Saturday, December 11, 2010

If you can't trust the news...

Ars Technica laments that their job is to spoil every detail of the newly announced Uncharted 3 over the year the game has until release.  The game's marketing team will slowly dole out footage of every level of the game, which will be posted around the internets to the point where anyone who actually reads all the previews will know about most or all of the major sequences in the game. 

A gaming "news" site that sits out misses out on the waves of traffic that are - theoretically - how these sites get paid.  A "news" site that participates is complicit in a world where studios don't have to buy off the press with cash anymore - if you're in the business of re-selling exclusive information for pageviews and you develop a reputation for being insufficiently charitable, they can find someone else who will run the exclusive in a more positive light.

Fostering unsustainable hype
This story is in some ways refreshingly honest and in some ways sad because it reflects an unfortunate reality about gaming news and marketing. 

When it comes to actual news about the games we support, current paying customers take a back seat behind potential customers who might read an exclusive article on a "news" site every single time.  The situation for unreleased games is even worse - marketing departments saturate the entire gaming press with hype about every minor feature of the game, even as the developers are working on whether and how to implement it.  This raises expectations that cannot possibly be met.

The thing that MMO marketers seem not to grasp is that, as bad as the hype cycle can be for a console game, it's even worse in a sector where long term subscription dollars are a big part of the revenue equation.  When word of mouth on a console game is terrible, most of the sales have already been made.  When vague marketing hype - backed by a strict NDA that prevents any more balanced accounts from coming out - gives players an incorrect view of an upcoming MMO, word of mouth and subscriber retention suffer after players pay for a game box and learn the truth. The next thing you know, players are jumping ship in droves and Syp is calling 2010 a "cursed year" for new MMO's. 

Perhaps the saddest part of the story is that some, if not all, of those responsible know that the curse is of their own making.  And, like Ars Technica, they choose to carry on anyway, because, well, it pays the bills. 


Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Yes, games "journalism" is severely broken. It's more like entertainment media than serious news. But, it perpetuates this way because it's working for now.

The only thing worse than having your game overhyped is having no hype at all.

Green Armadillo said...

Knowing what we do today, would Warhammer have been worse off as a game that launched with no hype and got credit for its steady improvements, rather than blamed for failing to live up to Mark Jacobs' promises and mocked for massive server mergers?

Yes, you eventually need some non-zero hype so that people will find out about the product in order to purchase it. I'm definitely not saying that you shouldn't advertise and build hype once you actually know what the finished product is going to look like. I'm just saying that there should be a healthy middle ground between zero and 24/7.

Tora said...

Oh, definitely! You're touching on to some VERY true stuff here. It always bothers me how unprofessional some marketing departments in the gaming industry are. They just spew out a lot of fantastic words like "super immersive", "x hours of gameplay", "stunning new features", "a new take on the FPS genre". I mean. How can they seriously expect their game to be well received when no game ever made actually matches those crazy specifications?

And we see all the time that great games get worse critics because the journalists are comparing the final product to insane promises that never should have been made in the first place. It is so unfair