Xbox set expectations for its Developer_Direct by stating what four games would be at the event. That quartet was the main focus, but Tango Gameworks’ Hi-Fi Rush, despite the title leaking beforehand, made a surprise appearance that revealed that the game was releasing later that day. Director and writer John Johanas explained why a shadow drop was chosen for the title and why Game Pass was a great fit.
In an interview with MinnMax, Johanas said dropping it suddenly wasn’t Tango’s idea, but talked about how it came from Bethesda and how the reveal was originally slated for much, much earlier.
“That was not a Tango idea,” he said. “I have to give all credit where it’s due to the marketing team at Bethesda. It’s funny that the original idea was almost maybe to announce it at the worst possible timing, which was right when the coronavirus was happening. It wound up not happening.”
This schism pushed the team to find a better time to announce it. And during that process, Tango figured out that the quality was there and when people see it, they want to “want to play it immediately.” While specific dates were not mentioned, Microsoft announced that it was acquiring Bethesda Softworks and its parent company ZeniMax Media in September 2020, a deal that was finalized in March 2021. This meant that any new Tango games would end up on Game Pass and that opened up an opportunity to get the game into the hands of players more easily.
“We have a rare opportunity here for something kind of unique that works around what’s in the game already and what people are saying about the game,” said Johanas. “So they developed a strategy [of] basically launch first and then promotion. And eventually it was narrowed down to this shadow drop.”
Johanas also expressed fear over having to explain the game, which could have potentially hurt its chances. Tango Gameworks was only previously known for The Evil Within, The Evil Within 2, and Ghostwire: Tokyo, all of which are in the horror genre, something Hi-Fi Rush could not be further from.
“But in a way, the shadow drop worked almost better than we could have imagined because any fear about, ‘Tango is not doing a horror game’ or ‘What is rhythm action? I don’t get it,'” said Johanas. “People can jump on Game Pass, download the game, and basically use it as a demo but then they could just keep playing. […] Usually the first impression is, ‘Holy crap! Wow, this is really good.’ We’re just excited to see that people jump in almost not knowing what it is and they just keep going and they just keep enjoying it. And I don’t think that would have happened without something like Game Pass. If it wouldn’t happened, it would have been much, much slower.”
Johanas extrapolated on Game Pass’ role earlier in the interview, noting it was an opportunity to “increase [Tango’s] audience base and really expand everything.” A very early version of the game was popular around the office, so Johanas thought a Game Pass release could have the same effect but on a wider scale.
Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer told IGN something similar last week and the response has been quite good.
“It seems like it worked really well this time,” said Spencer. “It’s not a thing we’ve done a ton of. This was an idea from the team. They’d been playing the game, felt good about their launch date and some of the early signals on quality, and said, ‘Hey, it would just be fun. It would just be fun to be able to launch this during the Developer_Direct and say, ‘Play it now.’ So we rolled with that. We’re always learning, always listening, and it seems like the community’s responding well, which I think is a good signal.”
Johanas covered a whole range of topics in the MinnMax interview including pitching the game around 2017 after The Evil Within 2, what Tango Founder and former Devil May Cry Executive Producer Shinji Mikami thought of the idea, and more.