How much hype does it take?

I was thinking again about the wave of hype from various games that washed over us last week.

As a gamer and a general fan, it doesn’t take all that much to persuade me to buy/ try a new game. An interesting IP, a game studio who have produced work I’ve liked in the past, a friend who played the game and liked it, an interesting mechanic/ twist that catches my attention – any of those would be enough.

It sounds so simple. I knew that I’d play SWTOR and try GW2 when they were announced, for example. And yet there are countless games in the genre that I’ve never tried. Maybe they just didn’t have enough hype.

So in comparison to the bright and shiny trailers, look at Tobold’s posts this week about his experiences in A Tale in the Desert. I subbed for a month, because he reminded me of the things I had liked about the game when I last played it (I played for a few months during telling 3).

Zubon commented this week that he enjoyed reading blogs about games he hadn’t played much himself. I’d agree with that, and say also that sometimes it is the word of mouth that is the most compelling hype of all.

6 Rules for Enjoying Hype (and some cool videos from GW2 and Clone Wars)

Some people just don’t deserve hype.

Here we are, stuck in the doldrums of the MMO year and going through the motions in games or expansions where the shine has long since worn off. You’d think that injecting some optimism and excitement about upcoming games would be welcomed with open arms, right?

But some players (and bloggers) seem to take it personally every time their expectations are raised and then shattered on the jagged rocks of a cruel reality that may ship with bugs and not offer some random class/ race option on which the player had set her heart.  This is precisely NOT the way in which to enjoy well presented hype. It’s a thrill ride, a trailer, an insight into the hopes and imaginations of the artists and producers. That’s all it is. Not a promise graven in stone.  Sometimes it’s more fun to go along with the ride and then – just like a rollercoaster – enjoy the inevitable emotional fall through the floor later on.

Film style trailers have become a big part of game advertising. They range from gorgeous high budget “artists impressions” that bear no resemblance to the game, all the way through to Bioware style mini-documentaries about how some part of the game was made. I think the Mythic crew have a lot to be proud of in the way that their regular videocasts used to promote different aspects of Warhammer Online and why fans might be excited about them before that game was released. It has obviously had an effect on the rest of the industry.

A couple of trailers released this week did a particularly good job of capturing my imagination:

  • Guild Wars 2 Manifesto – manifesto implies some actual promises and debate and the GW2 team don’t disappoint. It is also gorgeous. The game looks as though it’ll be great, although I don’t quite understand (from the voiceover) how if you love MMOs you’ll love it, and if you hate MMOs you’ll love it too.
  • Star Wars Clone Wars – this is SOE’s Free Realms style Star Wars game that is launching next month. This trailer sold me on it and I’m definitely going to check the game out. It just looks FUN.

But what happens when hype seems to promise something that no real world game can deliver? Whose fault is it really if people are disappointed when they see the real thing and it fails to live up to their hopes? It’s our fault. We are not naive little flowers. We know how the media works. We know how advertising works. We know that trailers intended to sell you on an idea and a setting may not be 100% game accurate.

So here are some basic guidelines to help you enjoy the hype for what it is, and not let the hype ruin your experience in the game when you see it later on.

  1. Enjoy playing the game in your head. Trailers are meant to be inspiring and to encourage you to imagine how the game world might be. If one catches your imagination then enjoy the ride.
  2. But play the game in front of you when/ if it arrives. You can choose to either look for the fun in the game you have, or complain about all the ways in which it fails to match the game in your head.  For example, people who complain because hunters in LOTRO don’t have pets, ignoring the fact that there is another ranged class which does have pets that they could also play. Sometimes you have to either say, “No this is not the game for me, I must have a bow class with a pet,” or “OK, I can change my concept a bit.”
  3. Don’t take the trailer too literally. Just because you thought you saw a blurry shot of an elf with a broadsword doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to play elf fighters as PCs. A dev team may also not be able to implement everything exactly the way they would have wanted it when the trailer was released. It’s not a guarantee.
  4. Take the trailer literally. Don’t assume that it implies something which the narrator didn’t say or show. For example, Gordon wonders how much instancing will be used in GW2 to let players feel that they affect the world around them. We don’t know the answer to that yet (although he’s probably right), as the trailer didn’t touch on it.
  5. Enjoy the emotional journey. We’re fans. This is our hobby. Getting worked up about trailers and arguing the minutae of minor lore details is what we do. If you read general MMO blogs you’ll notice that a lot of bloggers position themselves quite early on in the hype cycle as either fans or cynics. That’s the most fun way to ride the hype out. (I’m a huge Bioware fan, for the record. They won my heart with DAO and I can’t wait to play a smuggler in SWTOR. So I’m not going to post anything too dismissive of that here.)
  6. But don’t take it personally if you later change your mind. It’s OK to hype a game and then find, when you actually see it, that you don’t enjoy playing it much at all. Laugh and move on, on to the next wave of hype.

SWTOR, GW2: A game trailer is not a film trailer

You know that you have seen a really good piece of game hype when your reaction is not, “Ooo, pretty,” “I want to see more of that,” “great music, I’ll be humming that all night,” or even “I wonder how they’ll balance that?” but instead, “I want to PLAY that!”

It’s a very visceral reaction. It can be illogical. It can be unexpected. But to me that’s how a game trailer should be different from any other kind of trailer. Sure, interest me in the world, the background, the story, and the mechanics. But if I don’t end up thinking, “Yeah! I want to play that!” then it hasn’t hit the spot.

Bioware released a new trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic last week to show off some of the combat moves in the game. I think it’s a fascinating trailer to watch because the graphics are not exceptional. There’s nothing unexpected in there and no real indication of how the game will play. Very likely it’ll be a minor adaptation of current MMO mechanics. You’ll press buttons and use cooldowns. Even the fights they they showed were fairly predictable: jedi with a lightsaber, some cool acrobatics, dual wielding, a cool bit with a big gun, someone casting lightning bolts like the emperor in return of the jedi, some flashy tech gadgets and yet … when that trailer came to an end I thought “Hell yeah! That looked fun! I want to play that.”

The current MMO player is exactly who they are trying to attract with this trailer. They’re showing that their game will offer your favourite current combat type. You like dual wielding? How about dual wielding lightsabers? You like ranged? How about a massive gun? Whatever you like right now do not fret because the SWTOR team thought of YOU.

The only curious exception so far is the lack of any pet class. I wonder if a more active use of NPC sidekicks will just mean that everyone effectively has pets.

The Guild Wars Manifesto

We are still mid-election rush over here, so it’s certainly the right season for a manifesto. have opened the floodgates on the Guild Wars 2 information with a new blog and a new design manifesto.

This is another document that is aimed at current MMO players. Read it with the thought, “like your current MMO but better” in the back of your mind and you will get the full hype effect.

Main points:

  • It’s an enormous, persistent, living, social world
  • You fill out a biography at character creation time that defines your background and your place within the world.
  • GW2 tells story by allowing the player < to >adventure with key characters, by presenting him with moral dilemmas <…> and by having him live through world-changing events
  • With GW2 <…> you can just naturally play with all the people around you
  • When someone kills a monster, not just that player’s party but everyone who was seriously involved in the fight gets 100% of the XP and loot for the kill.
  • worlds can compete against each other, through the mists that separate them, for scarce resources that benefit an entire world. ((I think this means some kind of server vs server competition))
  • So much of traditional MMO combat is rote and repetitive. <…> we’ve put a huge focus on strengthening our combat, giving the player limitless choices, and providing the thrill and joy of being in combat.

The combat discussion isn’t easy to sum up in bullet points. One of the great strengths of Guild Wars is the combat system. Each character has a large selection of abilities, but must select only 8 before leaving town and going out to adventure. You can freely change which 8 you want any time you are in a town. So players are encouraged to adapt their skills towards each encounter. There is a lot of choice. And this is something plans to build on for GW2.

There is more on the combat system and skills, if you are curious to delve more deeply into the design.

Again, reading through the documents leaves me keen to actually play the game myself and try it out. I wonder if I am some kind of easy sell with these things … and I’m staying tuned to the GW2 blog to hear more about their plans.

If this talk of Guild Wars mechanics has intrigued you, Steam is having a sale on GW at the moment. You could either get the whole trilogy and start from the beginning, or do what was recommended to me and just grab Nightfall.

Some Star Wars: The Old Republic Thoughts

So there’s been a lot of buzz about SW:TOR this week, it’s E3 week anyway so it’s hardly unexpected.

1. New Trailer

Vwoom Vwoom blue tentacle girl lots-of-jedis plane-crashes-into-a-building bullet-time DROID omg-that-battle-looks-awesome vwoom

It’s exciting, it’s beautiful, it looks like Star Wars, I’d go see the film if it came out tomorrow. (Incidentally, does anyone else think that ‘plane crashing into a building’ has become cinematic shorthand for a really really evil enemy?)

Tobold is grumbling that the hype machine is kicking into action too soon on this MMO. After all, it probably won’t be out for years (I reckon 18 months at the absolute soonest) and when it is, it probably won’t look anything like this trailer.

I’m undecided about hype, but I do think he misses what trailers are all about. A game trailer simply isn’t the same kind of beast as a film trailer. It isn’t supposed to be an edited highlight of the final version, carefully cut together to make sure you get to see the only funny line and some total spoilers.

It is a simple appeal to mindshare. It has to say ‘Hey hey hey! Look at this gameworld! Does this look cool? Is this a world you might want to come explore virtually? Do you wanna be like this person? How about this one?’.

Blizzard have been very keen on releasing trailers for Warcraft; each expansion has had one and many of the major patches also. They in no way are supposed to represent actual gameplay. They’re flavour. They’re meant to stir up some excitement. Maybe let the player catch a glimpse of the world they’re being invited to enter.

WAR released a stunning cinematic trailer before they launched. Again, it was never meant to represent accurate game footage. But it did show a cool battle in a city, and showcased some of the races and classes – this did tell players what the game was intended to be about. Maybe the players didn’t all stay, but the trailer helped to stir up interest in the Warhammer background, setting, and game.

My main issue with the Star Wars trailer is that it doesn’t have enough droids. I am still hoping against hope that at least one of the as-yet-unrevealed classes will be a droid of some kind. Meanwhile, I shall shun the hype machine by finishing KOTOR because that will not at all make me pine for SW:TOR …. DOH!

2. Announcement made that SW:TOR will be the first ever fully voiced MMO

Broken Toys points out that EQ2 also made this claim 5 years ago. I will note that not every quest in EQ2 is fully voiced, which is a good thing because it can be really annoying.

More to the point, how much disk space is this MMO going to take? How long to download patches? Will we have to run it with the CD in the machine?

Tune in for more later this week. I’m still hoping that Bioware will have some kind of playable demo to show.

Exciting content for WoW/3.1?

Eyonix posts in WoW forums about exciting upcoming changes for patch 3.1.

These are not the exciting changes we’ve been looking for, they are class tweaks. (OK, there may be priests who are ecstatic at the ability to cast an extra buff on people but I don’t think that really improves the gameplay much.)  What we want to hear about is:

  • Dual Specs
  • New Raid Instances
  • Any Other New Content
  • New fluff
  • Something else that’s fun but unexpected
  • Savage nerfs to classes that we don’t play but that will cause mucho entertaining bitching and flamewars on forums. (Or is that just me?)

I can’t be the only person who is thinking that it’s been awhile since Blizzard mentioned anything about the dual spec notion, except to say that they were still working on it.

In any case, it’s hard not to compare with the smorgasbord of exciting new content that Mark Jacobs laid out for Warhammer recently with new classes, zones, and PvP content. And a timescale. Admittedly he is the hypemaster but I have a short attention span and I like hype!