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Editorial: Analyzing the Video Game Hype Machine and How It Fails Gamers

hype Aliens: Colonial Marines Duke Nukem Forever Gearbox

Hype is a massive force in the gaming industry and it always has been. The main reason that the 1989 film The Wizard saw big audiences was due to one thing. No, it wasn’t the deeply affecting narrative, but simply the fact that fans knew that footage of Super Mario Bros. 3 would get some screentime.

In the current age, we hear news as it happens and are spoon fed tiny teasers, concept art, and pre-rendered videos. The industry’s continual hyping up of games is in full swing.

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However, the industry has recently suffered at its own hands right in front of gamers. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a game that was reviewed negatively by the majority of gaming press. Over the years it continued to see videos and gameplay footage from media events to keep fans aware of the upcoming game. Seven years in production later, the game launched to intense criticism and ire. This was not the game that was promised to fans time and time again. Instead, it was labeled a mediocre shooter that didn't deserve the name of Aliens.

A few days after this all started to go down, Bungie officially announced their much anticipated game Destiny. Instead of swarming the media with alpha game footage, they did just as companies have been apt to do in the past. Showing concept art and talking up a big game, they did not actually give anyone a fair look at the actual game they were excitedly announcing. Normally, this would be business as usual, but with Aliens: Colonial Marines still a fresh wound, some have begun to question the industry’s actions.

Why is it that we as fans may be thrown into fits of ecstasy over such unimportant bits of information? No matter the age, it only takes a certain franchise or company to get many to revert back to squealing schoolchildren in an instant. There is something magical about hype and its role in promoting upcoming titles. Game companies have become masters of media and manipulation. If they know they can get away with simply espousing key phrases then that’s exactly what they’ll do.

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Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. For example, one needs to only recall Sony’s 2006 press conference where Kaz Hirai announced a Ridge Racer game on PSP. He had wrongly assumed the fanbase for the game was so enthralled that they would clap madly at him simply saying the name. Instead, Hirai was stuck on stage making his iconic “Riiiiiiidge Racer!” comment to a silent audience. Most of the time though, things play out much differently.

As was the case with Duke Nukem Forever or Aliens: Colonial Marines, games get built up thanks to the press (and other forms of media) only to be torn down by players once they get their hands on time. Some have suggested that media is deception, and in many ways, that is exactly what is being presented. Deceptive marketing is not only a part of the gaming world, but it is not all done with malicious intent.

Think back to Dead Island, which was given a truly emotional pre-rendered trailer. That one video sent shockwaves through the community as gamers uttered a collective “I need it” before pre-ordering the game. Was Dead Island anything like that? Certainly the visuals were different but so too was the story. Although there was a narrative, it was hardly as heart-wrenching as what had been displayed in the trailer. Developer Deep Silver may have hoped to create such an emotional experience when they began, but that was far from what the end product was.

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Games routinely go through many changes over the course of creation. What they choose to show at trade shows and in interviews is only what they know will make them look best. Aliens is not the first game to have done this and it will not be the last. In the case of newly announced Destiny, they are probably not deeply into production as of yet. As such, you can’t expect them to hold firm to every comment said in their introductory videos. Those are simply the hopes and plans for what Destiny will become, but not proof positive of the game being all those things when it finally launches.

However, we have been trained to believe that all the preview media is indicative of what a game will become. Certainly it makes sense to assume that things will at least be similar to what they are being shown and discussed as beforehand. Still, development of a game is a long, strenuous process and a lot gets left on the cutting room floor. As gamers, we must learn not to go gaga over previews, teasers, and whatever else the gaming world is tossing at us.

Can we divorce ourselves from the infinite amount of previews and developer updates, though? It is practically ingrained in our DNA to listen when a favorite developer speaks. There is something exciting about feeling like you’re in on the shaping of a game. Anticipating a game is fun and a way to feel a part of the community at large. Still, it doesn’t do us a lick of good. The only way we will know if a game is truly fun to us is if we have it in our hands and are playing it to completion.

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That’s not to say that previews can’t be fun, just that we must be sure to keep the analytical part of our minds on. If designers and developers are just talking to a camera and saying all the cool things that a game will have that does nothing for players. Concepts are just concepts until proven as functioning (and fun) in gameplay.

When watching trailers and other forms of media, think about their purpose. Are they stripping away the veil of privacy to give you a view into development? Or are they simply saying and showing cool things with the purpose of hyping up the audience? Are the things displayed and said facts and proven as existing in the game or are they ideas? As long as you can keep from devolving into a rabid consumer while checking out preview content, you will hopefully be able to avoid the stinging pain of games not living up to their potential in the future.


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