To explain the interaction between 'fanboism' and the game producers strategical choices, we must look at this other recent phenomenon in the MMO world, that is called the 'hype'.
Hype is another word for advertising we could say, and it's nothing new, companies which try to sell a product need some form of advertising up to a point, at least so that their product should be known, and meet its genuine customers.
But we know that things start to go wrong, when the companies put much more creativity and originality in the advertisement itself than into the product they want to sell you. And that doesnt stand only for MMOs. Just look at your TV ads, and you'll see alot of what I'm talking about : the amount of creativity and originality used to make you believe that the washing powder A washes better than the washing powder B probably largely exceeds the amount of thought and conception that has been put into each of those products to really differentiate them. At the end, the washing powder A and B are similar, the only difference is what you gonna believe, that is which advertisement will have caught your attention the most.
Fortunately, we have not come to this yet with MMOs, and we can pretty much say without any doubt that the MMO A and the MMO B don't only differ in their advertisement, but also in their content. MMOs are not washing powders and we're not close to that point, certainly. But are we getting closer ? That could be possible.
Until recently, and if we except the World of Warcraft huge phenomenon, MMO companies didnt have the kind of business to heavily invest into TV ads. They have rather used the internet, putting some banners here and there for their game. But they found out something much more interesting. What else could be better to advertise your game than having the players themselves promoting and fighting for your title everywhere on the gaming boards ?
That's where game designers (or hype managers should I say ?) meet the fanboys to create this phenomenon we called the 'MMO hype'. The MMO companies have intuitively perfectly understood what is the 'pre-launch' or 'non-gaming' 'fanboism' (as I defined it in the previous part of this article), and went to exploit it to their advantage. Concretely they started to feed fanboys with exactly the kind of food they starve for, announcing anything about their game only to excite any form of potential fanboism, even when they know that what they announced is very unlikely to meet a release ever.
(Announced........................................... vs Released............................................)
Take for example Warhammer Online. Seriously, Paul Barnett has done an amazing 'hyping' job. If you watched some of his podcasts, you really know what I mean. The guy was just brillant, he looked so sincerely enthusiast and motivated by his game, it was almost contagious and after watching a few of his internet movies it made you want to play the game really bad (like the first picture above makes you want to eat a Big Mac, right ? However unfortunately the second doesnt, and that's why you rarely see it...). Note that I do not have anything against Paul Barnett himself : the guy has done his job, and he has done it amazingly well in my opinion. If I ran any kind of business and needed a commercial to promote some of my products, I would choose him over one thousand of other persons for sure.
Nethertheless, the pre-launch fanboys can feel almost like they have been scammed once the game ships in, especially if it's flawed on many points, and that was the case with Warhammer Online. Many of them turn then into 'haters' that won't find any peace of mind before they have posted at least a good hundred of insults and bashing posts on the boards, directed toward the game, the designers, the players, the genre and the world itself. Just some bad frustration that needs to be expelled in one form or another. Surprisingly, we can see here how 'fanboys' and 'haters' are just part of one same big phenomenon, even when they seem to be so much the opposite one of each other. Some die-hards fanboys will still fight for their game until the end, but I tend to think they're pretty rare actually compared to the numbers who will have left the ship before it sinks.
At the end everyone meets his fate, and everyone must pay for what has been taken prior to any real experience or delivery : the excessive amount of imaginative and illusory pleasure for some, or the excessive amount of cash from the pre-orders and boxes sales for the others. The lesson will be learnt, and will be learnt the tough way. More energy could have been spent making the game really good than having people think it's really good. Less hype would certainly be met with less boxes sales the first month, but it could also give some time to your company to fix and improve your game. Less hype would certainly also result in much less frustration for the players. Promising everything right out of the box, and then failing blatantly to meet the expectations you've raised yourself, give a large majority of the playerbase good reasons to avoid your game definitely, even when it gets way better after a few patches (Age of Conan is a good example).
And what if a 'hyped' game would be really good ? Wouldn't it change everything we have said about the bad side-effect of the hype and the fanboism ? Not really. A really good game will always succeed and meet its playerbase no matter what. A bad game will not. Players don't need to fuel their imagination for games that don't exist yet, and companies to try to get the fanboy's money before even managing to have their game working properly. Making every other good, bad or average game looking great, new and shiny through a large amount of hype, while at the same time they're barely innovative compared to what already exists, at the very end will lead MMOs to be similar to washing powders in their unoriginality. This can never be good for the genre as a whole, and it's definitely not what we expect from our favorite game designers and MMO companies.