With all the continuing Ebola, end-of-the-world, talk recently, I thought it would be an apt use of my time to discuss the gaming industry’s current all-pervasive sickness; hype. It’s a word that gets thrown around quite a bit these days, usually in the context of anger and disappointment, but it is a word that opens an important conversation on the current state of our hobby. For those of you who don’t know, hype just simply refers to excessive publicity and exaggerated claims made solely for the purpose of promotional material. In the gaming industry this is most often done by publishers for their major games. Tentpole releases that could cost them tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars to produce. So it only makes sense that advertising a game is going to be an extremely important part of the process of recouping the money spent, and perhaps even making a profit. But when does game advertising move past its seemingly innocuous self, and into dangerous territory? I believe it’s when we, the gamers, get involved.
If you were to go back in time, to say, December of 2013, and asked average gamers what they thought some of the biggest, and more importantly, best games of 2014 would be, the same two games might be sitting on top of a good number of those lists; Titanfall, and Destiny. Both are new IP’s, with good pedigrees, impressive showcases, huge marketing budgets, and as it so happens are each the product of one of the industry’s major publishing houses, Electronic Arts, and Activision to be specific. But what do they have in common now, in October of 2014, after they’ve been on the market for some time? They are both general critical disappointments, that have been criticized by reviewers and fans alike for their glaring problems, lack of content, or the just-average gameplay they released with. Obviously both of these games, while still solid titles, in no way constitute the industry defining games we thought we would be getting. Titanfall, the first game from Respawn Entertainment, exiles of the nasty Infinity Ward-Activision legal breakup over the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series, had both the pedigree of arguably the best FPS game in history in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare behind it, and the combined mega marketing machines of both Electronic Arts (its publisher) and Microsoft, for whom the game was an Xbox One system exclusive. And Destiny, the brand new IP from Bungie Inc. creators of one of the most critically lauded and well-known video game series’ ever with Halo, supported by the fabled Activision marketing “Death Star”, known for blowing the competition into a fine space-dust with its sheer brand awareness. One can be forgiven for being too excited for these games, they seemingly had everything going for them, from immaculate histories, to ridiculous budgets, and years of extra time to work out every little detail, yet they still disappointed a great number of fans, myself included. But what I’ve come realize over the past few months, from feeling this great disappointment, is that I simply buy into what’s being sold to me far more than I should, and in the process get burned quite a bit. I feel like I’m not alone in making this mistake, and in fact I do believe I’m in the majority crowd when it comes to gamers getting too excited for a new game.
Excitement is fine, no argument’s here, (my blood is figuratively boiling in anticipation thinking about Mass Effect 4, and Fallout 4) but when we, as consumers of the largest entertainment market in the world, get burned multiple times in a single year, especially if you also include games like Watch_Dogs that suffered for different reasons, we need to do something. As it’s shaping up, a healthy dose of skepticism is looking more and more like a necessity to enjoy our industry to the fullest. I was one of the millions of people who bought Destiny on launch day, before a single review score went live, because of how convinced I was that it was going to be a game changer. In fact, I had spent many an hour with the game’s Alpha and Beta releases over the summer enjoying it thoroughly, however I did voice some concerns on a past post on this site about the apparent repetitiveness the game was showing, and it’s significant net code issues. Of course, I thought that the Beta was just a Beta and not totally reflective of the final game. As it turns out I was wrong, while Destiny is an enjoyable and generally solid shooter, it is hampered by a number of significant problems that make it’s surprisingly average metacritic score of 76 a very deserved one. Large chunks of boring, repetition-based, grinding for loot, and a soulless story on life support keep Destiny from feeling like the next big thing, although the revenue generated from the game already certainly tells a different story. A story that’s great for shareholders, but not for the consumer.
If Destiny proved anything, it’s that the video game industry, and the consumers who take part in it, need to add a healthy dose of skepticism to the mix. That’s a hard thing to recommend, seeing as how mean and downright distasteful Internet commenters already can be to game creators even about frivolous things. But the endless hype trains need to slow down a bit. We as gamers accomplish nothing but disappointing ourselves by propping up a game as though it’s going to be the greatest, most revolutionary, thing ever, as early as two years from it’s release like we did with Destiny. Sure a larger and larger part of the problem behind hype is the over-marketing and saturation of announcements from the companies and studios themselves, but we have to realize that ads are a part of the business, and have been forever. They will always be around and they will always try to show their game off in the best possible light. When they lie a bit about that best possible light, they should be called out for it for false advertising, but the marketing teams at places like Activision and EA should not shoulder the entire weight of the blame for your disappointment. We as consumers in this enormous industry have to take a look at ourselves and stop buying things like pre-orders and expansion packs, and even sometimes the game on launch day, without first making sure it’s a game you’ll enjoy spending 60 bucks or more on, and that you’ll be sure to get your money’s worth out of. If we want the industry to do away with predatory practices like those we have to cull the hype that we generate amongst ourselves first. Those companies should have to prove the worth of their product to us first before they even catch a glimpse of our wallets; but right now that isn’t happening in the industry. Companies are raking in money based solely on our unfounded hopes and expectations and having a hell of a time doing it. As I’ve realized recently, we absolutely need to put a stop to this before it gets out of control.