It was also free publicity when a dev publicly turned down an Epic deal. Darq received a fair bit of word of mouth publicity, and multiple articles, when the dev said that Epic made it clear that they’d only sell his game through their storefront if he agreed to an exclusivity deal (which he refused.) SNK later tried to get a little publicity by announcing that they’d turned down a Samurai Shodown PC exclusivity deal from an “unnamed” digital store front, but that story never received traction.
I recall Metro getting pre-launch coverage. But the pre-release story of PC Metro was quickly overtaken by the Epic exclusivity deal. Rather than talking about the game, everyone (people and sites both) were talking about the idea of Epic exclusives, Epic’s promises, the Metro dev who spoke out, the defense of the Metro devs, which company was directly responsible, etc. The whole Epic story was so big that there was no real room left for Metro game coverage, and any that did exist would probably be overwhelmed and forgotten.
As I mentioned before, there is also the whole console side of ad campaigns, It is hard to judge PC advertisement efforts for these multiplatform AAA games. Sure, Gearbox would have still run a big ad campaign for a PC-first release of Borderlands 3, but it wouldn’t have been the size of the campaign they ran for the console+Epic release.
Platforms that lag behind, whether PC or console, can get a short shrift when it comes to ad efforts. In a year or so, we’ll have a bit more evidence on how these Epic-exclusive games see their Steam releases advertised. While I could be wrong, I’ve a feeling most won’t see more publisher effort than was spent on the Epic release.
John Wick Hex was shown off at E3, but I’d guess that most coverage of E3 ignored it on concept alone (licensed action movie turn-based game?) A quick look at Metacritic shows a number of release day reviews were posted, while a YouTube search returns review videos for a few sites as well. A few weeks after release, Alienware ran a promotional giveaway for Epic keys for the game. Perhaps the Metacritic user review score of 3.6 explains the general public disinterest in the title.
Site note: I wonder if Epic’s lack of user reviews could actually be hurting the publicity of titles. User reviews can create their own stories, getting a game a bit more publicity even if it isn’t always positive. People will argue that a game has been review bombed, or deserves being review bombed, or is being inflated by shills. People will cite reviews averages to support their opinion on a title, or will write explanations for why the popular opinion is wrong, or will do the same for any particular reviews that draw their ire. But in the end, you still have more people talking publicly about your game, and more people checking it out. And that attention can even garner a new wave of site coverage, if sites decide there is a public interest in conversation about your game.
Side note 2: Review embargoes don’t help the volume of pre-release coverage either. We’ve had plenty of stories in recent years about publishers pushing review embargoes to control the narrative before release, and it seems everyone now waits for release day or after to post reviews. Excepting the cases where a game is a complete trainwreck, and concerned reviewers try to leak the warning without technically breaking any embargo.
Manifold Garden has been in public development for years. In 2013, the dev started a TIGForums thread about the game’s development, back when it was still called Relativity. If you look back to 2016, you’ll see its E3 playable demo that year garnered it at least a bit of coverage on multiple sites. It really may just be a case of a game that saw its publicity peak years before it was ready for release. It could also be a case of an indie developer who couldn’t afford a fancy release push, and again a Steam release might have seen as little attention as the Epic release has seen.