Thoughts on the “Hype Problem”

Cameron’s got a good post and series of comments going on the Hype Problem with new games. Some of these themes have been brought up in the “Are we too nice” discussions also floating around.

A couple random thoughts on the whole hype machine stuff:

1. Its all about the sale. All game companies are in the business of selling their games all the time– even really crappy ones. One might even say, especially the really crappy ones, because they have such an uphill battle already because their game is so crappy. See Cameron’s sales chart. Day one matters when there might not be a day two… Yes, its sleazy, but thats what they feel they have to do. See Vanguard, but also see G&H.

2. Its all marketing. Every aspect of a beta program (closed or open) is at least 1/2 marketing in design (even when the NDA is still in place). Case in point, few if any games in beta give beta participants the option to /level up to a high level to “test” mid or high level content. Truth is, the vast majority of mid level content stinks anyway and may be non-existent on release. In fact, most devs are counting on having additional time to finish endgame content before anyone gets there. Couple that with relatively short beta periods generally and short periods between wipes and beta testers tend to be playing the first 10-20 levels over and over again. This is in part because they really want to polish (that word again) the noob experience and part because they don’t want anyone (or at least everyone in the beta) to spend all their time banging on a part of the game that’s frankly not done. Lets face it. We get handled.

3. Beta preview periods are too damned short. The fact that MMO’s are typically supposed to provide months of content, means there’s no meaningful way to provide any kind of in depth view into what the deeper game looks like…. Unless the devs made that content available (/level) during the beta or preview period. I think most of us who blog and who have played several if not many of the games in the genre to some degree of depth recognize that a few days/hours/weeks is not enough time to determine whether a game has staying power. I liked LotRO quite a bit but ran out of gas as I got into the mid-levels– beyond the area of what I had the opportunity to experience in beta. Probably the best we can say is “based on what I experienced so far, I’m willing/unwilling to make a $50 bet that it wont suck later.”

4. Finish the product. Oakstout hit it on the head when he noted there is no excuse for an unfinished product on release. I just don’t by the “MMO’s are never finished” bullshit. That’s simply an apologist excuse for companies that just simply fail to execute. Newsflash: a neat idea no matter how neat or cool is just that, an idea. What game companies all too often forget is that they are customer service businesses and all the infrastructure that isn’t a “part of the game” is still a core component of their business of which the game is merely a part. No game, no business, but no infrastructure and it doesn’t matter if you have a cool game. No one will find out if you can’t process payments or your servers crash or your bloated code isn’t optimized or vendors don’t deliver your game, etc…. If you can’t make a product, deliver it to customers and meet their needs, you have failed. Full stop. What you’re buying for $50 and a subscription is a content delivery system with an intial slug of content built in. That system should be a high quality fully functioning product and the initial content should be “complete.” If you liken MMOs to serialized content like a TV show or comic book, guess what? Each episode is a finished product though the “end” of the story may still be unwritten or even unconceived. If I delivered what most companies do on launch day as work product for my job, I would be and should be fired.

5. Ever the optimist. We are enthusiasts and secret optimists (even the most mean, bitter and cynical of us) and love games. We want them to be good. We’ll even often go out of our way to find SOMETHING ANYTHING of value in them. We are all secretly rooting for them and the dirty little secret among us all, is that playing a crappy game is better than playing no game at all (this is a free underhand pitch for snarky comments…). If no games were ever successful, fewer and fewer would endeavor in the attempt. To some extent, we all want to laud the great and encourage the bad to get better. Yes, this is dissonant with #4.

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