Harmful Hype

Editorial by Ferrex (Dead)

I have a confession to make. As of the time of this writing, I still have not seen Star Wars: Episode One. This is due, in no small part, to the remarkable speed with which our local theatre has not brought it in. C'est la vie, I guess. Still, as I desperately try to avoid spoilers, I've listened to the reactions of people who have seen it, and one comment seems to seems to stand out: It was good, but not that good.

That good, of course, is how good all the previews and hype made the movie out to be. The viewpoint is easy to see--millions of people going to see Episode One with their expectations built up to a degree that could not possibly be met. It was a hit, to be sure, but perhaps Lucas overplayed his hand.

Then again, maybe not. The fact remains that millions went to see it. And when all is said and done, that's all that matters. It's something we see more and more frequently now... expectations built higher than reality can support, and a some of bitterness coming in the wake of it all.

There's a good example, closer to home. Myth II, when released, had to live up to the expectations of thousands of Myth fans. In some cases, it failed to do so, and we saw a backlash that didn't exist with Myth I. Such is always the case with sequels, though... Episode One, Apple's new Powerbook G3, etc. When you have to contend with a beloved original, you're in for an uphill battle.

However, even a first time product can have a predecessor. Publicity, rumors, and hype all precede a game and are an undeniably important part of it. A large part of the success of every game is what it is built into in the minds of customers. Ultima Online is an excellent example--no predecessor, but the hype and expectations built up around it whipped potential buyers into a frenzy (I know, I was one of them, for a time...). And then, when it actually launched, it was a slap in the face to many... it wasn't nearly as good as they had expected it to be. Hype buys customers, who buy games. Opinion is not so easily bought.

Traditionally, Bungie has not oversold their games. Indeed, a good number of their customers are repeat customers, buying games based on company reputation. It's a good way to stay secure, but growth needs more. To some extent, websites help attract new customers and build the hype, though no single site can match the penetration of an advertising campaign. In our own way, we're building the expectations of readers... it's our responsibility not to build them too high. Which would you prefer: a community of a thousand happy, loyal players, or a community of ten thousand, of whom half are disgruntled and dissatisfied with the game? Quantity, or quality?

Anyone can appreciate the difficulty of balancing a game on the sword tip between too much and too little hype. Go overboard, and there will be backlash... the sword cuts you. Don't do enough, and nobody knows about it... the sword doesn't cut for you. I'm of the quality sect, which is why I'd make a lousy business man in this day and age. I hope Blam recieves attention, of course, but beware the attempts to deify it before it has even be seen. Speculation must be tempered with fact... build the speculation too high, and it will fall when a cornerstone fact is removed or changed. The trick then is to avoid being crushed if it decides to fall on you...

Originally posted July 29, 1999

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