I love this conversation we’re having. It seems that with each new column I have the fortune of writing here, you guys bring up some of the most engaging debates which then prompt an idea for my next column. Seriously, whether we all agree or not (which should and will never be the case), I’m infinitely glad to see we can hold a dialog and have some fun with all this. Keep in mind when responding below that what I write here is never meant as an attack on someone with an opposing viewpoint, so please don’t take it as such. “The Doubtful Gamer” wasn’t a plea for all such folks to change their ways and repent. It was merely my statement on how I hope one day their doubts drift away.
This led to discussion about how it’s not that Doubtful Gamers want to be down on every new release, but rather that often it’s the hype surrounding a new release that sets the worry wheels a-spinning. So with that in mind, let’s talk about hype. Let’s talk about how I’m personally not an instrument of advertising (despite what some folks will always believe), and more so about how I personally think there’s plenty of ways to avoid or at least rebuff the advertising dollars which are so venomously aimed at your wallet.
I’ve been a victim of game hype, and I’ve also been a glad patron. It’s easy to get caught up in marketing buzz for any game (or anything really) and let your excitement for its release swell over you until you’re wrapped cozily on your couch dreaming about how pleasant and revolutionary game A, B, or C will be. But then that game comes out, you play it, and then cry yourself to sleep begging Jon Hamm (see what I did there) for forgiveness and that you’ll never forsake him again. I mean, remember Daikatana? But then the hype surrounding Ocarina of Time wound up being justified as that game has gone down as an example of a nigh perfect experience.
It goes back to the Doubtful Gamer. I understand their plight, and it’s not that I’m not sympathetic towards their feelings. Many of their ilk feel that the marketing folks and PR chaps come out guns blazing, hyping the hell out of Product Z, and then what happens is ultimately a letdown. And while I know that it’s trendy to just lump all the blame on marketing or PR, I can’t bring myself to do so. It’s their job. It’s how they pay their bills, and how they feed their families. And frankly, if we keep buying into it, they’re so good at their job they deserve to be paid for it. But, I digress. I can’t blame the marketing firms or the public relations folks. They’re just a byproduct of a larger problem which is our entire consumer-based culture.
Yet, since it’s highly unlikely that the way our world works is going to change anytime soon, it’s probably best if we figure out a way to adjust our own thought patterns and avoid the hype fallout. One option, though it might work for some, is not “Hide in your closet until the world ends with a Snuggie and an endless supply of Hot Pockets.” I like life. But since life in the US and modern world abroad is basically one giant billboard, you’ve got to learn to temper yourself against the onslaught. As far as unreleased MMOs go, here’s what I’ve learned to do (even as an optimistic gamer). The following tactic is guaranteed to work, so long as you can withstand the marketing onslaught.
Wait to play before making a call. This is my number one rule. I can get excited by how games look on paper. I can drool over videos, screenshots, and developer Q&A’s. But the real proof is in the delicious digital pudding. And here’s where I’m going to state something that might rattle a few cages: I play Beta like it was Live. If a game is not fun for me during the beta phase, chances are it never will be. Even as MMOs are ever-changing software, the beta usually represents the intended design and shape of a game. Major changes to how it handles, what the world is like, and how it plays overall are not likely to come so close to launch. It may happen every so often, but unless a company structures a beta test in a way that limits what you can do in the game, chances are what you “test” then you’ll be playing for keeps at launch.
As part of my job here I have the pleasure of attending press events and gaming conventions. During such times, I get limited hands-on with whatever games are coming out. I mention this mainly because it’s at these shows that most fans and press get their first glimpses of what’s to come. And while MMOs are really hard to judge with just ten minutes of playtime, it’s here that I can discern if the controls and feel of the game are on track to entice my sensibilities. As early as these shows, I can begin to see if a game is for me. I had some major shockers at E3 this year, and some major disappointments too. But the key is: I played these games before making a real judgment call. And still? I’ll probably play them more before finally deciding if they’re what I want or not.
Now, as for withstanding the hundreds of internet ads that will claim each new game is the Messiah of MMO-dom? Well, that’s easier said than done. As much as many might claim, we’re not corporate shills here at MMORPG.com. We’re game fans who manage to make a living writing and playing what we love. Don’t begrudge us that. We work closely with game developers to get into their games, get previews, reviews, interviews, exclusive assets… basically we’re an avenue for the developers to get information to you. But you know what? Aside from our straight-up news posts, most of what we publish comes with a highly personalized tone. We offer you our honest-to-Jon Hamm opinions. We’re not always right. We’re often wrong (there was a time when we all thought WAR was a game changer). But we’re always trying to give you our honest thoughts on every game we touch.
And hopefully, most of you appreciate that. But in the end, you should always reserve your own judgment and just play the games for yourself. You are your own the best judge of quality after all.
Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving (for my fellow Americans), and happy Thursday to the rest of you all.