product, and video games are in the unique position where they can basically manufacture instances where word of mouth can be spread. Nintendo actually did this with the original Legend of Zelda back in the day. The game’s puzzles were so confusing that it led to people going around asking their friends if they had not only played the game but if they knew how to get passed a certain point. This is the true benefit behind hard to find secrets in games, and it’s why developers should put more time into them! Not only is it a great way to get players to engage with each other, it’s also an effective marketing tactic. And it’s one of the few marketing tactics that doesn’t look forced or awkward. In that way, it can be both a benefit to the developers and the publisher! And that is truly rare.

But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? Are there any gaming mysteries that you got invested in? Do you think adding hard to find secrets like this really is a good idea for games? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!

And thank you for taking the time to read the post! If you enjoyed it feel free to leave a Like or share the blog with a friend. You can also follow the blog on WordPress or on Twitter if you want to stay up to date on new posts. Also if there’s a topic you’d like me to discuss sometime, go ahead and tell me in the comments! Any interaction is appreciated, even just viewing this post, so thanks again for stopping by.

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