Hype And the Gaming Experience
It seems I've got the short end of the stick. What would normally start as unbridled enthusiasm and hopeful optimism snowballs into crazed expectations, resulting in the entire experience careening off into crushing disappointment. No, I am not describing my performance in bed (which is just fine, thank you very much), but rather, my experiences when faced with upcoming games: Assassin's Creed 3, Hitman: Absolution, The War Z, etc. All these games filled me with burning optimism, and all these games led me straight into crushing disappointment. I'm an optimist, and being one in the world of video games is a serious handicap.
As one of the news writers on this site I deal daily with teaser trailers, feature-boasts and other news of upcoming games, all leading me to this dilemma: Should I let myself get caught up in the pre-release excitement? Or should I join the rest and view it with scepticism, allowing myself to then subsequently be pleasantly surprised if it turns out well?
Here's if you want to be the first in getting scammed!
What's more, I am not alone in this predicament, many other gamers too find themselves caught between the urge to get excited about upcoming games, and the jaded scepticism that pervades the current gaming community - created as a shield against disappointing releases. Without the latter, one risks exposing oneself to disappointment as the game does not live up to one's expectations.
This all then comes as a result of video game hype. What is video game hype? Essentially a mix between gamer optimism and aggressive marketing, it is the result of countless advertising campaigns and feature-boasting from developers - and it is incredibly dangerous. Video game hype controls player expectations of the upcoming game, and player expectations affect the eventual gaming experience. Thus, if played wrongly, video game hype could possibly create expectations that are too high, thus ruining a genuinely good game with a constant sense of "this is not as good as I thought it would be". We can see the negative effects of video game hype from two of its main sources: marketing of upcoming games and sequels to well-acclaimed games.
Badly-handled and over-enthusiastic marketing of upcoming games commonly leads to a distortion of the game's features, at times even resulting in lies made in order to garner gamer interest. One of the most recent and glaring examples of this is The War Z, where developer Hammerpoint Interactive touted a whole slew of features such as 100-player games and 400km maps, none of which ever made it into the game at release, or worse (as in the case of the map size), were grossly exaggerated. This then escalated into further disaster as disappointed players confronted the developer, who met them with half-baked excuses and accusatory deflections, such as faulting them for not having "interpreted the features correctly", or being impatient that the game did not yet contain the content it promised.
Yep, that's right - a helicopter chase scene...in Hitman game.
Yet The War Z had just weeks ago clearly displayed its empty promises across its Steam page, shouting to anyone who listened that it was basically DayZ but better. My theory is that in its desperate bid to become more popular than DayZ, its developers whored it out frantically, in full knowledge that it would not deliver on its promises. This shows the lowest and most despicable of developer behavior, where gamers are taken advantage of and expectations are artificially heightened through false hype. Thus, it is no surprise to me that the controversy occurred as it did, as the set-up was already there to begin with. This is prevalent to a lesser degree in a fair number of game releases, where desperate marketing ramps the promised features up to 11, rather than giving players an honest picture of what is to come, eventually leading to disappointment.
Another source of hype comes from the "bloodline" of certain games, mostly sequels - games with stellar previous instalments or legendary history amongst the gaming community. This hype then develops into an, arguably, unwarranted expectation that the game would hold to standards or styles previously championed by its predecessor. At most times, this expectation proves true, and the game is indeed the previous game but simply improved upon, but at times, this expectation also hinders the enjoyment of a game deciding to break away from its roots. If what was originally a fully-fledged RPG suddenly morphs into an action-RPG or even something else entirely, such as a RTS, gamers cannot help but feel stymied by this change. Some even resenting it regardless of its benefit to the game. One major example of this change in recent gaming history is Hitman: Absolution. Hitman: Blood Money is possibly one of my all-time favourite games. Playing through the newest Hitman offering, I got the sense that despite it being a game that showcases incredible polish and ingenious design, I still could not bring myself to enjoy it. Rummaging about my emotions, I finally homed in on the feeling, at which point I realized I disliked it simply because it was not the Hitman game that I remembered. The exclusion of proper disguise mechanics, the slow segue into the action-stealth genre, the inevitable Michael Bay cutscenes and the lack of equipment customization all contributed heavily to the realization that Hitman: Absolution was vastly different from what I expected, which was Hitman: Blood Money 2. Thus, it brought rise to a question. If I had not played Hitman: Blood Money, would I have disliked Hitman: Absolution as much? Many other similar examples exist, sequels such as Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect 2, Fallout 3, and so on, all of which would likely have been better-liked had they not have had the heavy expectations put on them by their predecessors.
Exactly what I hoped for...and more.
Ultimately though, this is not an issue that is black and white. All this is not to say that hype does not have a place within the modern gaming industry, rather it is absolutely essential, as lack of hype results in the lack of gamer and publisher support, ultimately risking a game tanking due to its status as 'publicly unknown'. One such example was the recently closed "Soon Serenade", a MMORPG based on musicals. The most prevalent response by the gaming community to its closure was "I didn't even know it existed". Thus, this lack of gamer knowledge that the game even existed most likely contributed to its eventual failure, showing the importance of good marketing and hype. Also, one must not forget the wondrous feeling when one's expectations are proved true, when a game is everything you thought it would be, and maybe even a little more. This, in recent times, has only been fulfilled by The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, but suffice to say it was absolutely incredible to have my dream become reality for once.
Playing with the feelings and expectations of gamers must be handled delicately, and many publishers in their mad rush to garner support and excite the potential audience unknowingly damn the game they are making in the process. In the end, there is no greater method than to let a game's greatness speak for itself, and if one has no confidence in the game one is making, then how can one expect people to love it?
Posted 06-02-2013, 14:53
You cover both sides of the hype element from a consumer perspective very well. From a business marketing perspective a lot of what you say is also important, there are legal reasons that mean you cannot mis-market a game (like with Mass Effect 3). But that had more to do with the marketing plan being made long before the game was finished and by the time the game launched BioWare decided they did still want to make more Mass Effects and thus wanted to leave an open ending, which was contrary to what the marketing team had promoted and what BioWare originally had planned to end the ME franchise with ME3. But yeah, all that being said they really should try to market games more realistically, giving it too much hype leads to gamer disappointment, while insufficient hype and marketing will lead to poor sales or games flying under the radar (like Nexus).