This little editorial of mine was inspired by this topic. In all honesty, I think this is one of my worst articles in terms of writing quality, but if I have to edit it one more time to make it look decent in my own view I'm likely to whack myself with my keyboard a times or two. And seeing as I don't have a spare keyboard, I'd rather not risk breaking it by doing that; so I will just post this little demon and be done with it. Freedom at last!
So let's get straight into it the nitty gritty shall we?
A necessary evil
Development costs for games have rissen exponentially over the last years, and they are still on the rise. According to this article, you shouldn't be surprised if development of a high profile game will cost you upward of $20 million. And that's for development alone! Include the nescesary marketing, and costs will easily rise into the 30 million dollar region. If you read on, you'll find out that with all the costs factored in the publisher would have to sell 830,000 copies of their game to break even. Notice the importance of those words: break even. That means no profit for 3 years worth of work if you sell that many copies. Now if you look at the costs to develop such a high profile game as Halo 3 ($60 million total according to this article), and we come to the conclusion that it would need to sell well over 2 million copies to garner an acceptable profit. Granted, they easily broke that mark, but the at least half those sales were achieved thanks to the high level of hype surrounding it. Imagine if that wasn't the case, then the game would surely be a financial flop, no matter how high the ratings for it may be.
I'm not going to go into what the causes of the increase of development costs are, but suffice to say that there's a lot of pressure on a publisher to sell enough copies to make a profit for both themselves and the developer. So as much as we may despise it at times, hype is a nescesary evil for the industry as a whole to survive and move forward. I think it has even come to a point where the level of hype needed to make a profit on a high profile movie doesn't need to be anywhere near as high as that of a high profile game. Whether that's a good or bad thing is up for debate (and not the point of this editorial), but whichever way you look at it, hype is almost always needed.
It's not always a bad thing
he biggest advantage of garnering enough hype is, of course, the initial rush of people who will do anything to own that game on day of release. Nowhere will you see as many pre-orders for a game as one that has been completely hyped into oblivion. Heck, even some of those that complain about the constant coverage of said games and wish it would just go away are going to be buying the game the moment it comes out. And for a developer that is good, because lots of sales = lots of money. Now if the hype is high enough to excite people, but not so high that it will dissapoint no matter what, then the developer will be sitting on a gold mine because excitment of the game will continue to spread well after its release, resulting in more and more sales--and thus more profit.
For some games the hype surrounding it can create a cult-like status, meaning it'll sell more than enough for the devoper to make a decent profit even if sales encounter a steep decline not long after release. Of course it's always best if the balance is met and the sales numbers of said game stay in the profitable regions well after its initial release. After all, the longer the sales stay in the upper regions, the higher the profit for the developer. Not only that, their exposure will last longer as well, meaning their next game is more likely to garner a good amount of attention and--to some degree--guaranteed sales. So a steady level of hype that doesn't raise expectations too high can vastly improve the future of any given game.
Too much of it can be dangerous
The dangers of having too much buzz surrounding a game is that expectations will almost never be fully met. No matter how good or revolutionary your game may be, when subjected to too much hype, the level of expectation will be at such an alltime high that it will always dissapoint to a degree, if not completely. And when something really dissapoints you, it is hard to see all the good things a game has to offer. Halo 3 is probably the best example of this. Despite the second installment in the series not really doing anything drastically different than the first one, the level of hype created for Halo 3 was so high that there were people who expected the second coming of Jesus in the disquise of a game (sorta speak). When that wasn't the case, and the game turned out to be just a fun shooter, with a few tweaks and new additions here and there, those people were sorely dissapointed. And those are also to be the most likely group of people who are going to be very vocal about their dissapointment. And just like hype can create a high level of excitement amongst gamers, dissapointment by enough of them can equally ruin the game for potential new players. After all, if 95% of the people who played a game say it's fantastic, and only 5% of them say it's overrated, it's going to instill you with a lot of confidence that spending your money on it is a good idea. Whereas having half the community say that a game is pure awesomeness, while the other half says it's incredibly overrated, is definitely going to make you think twice about buying the game. And in some cases probably even three or four times more after that.
From a developer standpoint, if you create too much hype for a game you're developing, and it dissapoints, people will find your enthusiasm about your next game to be far less believable. A good example of this would be Peter Molyneux and his somewhat ill-fated Fable. The man spoke with such passion about that game, that it was hard not to get excited, even if you weren't interested in Fable to begin with. And despite the small trickles of bad news that surrounded the game at the later stages of development, our anticpiation for it did not wane. And boy, were a lot of people sorely dissapointed when they finally played the game. To such an extent even that for several years afterwards any game with Peter Molyneux's name stamped on it automatically made the lips of many a person twitch. And even now, despite the years that have passed, there are still those of us who look upon Molyneux's next game, Fable 2, with wary eyes, and even a level of dread. And those people aren't going to be rushing out to pre-order the game anytime soon, or even buy it on the day of release. They are more likely going to wait at least a week or two after release before deciding whether to buy the game or not. And some of them will simply never buy the game, no matter how high the average rating for it is, for the sheer reason that the first one was such a big dissapointment.
Should this kind of trend continue on for too long and too often, a developer is doomed to slowly fade away into nothingess, until ultimately forgotten except for that one game that dissapointed everyone so much. It is a fate that has befallen befallen Interplay, for instance, after they released poor copy after poor copy of games carrying the Baldur's Gate name. The first hack-n-slash game with the Baldur's Gate name on it was something we could, for the most part, forgive--and to some extent even enjoy. But by the time the third iteration came around, we were all pretty much fed up with it because they had simply butchered everything that gave the Baldur's Gate name its fame, and had instead opted to release a bunch of games that turned the series into nothing more than a mere shadow of its former self.
Don't just blame the publishers
The high level of hype surrounding a game doesn't always just come from the devoper. Sometimes the real culprit for creating an incredible amount of hype for a given game--and with it, far too high expectations--are the users themselves. A good example for this would be the latest installment in the (in)famous Grand Theft Auto series, GTAIV. While Rockstar has only shown bits and pieces of information and has in fact done very little actual promoting of the game, that didn't stop users from creating threads on forums filled to the brim with hyped up glee, possibly raising people's level of excitement and anticipation higher than it already was. Some of the responses in such threads are clearly over-the-top excited, and indicate that they are getting their hopes up far too much. And while there are no numbers to back it up, it probably won't be too far fetched to say that alot of those who express their anticipation with such extreme enthusiasm are also going to be the ones loudest about their dissapointment if the game fails to live up their expectations.
Unfortunately it's that same loud minority that will make other people think twice about their purchase of the game. In that way it is quite amazing how the very vocal few can affect the opinions of others. And in a way, even those who openly disagree with those few can be responsible for raising the hype bar even higher. After all, a game that is capable of spurring on large topics full of people arguing its qualities must have something to catch their attention. And that in turn will raise the curiosity of others, some of which will be stating their own views on said game without actually knowing anything about it other than what they've read in that very thread moments ago.
For a publisher this has both its advantages and disadvantages. One of the major advantages is the free PR their game can get thanks to forums and the like, especially when said forums include some people who are very vocal about their opinion. Basically the more we 'discuss' a game, the more free advertising the publisher is receiving. And anything free in this world is a good thing! Unless, of course, you have no control over it. As long as the publisher is the sole advertiser of a game they can exert a form of control over how the game is viewed by the outside world. They can even hold in-house surveys to see which advertisements are most likely to induce positive feedback. Once it gets into the hands of the gaming community, however, all bets are off and all a publisher can really do at that point is watch as the community make or break their latest endeavor.
So who's really to blame for all this over-hyping of games? Personally, I'd say that the first place that those who call themselves gamers need to look is themselves. How often haven't we witnessed forums getting cluttered with posts of anticipation about a single game, with people making assumptions left and right based on a few simple screenshots? While there are plenty of publishers with whole PR departments dedicated to making their latest game appear as good as they possibly can manage, it really doesn't hold a candle to the insanity that can ensue on message boards. So is it really the publishers that we should be blaming for a game being over-hyped so much that it is always going to dissapoint in one way or another? Or do we simply need to learn to reign in our emotions a little when something new comes along and just allow the game to speak for itself? We have a saying over here that goes kinda like this: "Change begins with oneself." Perhaps that is true when it comes to hype as well.