There is a poison that has been growing in gaming culture for some time now. In the last year or so I think it’s reached a zenith, and it is time that consumers start fighting back. The core gamers are told that there are threats to their hobby. That congress is legislating against their games, that iPhones and iPads are causing dedicated game consoles and game capable PCs to disappear. However, the real threat to gaming culture is internal, and is inflamed by PR firms who want to manipulate and gamers into buying into their story so they can sell games. Hype. Hype is the greatest danger to the gaming market and it is time that the majority of core gamers realized how they are being manipulated.
Of course, this could be a problem with the greater geek culture that has risen to prominence in the last ten years. Fans line up for hours to watch ten minutes of a film they are going to see in theaters in a few months. That waste of time and money has always baffled me, as I have always found myself with more media to consume than time to consume it. In gaming I’ve seen fans line up for hours to play a few minutes of Portal 2 at PAX East less than a month before release. The same for L.A. Noir, a game that wasn’t even worth playing even after the price had bottomed out. At NY Comic Con fans waited in line to watch game play of Batman Arkham City only a week or two before release.
I think most of it can be attributed to the social aspect of those hobbies. You want to be able to play the latest games because then you can talk about them with your friends or in online communities. You can be the first person to have a brand new experience. However, this causes gamers to constantly look into the future for entertainment, being tricked into paying top dollar for a game when there are plenty of games dropping in price they haven’t touched. I bet a large number of people who jumped on Assassin’s Creed 3 didn’t play the first few because the third one was advertised as being prettier and more fun. These fictional gamers who jumped to the third Assassin’s Creed without exploring the originals spent more money only because the game was newer and shinier, and they are robbing themselves of other game experiences in preference to one that they can talk about with people who are also playing the game. They don’t want to play the original and jump into an AC discussion being that far behind, not having anything to add to the current discussion.
Game reviews have been a pet peeve of mine for a long time now. The main issue being is that most games will not get an average review score lower than a “7” on the ten point scale used by meta critic. On a logical use of the ten point system this means most games are above average. Sites that use a more rational scoring system are yelled at for being too hostile, and bad games that earn average scores lower than a “7” have defenders coming out of the woodwork. Any reviewer that gives an opinion contrary to one of the loud obnoxious gamers on the internet becomes a target for some of the worst hostility imaginable. Does the excitement for a game overshadow the games actual value? Is believing accumulated hype for a game better than the game actually being of quality?
In the recent year there are three examples of this that are examples of this being a serious problem, at least as far as I’m concerned.
Last year at E3 Ubisoft showed off Watch Dogs and in that the internet decided that they “won” the entire show. Even of this day the little bits and pieces we get on Watch Dogs. At the time all we got was a very impressive looking demo and a promise that it’ll run on next generation hardware. Gamers latched on and became immediately excited for the technology manipulation open world gameplay but… we saw no game. As of the writing of this with PAX East behind us we still have some very impressive looking trailers but almost no information on how the game systems work and no one outside of Ubisoft has even played it. Watch Dogs could simply be a GTA with a few limited special powers, think Infamous. Gamers are more in love with the idea of playing the game because we currently know nothing of how the gameplay will actually work.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
This is shooting fish in a barrel at this point, but the fake demo that Gearbox presented to the public and press before releasing the game is a clear example of the power that manipulation has and how dangerous it can be. Gearbox redesigned the beginning of the game in order to make it more impressive. When it was released the actual game was just a shell of the game they showcased. Events showed in the demo videos were there, but featured no enemies and a far lower level of texture detail. It was as if the demo showed to the press was what they wanted the game to be and yet they were not able to deliver on that when the final product went gold so they simply released an unfinished product.
The scary part is that the PR at Gearbox and Sega crafted a lie in order to trick gamers and the press in order to buy their game, to pre-order the game. The metric that game companies use now for success is preorders. If they can capture a preorder then that is a sale before reviews are published and that is the system that Sega manipulated for Aliens: Colonial Marines. It’s terrifying how successful companies be by selling a game on hype alone.
The other sad side note is that even with the universal hate the game received it had people coming out to defend it, who had not even played it yet. Gamers who want to like a game are letting that supersede the actual quality of the game.
Destiny is what inspired this article. Destiny is the ultimate in hype. Bungie, a developer who has been widely successful with their Halo series, came out to finally detail their new game and what they presented to the press was a pile of promises and vague notions of what their game can do. Bungie came out with a long presentation that revealed what the game is going to be like and what customizations the players are going to offer, and that “Bungie and Activision didn’t feel it fit into a preexisting genre. Part first-person shooter, part open-world sandbox and part persistent universe, Destiny is constantly evolving but retaining players’ persistent progression, Hirshberg says.” (Polygon)
Nothing what they presented says anything about what the game is actually going to be… it was promises and concepts that they released along with a promise that they are going to deliver on it. Bungie coming out and presenting all this information without presenting a game is the start of the hype train. They are using this to get people ready, excited about the game they have down the line. Anyone can do what Bungie did. I can go to Polygon with some art and a sketch of a game I plan on making… that is all Bungie has right now. Why they decided to go public with so little information is obvious: gamers buy into this crap.
Until the culture of gaming changes, the culture that embraces the newest thing as a symbol of prestige, this string is just going to continue to get worse. We’ll get more write ups about games years away from reveal, we’ll get more explosion of praise for games that look promising, and we’ll get more companies attempting to fake gameplay in order to win pre-orders from a growingly subservient public.