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Virality and Hype

Victor Barreiro Jr. Posted:
Columns The Devil's Advocate 0

I was considering a couple of ideas for today's Devil's Advocate instead of talking about civility online, and I stumbled onto something that struck me as odd.

Basically, I was talking with a friend recently, and she mentioned that she owned Diablo III and Guild Wars 2, but hadn't revisited either in a while. I actually felt the same way, and I let the conversation hang for a moment because I had to ask myself why I didn't feel anything for the two games other a mild sense of "It's there but meh..."

I'm sure all of you have a game like that. It doesn't have to be WoW or Diablo III or GW2 or any big-name game. It just has to be one where you started growing heavily invested in it because of some reason you can't explain, and now you feel ennui for it.

I think the fault lies in the combination of virality and hype, and that's what today's Devil's Advocate is about.

Is Sharing Caring?

Virality is also sometimes known as the effect that accelerates the growth of a particular item in social media, such as the Gangnam Style phenomenon.

Virality is actually comprised of a bunch of different factors, but the basic idea is that the more something gets shared over a set period of time to a larger group of people, the more viral an item is. There are a number of ways to increase virality, but one of the basic ideas behind it is that when we see something we like or respond to in a manner that elicits sharing, we want to be able to share it in as painless a manner as possible.

The funny thing about that is that it's sort of become ingrained in our minds due to the "have it now" factor of the Internet that we share things because we think the other person will enjoy the same thing we do. Chances are, we didn't really factor in their tastes in what we shared because the ease of sharing was so simple and prevalent in current social media methods that we just shared anyway. (Note: This is going to be a contentious opinion depending on the types of people you know and the personalities of the people you share to).

Viral Hype Lets People Down

The other issue, hype, is something that is harder to qualify or quantify. Hype is essentially excessive publicity, coupled with the reactions people have to that publicity, which can be negative, positive, or neutral. It an also be a sort of claim one has made regarding a product or service, which is then excessively publicized and spawns public reactions based on their individual leanings.

By itself, hype is actually containable. That growing feeling of expectation one gets from being hyped up is a personal feeling. Combine it with virality, however, and you start a large-scale set of volatile reactions resulting in a general public sentiment that may or may not have long-term staying power.

Gangnam Style, with its over 1,000,000,000 views, is viral and overly hyped as being the coolest, funniest, most outrageous thing ever (I used to love this video, if you haven't guessed). I'm imagnining that the fewer remixes or memes people can think of for the thing, the less viral it gets, and eventually, the hype dies down for the video because there's nothing as significant from the provider of that viral, well-hyped item to regain interest.

That's one problem with MMORPGs today. They are marketed for virality and hype, and ultimately set up for higher heights upon which to fall from grace.

No Sweeping Gestures

Normally, I'd think up of some masterful idea that would encompass everything and give explanations as to how to solve an issue or at least approach it logically.

I can't do that in this case.

There is no clear-cut way to solve virality and hype as a issue because sometimes, there's something that defies expectations and becomes something well-loved regardless of how well or badly advertised and hyped it is. Virality and hype aren't problems to be solved (I believe I never called the two problems) but realities of the current social atmosphere of gaming today.

Games, especially MMORPGs, are more or less advertised as being better or at least different from their immediate predecessors and we expect this now. The smartest games marketers manage the expectations of people for the games they're advertising and temper it so that people are interested in a manner that allows for a longer viral life (You're mildly interested, but you share news about a game more often).

Not-so-savvy marketers? They raise expectations so high or expectations for a sequel to a game are so intense that nobody is able to hold their interest in the game for an extended period.

Sadly, we have a mix of the two in the gamespace, and honestly, it's hard to tell which is which because smart and not-so-savvy marketers will differ to one's perceptions according to the games he or she loves.

In the same way that Batman has theatricality and deception as tools to fight crime, viraltiy and hype are also tools used by companies and people to spread an agenda or an idea that they value. Like Bane, however, the potential for those tools to work the way you want them to iis only useful if you have no clue they're being used on you.

But now you have a clue they exist and are being used on you, don't you?

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and The Secret World columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.