The modern age of technology brings with it an almost instantaneous flow of information. Our lives are constantly being flooded with information at increasing rates. Just as our lives have drastically changed, so has the gaming world. It has benefited from these advancements in countless ways, but can this instant flow of information actually be somewhat of a detriment to game developers who rely on such methods to promote their games?
When I was a kid, I remember walking into my local K-Mart and making a bee-line straight for the video game department. Sometimes it had been weeks, possibly even months since I had last seen the wonders of the electronics department. I meticulously scanned the glass case for anything that I had not seen before, hoping that something new and exciting had come out. I never got any sort of Nintendo Power or any other video game magazine to get me pumped up, so every trip to the store was new and exciting. Often times I would leave empty handed and disheartened, but there were those magical days when I walked out with a brand new game in hand and rushed home to waste away my summer in front of the TV. I started many a summer this way.
The first game I can remember playing is the original Final Fantasy on the NES. At that time I had absolutely no idea what the game was truly about or what franchise would eventually explode into. All I cared about was exploring the over world map and level grinding my characters. There was no “buzz surrounding the game” for a 6 year old and any buzz had long since passed by the time I got around to playing it.
At that age, I didn’t care what people thought about a particular video game. All I cared about was if it was any good or not. Back then you’d say ‘Online multiplayer’ and I’d say ‘What kind of multiplayer?’ You mention ‘IGN?’… ‘What’s that?’ ‘Famitsu gave it 40/40!’ but I’d say ‘40/40 what?!’ If the game fit in the system and held my attention for a good amount of time, I was sold. I relied entirely on the box art, albeit usually atrocious, and the occasional rental to make my decisions. My, how I miss the simpler days.
The current method and style of game reviews and previews has all but driven me away (from them, not video games!)
I don’t want to give the impression that current day review methods are toilet, because they do help us avoid the myriad of trash that makes its merry way into stores. They have provided us with something that is a bit more grounded in the realm of reality than our best friend’s word that the game is good because his older brother heard it from a guy who bought it for a friend. However, the recent shift toward constant media coverage is what is slowly killing some video games, even the good ones.
Every gamer will admit that the mere uttering of a particular franchise name or announcement of a new title in the series will get them going. There’s no doubt about that. In fact, when Resistance 2 was announced and I told my best friend that I had access to the early online beta, I was immediately met with an exceptionally long and awkward public man hug. Game developers want their fans to know when a new game is coming out in order to get their fans excited about it. However, take note developers, there is such a thing as going too far. There is one thing that can kill the chances of your game succeeding to fullest potential; hype.
Thanks to certain individuals within the gaming world, the word has taken a rather negative connotation as of late. A new game is announced and the developers instantly begin fleshing out the potential features of the game to the general public rather than in some stuffy board room where ‘idealistic’ and ‘realistic’ can be properly sorted out. What comes from these press releases and developer statements is nothing short of wishful thinking. Many times, the developer will hype a game to an almost impossible standard.
In 2002, Bethesda released a game that forever changed the open-world RPG; The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind; a game that received its fair share of hype. One where absolutely anything went, and you go could go anywhere, at any time, for any reason. Then, in 2004, Lionhead Studios stepped up to the plate with Peter Molyneux behind the wheel of what would soon become known as the most over hyped game of all time: Fable.
The hype machine surrounding Fable at the time reached almost cataclysmic levels. The game had so much buzz surrounding it that it was next to impossible to avoid, even if you didn’t play video games. I was in my freshman year of college when this game released and this game was going to be big! Or so we thought.
For the previous 2 years we had been traipsing across the land of Vvardenfell searching for the elusive 10,000 coin mud crab merchant and pillaging everything within sight. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that many hours were spent rummaging naked through other peoples cupboards before making a hasty escape through the backdoor with nothing more than a fork and a candlestick to show for your efforts. So, it was natural that the gaming community was excited for another game that many in the gaming community claimed would be “the next Morrowind.”
Now, whether or not Lionhead studios actually made that claim as an attempt to build hype is unknown, but nevertheless, that was the word circulating around the gaming community at the time. Unfortunately, many of these incredulous claims were glaringly absent from the finished product. Probably one of the most anticipated, yet utterly pointless, promised inclusions came in the form of a technical achievement for the Xbox. Molyneux claimed that Fable would be such an immersive and living world that if you were to strike a tree with your weapon, an acorn would fall and a new acorn tree would begin to grow in that spot. Well, upon completion of the game, no such acorn tree spouting nuts were to be found. Molynuex’s response? “Well we will add that to Fable 2.” Did it make it into Fable 2? Not a chance, save for the almost sarcastic inclusion of a single growing acorn at one point in the main story line of Fable 2.
The other thing that was apparently promised was the ability to go anywhere and do anything at anytime, much like Morrowind. So it is easy to see why many people were excited. However, once the game started, it was clear to see that a good majority paths in the game had about as many offshoots as you can count on one finger.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Fable. The original is at the heart of one of the fondest memories of my freshman year in college. I was so pumped for this game that I actually applied to work as a secretary for the Philosophy department on campus. When I got the job and realized my first paycheck wouldn’t roll in until after the game came out, I began entertaining alternate ways to get the money. No, not prostitution. I did what any self-respecting college student looking for play money would do; I sold my text books.
Once the honeymoon period was over with the game, I came to the stark realization that it was in fact NOTHING like Morrowind. I began to search for why I had this feeling of absolute disappointment and the only thing I could come up with was that I felt like so much had been promised to me in this game that there is absolutely no way I would have been satisfied with anything less than what was promised. Long after Fable was released, Molyneux was quoted on more than one occasion saying something to the effect of, “Yea, Fable was a bit too over-hyped.”
Fable is not the only offender; it is just among the most memorable ones. Game developers are essentially setting themselves up for failure by firing up the hype train and making a cross country trip. Over promising and under producing never has a a positive outcome.
Look at some of the most successful games in recent memory that received almost NO hype at all. Demon’s Souls is easily one of the best games of last year and that was a relatively unknown title until it hit the market. Even then, people still had absolutely no idea what the game was about. However, Atlus had something else going for them; one hell of a game.
I can’t even begin to explain the amount of time I dropped into this game. This game almost got me kicked out of college for good. I stayed up at night obsessing over it and spent all day in class reading about it. I was so enamored with every facet of this game, simply because I knew next to nothing about it. The public was set loose on a game that received hardly any hype and what resulted was more than Atlus could have ever hoped for; critical acclaim. Positive word of mouth AFTER the release was the key to success.
Demon’s Souls basically told the PR department to piss off and leave it alone. It knew it was cool and could survive on it’s own. And that it did, it just took awhile. This game made it’s way into the hands of PS3 gamers around the world and it became an instant classic, all without a single bit of hype from Atlus.
Another game that quickly comes to mind from the past generation is Psychonauts. Imagine Tim Burton remaking Inception and you have something relatively close to Psychonauts, except without the hype.
Now, that’s not to say that hype is a bad thing! Hype can be your best friend, if done correctly. The video game community is incredibly gullible and willing to believe anything you tell them, especially if you are the developer of their favorite game franchise. You tell us that we are going to be smashing down buildings and beating up soldiers on Mars with a sledgehammer made from an Ostrich, we’ll believe you, but you damn well better follow through on that promise!
Promise and provide! It’s a simple way to please your fans. Unfortunately, too many companies do not care about aleinating their fan base because they know that name recognition is more powerful than any negative result from hype. People will forgive a terrible storyline in Halo: Reach simply because the name Halo is on it or they will forgive the fact that every single Madden game since 2005 is essentially the same thing simply because the box says Madden.
Now, when a game is announced that I am excited to hear about, especially a sequel to a favorite game of mine, I try to avoid any coverage of it like the plague so as not to get my hopes too high for something that I know deep down inside will never be delivered. As my great aunt used to say, “Aim for the moon and hope you hit the top of the light post.” Don’t worry, I don’t know what the hell it means either, but it sounds like it applies here.
Some of the best games I have played in recent memory are the ones that I completely avoided at their original launch and have picked up much later, sometimes even a year or two, after they released. Such games include the likes of Red Dead Redemption, Borderlands, Infamous, Bioshock 2, and yes, Fable 3!
Avoiding all the hype and press coverage has restored a piece of my childhood, enjoying games for what they are; games!