How now, hype?

Good hype is announcing player classes and races, world details, lore and specific game mechanics as they are actually implemented in the game.

Bad hype is making claims and then having to qualify your rhetoric and reel in player’s reasonable expectations based on what you specifically told them.

I’m just using Guild Wars 2 as an example because it’s of the moment. I’m genuinely excited about the game for other reasons, and for me Guild Wars 2 will always have a get-out clause in the fact that they aren’t intending to charge a subscription in the traditional sense, which lends a certain weight to their argument that they’re going about things differently.

Personally I have to balance that excitement against the Mythic example though, where a company with a previously excellent game with a healthy fan-base made big claims about taking MMOs to the next level, about creating a game for the players, with videos and blog posts – from developers and designers understandably passionate about the field of MMOs and their game – that talked about game mechanics and design revolutions that just never saw the light of day or, when they were actually implemented, were illuminated under a very different light to that which the hype had painted them.

It sounds like a familiar story now, and although I think Guild Wars 2 is going to be a good game, I do wonder whether it can live up to the expectations that are being set within the gaming community by ArenaNet’s manifesto. If they can live up to everything they have claimed, Guild Wars 2 will be a great game, but if they don’t, and it turns out merely to be a good game, I worry that the damage done by the negative backlash will be worse for them than if they had simply promoted the game through good hype. Good hype is the less dramatic, less flashy way to promote a game, for certain, but it develops no less a loyalty in the fan-base and general community, and most importantly, is more likely to develop sympathy and support for your game when it runs into the inevitable MMO launch issues, instead of the implosion of vitriol that is often reserved for games that claim greatness and fail to even approach the simple standard of competence that was set so many years ago by World of Warcraft. WoW isn’t greatness, it is simply the standard, the benchmark of entry, if you claim greatness for yourself.

Why do I rail against the bad hype? Because it destroys games and companies. It is bad for me as a player and fan of the genre, it is bad for the genre itself, it is bad for these companies and the people who have poured their heart and soul into their game. I hate it because it is marketing-driven rhetoric of the worst kind, it is the essence of the developer/designer passion filtered through the disingenuous half-truths of advertising, by committees in boardrooms who wouldn’t know an MMO if it was force-fed to them one experience point at a time. Bad hype is trying to generate current World of Warcraft levels of subscriptions at the launch of the game. Not even World of Warcraft did that.

It is big business come to the small rural town, paving over the fields, driving out all the shop owners and pasting up twenty foot tall billboards telling you that your boobs aren’t big enough, your car isn’t fast enough and that your sofa could be doing so much for you than being a comfortable place to sit, and that big business has a solution to all these problems you never knew you had until they arrived.

I’ll tell you why, however, that despite the ghosts in their hype machine I still have hope that Guild Wars 2 will be the great game that the designers and developers are telling us about. Ignore all the marketing pizazz and watch the part where Ree Soesbee delivers the following line

“The most important thing in any game should be the player. We have built a game for them.”

and watch her face. Either she deserves an Oscar for her acting performance, or that is the face of a game designer who believes passionately in what she says as she is saying it, no rhetoric, no grand analogies or sophisms, just a plain statement delivered in a manner that, to me, says “and I vow we will prove this to you”.

I hope so, because the good hype – races, classes, world design – that they’ve delivered so far has me fantastically excited about their game. The bad hype makes me equally as nervous and cynical, however.

12 thoughts on “How now, hype?

  1. darkeye

    I’d guess that confusion highlights the difference between promoting the game to people with no previous interest and those that have been following all the details to date. Fans would have known Ree Soesbee was in charge of the personal story and would have already read her articles, and knew exactly what she meant by named bosses/NPCs staying dead. So the information is already there, the manifesto might have parts that lose their meaning when talking to a much wider audience than previously but it’s necessary to attract attention in an over-saturated market. For me the way the devs talked was more impactful than any of the over-blown language.

    It doesn’t really matter cause the impact of word of mouth from people experiencing the demo next week beats all other forms of promotion.

  2. Melmoth Post author

    Interesting point. Honestly, I feel it’s better to target the core MMO audience, and then let them sell your game to a wider, more general audience, as and when your game achieves a level of greatness. I believe this is what World of Warcraft did.

    The thing with MMOs is that they’re around for the long haul – they’re not the flash-in-the-pan scenario that you get with single player games – so I think more of a slow-burn grass-roots approach to marketing can be justified in their case.

    I’ll be interested to see how the demo pans out, and whether it can give a fair enough representation of the game. As with all the ballyhoo regarding how long someone should play an MMO before reviewing it, I have to wonder how much value can be derived from a brief demo as to how the game will play in the long term. Certainly for the core MMO audience it should give some indication as to how the fundamentals of the game – UI, character creation, quests etc. – are implemented, if nothing else.

  3. Tanek

    I do see your point, but calling the statements in the latest GW2 video ‘rhetoric’ (in context, I have to assume you meant that in the negative, less-than-truthful communication way) maybe goes a bit far. As darkeye said, the clarifications that came later on were there in the earlier articles as well.

    Could they have made it clearer in the video? Maybe, but I don’t see this as a case of making promises they can’t keep.

    That said, I’m still waiting to see how things play at Gamescom and PAX. I like most of what I have heard from the developers so far, but having people actually see it in action will be a big step to bridging hype with reality.

  4. Melmoth Post author

    I do think it was artful rhetoric, but I don’t believe it was the intention of the designers who were speaking for it to be taken that way. I think editing of the video for maximum impact gave impressions that weren’t representative of the game proper, as shown by the ‘corrections’ given in the reactions post I linked to.

    As darkeye and yourself rightly point out, the actual information that was being relayed was already available, however the video format is the one that is going to get the most viewing outside of the core MMO audience, and sites such as Rock Paper Shotgun will link to it, where they won’t necessarily link to all the individual developer diaries and the like that sites such as Massively, MMO Crunch and would point out as well.

    As a marketing exercise I imagine the video has worked wonderfully well, but now ArenaNet need to continue to manage that hype and make sure expectations aren’t unrealistic outside of the foundation audience which would already understand how these things will, in all likelihood, work when the game is released.

  5. darkeye

    I don’t think this manifesto was meant for us, it’s more than likely meant to be played on loop at gamescom to attract attention on the floor.

    That said I’m thinking there is little bit of nervousness on Arenanet’s part about how the game will go down, that the devs will stay up all night to play with attendees suggests the need for hand-holding, relying a bit on herd mechanics to lead people towards content that they are not attuned to spotting.

  6. Melmoth Post author

    Mike O’Brien claimed in the video that “Guild Wars 2 is our opportunity to question everything, to make a game that defies existing conventions”, if that is in fact the case, then having people on hand to guide players, both those new to MMOs and those too entrenched in the common tropes of MMOs to appreciate something new, certainly seems like a sensible decision.

    Fingers crossed that they have done something as special as they claim, the genre needs it now as much as ever.

  7. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Capcha: crapulous… not exactly a good sign.

    In short, I agree completely. Hype is a harsh mistress, and it sucks when it builds up unrealistic expectations.

    In the case of GW2, it’s actually a bit more worrying that they’re not relying on subscriptions. If they move enough boxes, even if the game doesn’t live up to the hype, they can brag about having tremendous sales figures which helps convince others to buy the game, too. It might be the proper business thing to hype the game to drive initial sales even if the game has no chance of living up to the hype. As I’ve posted elsewhere, the ArenaNet team also has to prove to NCSoft that they can make lightning strike more than once and won’t repeat Garriott’s folly.

    I think it’s also important to understand that most developers are 110% committed to a game. I fully believe that the developers fully believe what they say in that video. The question is if business realities like budget and schedule allow for those to happen. As you point out, I’m sure Paul Barnett really wanted Warhammer to be all that and a bag of chips. I don’t think he intended to deceive people, it’s just when faced with a deadline you just do the best you can.

  8. Melmoth Post author

    @Brian: Yes, it is tricky with GW2 when they’re pricing the game more like a single player game than an MMO. It may be that they do need to promote it in such a way as to maximise those initial box sales, although I would be interested to know how Guild Wars worked for them – I certainly get the impression from following it that it was more of a slow burn constant level of popularity in that case.

    I think most developers are definitely committed heart and soul to their game. I’m pretty sure Paul Barnett wasn’t trying to deceive people about content, I got the impression from some of their ‘correction’ videos that he just didn’t understand quite how things were going to work, or he spun them into something they weren’t through his exaggerated and over the top marketing style. That doesn’t help the player much though.

    @Stabs: I like the geometric hyperbole analogy very much. Of course hype has moved into the language with its own definition, clearly derived from hyperbole, but now separate from it.

    Oh that we could have afforded the Captchatron X-9000, unfortunately we got caught up in the fancy marketing hype for the Captchamatic MkIV and bought a lifetime subscription; their claim that it will eliminate all spammers forever turned out to be hyperbole, alas.

  9. Dr Toerag

    To be fair, the Captchamatic MkIV kill teams have swept the east coast of the US clear of spammers, but as they death squads moved west, more sprung up.
    Even killing the firstborn of every spammer allows more to spontaneously appear on the fertile ground of widely available internet access and “free speech”.

  10. Ramei Arashi

    Anet only releases information about stuff they’ve already put in the game. So its not hype, its reality.

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