Saturday 14 August 2010

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.

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