“Oh boy did you see the last trailer for Dark Souls II? I’m sure you will die at least twice as much! And that thing with the long arms? Man, that looks hard! I am sooo excited for this game!” Reactions like this are common when gamers get their hands on a new trailer or bit of news about an upcoming game. It is perfectly natural to be excited for a game and consequentially hype it up; however, in light of recent events, is it really a good thing for us to be doing so?
One of the many problems surrounding the gaming industry is hype (an issue that plagues many other industries, too). Yes, it is cool when a new article or video comes out, showing shiny and innovative features of a game, leading you to talk about it with friends or post it somewhere on the Internet. The problem with this, though, is that sometimes games get elevated to a godlike status; so much so that, even if they are great, they cannot hope to meet expectations. Most gaming veterans have had this personal experience. Last year, for me and many others, one game that swept us up in the hype was Aliens: Colonial Marines. As a fan of the franchise, it was devastating to see not only such a piss-poor Aliens game, but one that also completely messed up the canon. At the time, I was furious to say the least; yet, as I thought about it more, I should not have been so excited for this game in the first place. I mean, there were plenty of others coming out that would be as good or better anyways. I was just upset at what had happened to a game I was looking forward to. And yes, we could argue all day about what actually happened in the development of that game, but that doesn’t remove the problem of hype, it might even make it worse. Thanks to my incessant hyping of the game, courtesy of the screenshots and trailers that came out, it had reached a point where I expected it to do anything and be everything I wanted from an Aliens game, even when that could never really happen. Even though A:CM was not the worst game ever, it seemed far more disastrous to us than it actually was because it became so built up in our minds.
Fast forward to September of last year, when the much anticipated Grand Theft Auto V released after several years of anticipation. Was it a good game? Certainly! Was it a perfect one? No, not at all – but then again, no game truly is. Yet looking at the backlash from some online communities, you would never know that this game was in contention for, and won, several Game of the Year awards. This includes sizable groups of readers at sites like Gamespot or Metacritic; many were still relatively positive, yet those that were not spoke mostly about broken promises. While this may be their true opinion, the problem was likely that they expected so much from GTA V; it could not possibly live up to the hype, no matter how good Rockstar made it.
In fact, nowhere is this hype more clear than the sales data for GTA V. The game had 3.5 million pre-orders and made a grand total of $800 million in the first day alone, and as of today, the game has sold more than $3 billion worth of copies. And yet you could walk into a game store a couple days after release and find copies already up on the used game rack. Why? Because the expectation of the game was so overinflated that the people who bought the game were severely disappointed. Then, many of these same people go onto the Internet to post about why they hated the game or how critics cannot possibly be reviewing the game fairly. And you know what? It is infuriating that gamers have to be this way. The amount of pure hatred from the gaming community regarding any game nowadays is elevated by the sheer amount of anticipation. If these loudest voices are to be believed (which is rarely, if ever, the case), you can’t just simply enjoy a game anymore. It has to scream next gen, it has to have vast, living worlds and most of all, it has to be perfect. Current marketing practices play right into this, making every game out to be more than it is, or ever could be, and that makes the gaming community expect a product from God. And I, for one, cannot blame gamers for then hating what they get if they were told a game would be one way, but then they spend their hard earned $60 on something that is underwhelming to say the least.
Even though I can relate, it does not mean that I agree. Gaming is still a young medium compared to most forms of entertainment, but we need to still be mature in our response both to the games and the news about them. Gamers complaining about a game due to how the hype portrayed it is wrong. It is strange then that these ways of marketing are not as severe of a problem in other industries such as films. Because of this, the gaming community looks like it is full of a bunch of whiny toddlers who did not get the toy they wanted for Christmas. Or, if they did get the shiny new Transformer, it did not transform as fast as they would have liked, and therefore they do not want it anymore. So, instead of taking responsibility for our own misjudgment, or not doing enough research beforehand, gamers call out the reviewers saying that they overrated a game because they cannot see past the hype. In retrospect though, one must remember that it is a critic’s job to talk about a game, and for better or worse, this can, as a side effect, hype it up. It is not the reviewer’s fault whether a game is good or bad, yet we frequently blame them.
Like GTA V, Bioshock: Infinite received more than its fair share of hate. It was a great game; it has a 94 on Metacritic, which is pretty hard to achieve. Yet, for whatever reason, whole swaths of the gaming community cannot accept that. They did not get everything they were promised, and therefore they say the game must be bad. So, in turn they spammed the user reviews with abysmally low scores simply because they bought into the hype. It is wrong, and it needs to stop on the side of both the publishers and consumers. Publishers make it their goal to overhype a game simply for sales and do not even blink an eye at the consumers. Some may say that there is nothing you can do about this, it’s the current way of the market, but there are other ways to market your game besides large budgets, flashy CGI trailers and hundreds of empty promises. One example of a game that does marketing well is Earth Defense Force. Sandlot knows what they are making and what their target audience wants. Sure it is a niche title, but it markets and sells directly to that audience they know will enjoy their game without the level of overhyping that many AAA titles have. This allows them to make money without all the bells and whistles. Sure, the trailers are cheesy and the graphics are “last gen”, but that does not matter, the audience knows they want to play the game, and they know that Sandlot is doing as they say. The game may not sell mega-millions, but it still generates more than enough revenue to make ends meet without the negative backlash of GTA V. Therefore, both Sandlot and their fans are satisfied. Seeing the way Sandlot handles PR, it is clear that AAA publishers could learn something from this.
Gaming is a symbiotic relationship, the gamers and the publishers have a responsibility to each other that must be fulfilled to keep a happy medium. Yes, publishers like Gearbox may say false things about a game to hype it up, and, no matter how wrong this is, it isn’t something that will be stopping any time soon. That is why it is our job as gamers to see past this. I am not saying hype does not need to exist; it is a necessary evil to the build up the publicity of a game. However, too much of anything is bad. So don’t buy into all the anticipation surrounding a game. Take the time to do some research first — Google isn’t going to hurt you. And make sure you will be happy with your purchase before you walk into the store; because like everything else, excessive hype is only a phase.
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