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Hype and MMO's: A recipe for disaster?

Posted by Zayne3145 Wednesday November 26 2008 at 10:43AM
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It seems you can’t release an MMO today without the Hype Machine rolling out before it, spewing forth a screenshot here and a Dev interview there. A fine and vaguely defined line separates what is deemed acceptable marketing and that which could be classed as hype.

Most people would agree that hype is a dangerous tool, wielded often carelessly by PR departments. It is a sword that cuts both ways – and as we have seen in the case of games such as Age of Conan – not always for the good. It is prime example of becoming a victim of ones own marketing if ever there was one.

WAR is another casualty of hype. I have never seen a game surrounded by such fevered adoration, hope and anticipation. Is it really such a surprise that a game built up to such expectations fell short? I was reading posts by people proclaiming that it would change the face of the industry forever – that WoW would finally be usurped. Where are these people now? Have they ultimately done more damage than good raising their beloved game on a foundation of hype, only for it to become a funeral pyre fuelled by the flames of rejoicing Trolls?

Mythic and Mark Jacobs are not blameless in this debacle. They saw first hand the dangers of hype when Age of Conan stalled on take-off and yet remained not-so-quietly confident that WAR would not suffer the same fate. They continued to deploy the PR weapon of mass destruction, Paul Barnett; a man whose face should appear in the dictionary next to the definition of ‘Hype’.

We all know how that story ends; a game that ultimately did not live up to the extraordinary and quite possibly unachievable goals that it promised.

And then there was Darkfall.

As the dust settles from the explosive entrance of ‘The Big Two’ and their subsequent faltering, this not-so-young pretender to the throne has taken centre stage. Once nothing more than a little-known development by an independent Greek company, Darkfall has been raised on the shoulders of disillusioned players everywhere as the latest saviour.

The difference this time however is that the hype surrounding the game is purely player driven. Aventurine’s lack of promotion is widely documented. It is practically non-existent save for an obscure gaming convention and minimal foreign media coverage. You have to ask yourself: Are Aventurine consciously avoiding the hype? Have they seen what happens when you can’t deliver on your promises and tried to keep a relatively low profile?

This would not be a bad approach, were it not for the fact that due to the nature of the internet the hype is out of their control. Every official post by a developer, any screenshot, any snippet from a foreign website is immediately snapped up like a morsel of food thrown to a starving populace.

Was this part of Aventurine’s grand plan as some would have us believe? Or are they sitting back bemused that their once little-known project has suddenly been thrust to the fore – heralded by some as the ‘Next Big Thing™’.

Whatever their intentions, it is now out of their hands. The Fanboys are recruited, the expectations are very real, and the Trolls are lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on the twitching corpse should the game show even the slightest signs of failure upon release. (Failure of course being completely subjective and interchangeable for the purposes of Trolldom)

Have we reached a stage where no game is free from the dreaded hype? In such a stagnant industry where innovation and originality is so lacking, people are becoming almost cultist-like nomads moving like sheep from one game to the next. They are lured in every time by the hype, and every time it chews them up and spits them back out. The illusion shattered. The reality behind the thin veil revealed.

If there is a moral to this story, then it should be this: Do not fall for the hype, no matter how green the grass looks or how sweetly the siren-like Devs sing to you. If there is one thing we know for sure about this industry it is that it will lie to us. It is a business. It is out to make money. It both astounds, saddens and angers me that people fall for the lies time and time again. There are no ‘good guys’ out there wanting to make a perfect MMO. They are out to make cold hard cash.

If cynicism could be bottled, I would force each and every person to take it. It is our only deterrent against the hype. Lower your expectations. Question things a little more. Take off the rose-tinted glasses.

And above all remember: It’s just a game.