Monday, September 29, 2008

The Benefit of Hype

The onslaught of fall releases, the yearly cycle we've all grown accustomed to, has arrived. Even now gamers are crawling out from under their piles of screenshots, concept art and public relations ad campaigns to reserve the games they dreamed of during the long summer hibernation. Though some will succeed, many will not. It is time to throw aside our accumulation of exagerated promises and prepare ourselves for disappointment.

It is no surpise we've grown cynical. Videogame hype has grown to epic proportions. Rumors are leaked years ahead of schedule and reviews hit the interwebs well before release dates are even set. Most previews read like puff pieces, releasing the supposedly best aspects of a game that is not even released yet.

The result is a slew of promises that are hard to keep and growing suspicion of all videogame news. All of which, I argue, is a healthy outcome. There is in fact a unappreciated benefit of hype.

Publishers love getting us excited about their upcoming releases. We are that much more likely to buy the game if we've been spoon fed stylish, pre-packaged information. Some of their efforts can get pretty ridiculous. According to PR stooges, every Nintendogs clone is the most innovative piece of visual mastery of to hit the store shelves. It's hard to get excited about the another traditional genre game, hence the promised paradigm shifts for even the most mundane FPS rip-off.

Exagerated claims create high expectations for the developers to meet. If the game fails to meet these expectations, as many do, it still accomplishes some important tasks. Firstly, it promotes ingenuity because it is precisely what we are promised.

Videogame hype puts so much importance on innovation that it creates a demand for work that stretches outside the box; a demand that might not have otherwise been there. There are plenty of consumers who are satisfied with just another sequel to an existing game. The cynics with higher than normal expectations want unique and fresh experiences, and they are vocal about it.

Secondly, hype encourages the discussion of the yet unrealized potential of videogames. The releases that have the most buzz this season claim to dramatically change the status quo. If all goes according to plan, how we view certain genres and participate in storytelling will never be the same. Fable II, Mirror's Edge, Resistance II, have asked us to think about character development, non-violent FPSs, and multi-player teamwork and they haven't even come out yet.

If these games ultimately play just like their predecessors, we will still get something out of the hype surrounding their launch. Gamers and developers alike have used these games as a launching point to discuss the future of the videogame world and the place these mechanics have in it. Participants in this dialogue aren't mearly reacting to the games they play, but actively shaping how they will progress. When our expectations aren't met, developers have that much more incentive to satisfy our demands on the second time around. Hype is essential to innovation as an examination of a series of trial and error.

By all means, take your time to enjoy the games you love, but I encourage you to always be a little less than satisfied. Hop on the net, go to gametrailers, kotaku, or any other industry news source, and get excited about something; be it the next Animal Crossing or Resident Evil. If it flops, at least you can use its failure to hone in on where you would like to see videogames progress. If it succeeds? Well just think how exciting that will be.


  1. A very thoughtful piece on a subject often criticized at thoughtless.

    I agree that hype can act as a positive force by spurring conversation and urging developers to work around limitations.

    The trick is to find the right balance, since hype can create a nasty backlash effect. Just look at Too Human: It is widely seen as a disappointment, but why?

    Too Human definitely got people talking, but at what cost? While not spectacular, the game is largely solid. However, the game we played didn't compare to the game we imagined (or had been lead to imagine), and thus it became a sacrifice on the altar of hype. While the hype might have been beneficial for gaming community, Dyack and co. took a pounding.

    It seems like operating the hype machine is only for the brave or the foolish.

  2. What gets me more isn't the hype in the lead up to a game's release, but how that as soon as said game is released the discussion or excitement (or both) just dies and everyone moves onto the next thing. I mean, what?

    We spend so much time anticipating these titles, discussing possibilities for gaming potential - be that progress for the industry or just the potential for fun - while also discussing every little tidbit of information/media that we can for the game that to have the discussions just die a week after a game's release almost seems sad. Sure blogs may have an article here or there after release but that is just the minority isn't it? The majority move on to the next thing and personally, I think that's disappointing.

  3. @ Scott Juster

    Part of the problem that Too Human faced with their hype machine was the amount of claims Dyack and Co. were making. That guy talked as if the ten years it took to make the game were worth it. When it finally came out, the basic flaws in the gameplay were enough to chide people alone.

    @ Nismo

    You bring up a really good phenomenon that is just a casualty of the early preview cycles. Game journalists get early views of these games so they can contribute supply more content for those excited. When a game finally comes out, they've already reviewed it and have a pile of future games to take up their time. I really don't know what can be done about that.

    It is nice then, to see when blogs and even major media sources talk about older games. Gamasutra will occasionally have opinion pieces on older titles, 1up has their backlog of titles they discuss on their blog and forum, and vintage game club hits up the really old games to see what insight they can get out of them. There are others that are slipping my mind, but you are right, they are few and far between.

    We won't be getting early releases for EXP, so we hope to bring you thoughts on some not new but not archaic games in the near future.