Gamers have a love/hate relationship with hype. It fuels our soul, keeps us looking to the future and fills our minds with the tantalizing possibilities foreshadowed by either a PR Department or just the words of our online comrades. Sometimes the final product fizzles in the sun, sometimes it handles itself well enough but doesn’t meet hype, and on rare occasion it can exceed everyone’s expectations. But is too much hype a good thing?
From a developer’s perspective, it makes sense to try and drum up as much excitement over a product as possible. Your goal is to get people to buy the thing, after all, and whether they actually enjoy it is just icing. But that doesn’t mean that hype can’t have a disastrous fallout if not met. Overkill has famously been trying to recover from the hate train that cropped up around their decisions to include stat-adjusting microtransactions instead of the promised free content for day 1 of Crimefest. Though it’s notable to mention that regardless of what jaded veterans claim, Payday 2 is now more popular than ever, regularly showing over 30,000 players at any given time, whereas before Crimefest it took the combined efforts of multiple fan communities and a popular Youtuber to reach that number. In the long run, it consistently turns out that any press becomes good press.
But what if you’re an idealist who genuinely cares about what your fanbase thinks about the final product? I don’t mean to say that certain devs don’t; everyone wants their fans to enjoy their work. But is there value in restraining your PR Department in the hopes that the game on its own merit can blow people out of the water? There are certainly examples of games doing so. SpecOps:The Line had a pretty clever plan where they marketed it as a bog-standard military FPS, relying on the sheeplike purchasing tendencies of that particular fanbase for the initial purchase wave, and then the snowball effect of players and journalists being broadsided by the deep and famously original plot twists. Undertale did something similar to great success; its Kickstarter page paints the narrative in a much more traditional light, leaving the surprising bits all the more of a refreshing surprise to the player. It’s a common strategy to market to fans of the base genre when attempting to sell a genre deconstruction or subvert expectations.
But when your game is more typical that becomes harder to pull off. Not much to hide when you’re just releasing yet another cartoony multiplayer FPS like Overwatch. However, in many cases it becomes equally important to put a leash on your marketers to prevent beta promises from turning into sore points later in development. As Gabe Newell said, “One of the things we learned pretty early on is ‘Don’t ever, ever try to lie to the internet – because they will catch you. They will de-construct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity.” Even if it wasn’t lying at the time; one of the favorite quotes recently thrown in Overkill’s face was a 2-year-old post by a dev cheekily poking fun at players considering the notion there there would ever be microtransactions.
Though again, I have to note that Payday sailed to new heights despite all the scandal. The trend with hype seems to be that its most likely to disappoint the older fans, but that’s okay if it brings in new ones. Team Fortress 2 disappointed a huge portion of the Team Fortress Classic userbase that waited seven years for it to come out, and Left 4 Dead 2 engendered a boycott from 40,000+ players who thought Valve was shunting the original under the bus. But not only are both games maintaining playerbases years later, they won back a large amount of the haters through high-quality content packs and sheer endurance.
Ultimately, from a gamer’s perspective, the only thing that matters in hype is its effect on you. Do you grow jaded and pessimistic after being burned too many times, do you maintain optimistic in the face of the unknown future, or something in the middle? Or do you avoid the whole pre-release buzz and wait patiently for solid playable evidence to judge your opinions on? All are perfectly valid answers.
This article is part of my “On Shooters” series, where I compare multiple games by focusing on a specific game mechanic or developer objective. To read the rest, click here!