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October 21, 2004

Game Publishers: Stop Overpromising!

Overhyped Videogames FableWhen Fable came out, everyone got to see if all the hype (and cool features expressed by Lionhead Studio head Peter Molyneux) is worth anything. Depending on where you go, you'll find glowing reviews to so-so reviews, mostly depending on if that person expected more (with good reason), or could just live with what the game actually provides. I personally feel that game reviews should be based on what the game has done right and wrong, rather than what I wanted to see, resulting in nitpicking every little detail.

But in this case, is it wrong to expect more? The Gear Live editors present their case after the jump.

Dorian: Look at companies like Nintendo, Valve and Bungie for instance.

Nintendo almost never reveals much about their games before release. The bulk of the game is left for us to explore on our own, and I think most gamers are the better for it.

Valve did the unthinkable, and for almost five years managed to develop Half-Life 2 without revealing anything until E3 right before last September's ill-fated launch (forget arguments about how ready they actually were).

Bungie has been very tight-lipped about Halo 2, at least as far as single player is concerned. Outside of the 10 minute footage of New Mombasa from last year's E3, almost nothing has been revealed, leaving all the details about what was not in the first Halo: Online Multiplayer.

We can probably think of other examples of game devs who kept their mouths shut and left most of their cards up their sleeves. But Lionhead Studios didn't manage to do that; they told us every single idea that popped up in their heads, as if they were brainstorming their ideas out in public. While not outright promising these features, most gamers were expecting more than what they got. Is that so wrong in this case?

Also in the news is Polyphony Digital's long waited Gran Turismo 4, and the stripping of the online multiplayer mode. While they gave no exact reason, one can extrapolate that they couldn't get online working in time for the holidays, and Sony didn't want to let their potentially biggest seller release past the lucrative holiday season. So instead of delaying the game, just take out the mode and sell the "upgraded version" at a later date. While on the surface this sounds good, they haven't said whether the upgrade will be at budget pricing, full price, have a trade in for the old version, or allow for save file compatibility between versions. There are a lot of unknowns, and it's well within reasons for those who were looking forward to racing online come December to be disappointed.

So, who's to blame when devs talk of features that donít ultimately make it? Does it all even matter?

Well obviously, the game devs themselves should show a little more restraint whenever being interviewed, especially when the game is in a pre-beta state. At that point nothing is set in stone, and this very same thing can happen as with Fable. It might be hard to resist nowadays, in this instant information age we live in. (It seems like you can't click a few web pages without running into a movie or TV show spoiler or people, for lack of a better word, "pirating" the latest software or games, even before they hit the stores (also another topic for another day). But for the greater good, talking about only that which won't spoil the entire experience seems like the best way to go.

As for you, the game players, the best way to take reading all these features and interviews on games is to take it all in stride. The only time you can honestly trust any report on a game is the actual review, so sit tight, don't read up too much on a certain game if you want to be surprised, and hope for the best. Worse case scenario, if the game isn't what you were expecting, either rent it or just don't buy it. Or do what every savvy game player does nowadays: vent about it on a message board.

Gran Turismo 4 No Online

Gran Turismo 4: Online no more

Hector: I think you're hitting all the nails on their heads, Dorian. On the one hand, you don't want a development house to promise things that won't be in, and on the other, fanboys are starved for game information.

There is an acceptable solution though. Take UbiSoft and its Prince of Persia sequel. They're letting us in on the improved features, but through playable demos . The trick for development houses is to wait until they have something tangible. The trick for us is to be patient. It's hard waiting around for the review; without an early taste of the game, you wouldn't have things to look forward to. Good, playable, and near-finished impressions are useful when they're done right.

You're right though, people should check reviews from a source they can trust before making their final purchase. Message boards are also great, especially for hearing gripes about a game.

Prince of Persia Warrior Within

UbiSoft shows Prince of Persia: Warrior Within features after they are implemented.

Doug: Having been a videogame player for 99% of my life, I have always been a believer in "less is more". There is something to be said about not knowing and finding out for yourself. When Doom 3 came out the hype was unreal and graphically so was the game, but the playing experience fell a little flat to some people. Having used this as an example, when Unreal Tournament 2004 came out, in my mind it came out the traditional way, no big fan fare other than a playable demo available for download (a playable demo of the final version, not a beta version) so I was able to see the final version of the game and not what should in the version that will be hitting store shelves. Which method do you think succeeded more, the Doom 3 over hype or the traditional success of Unreal Tournament 2004.

Everyday I read gaming websites and magazines and love nothing more than hearing the line "It came out of nowhere." This line has been used with games such as FarCry, Sphinx, Between Good and Evil, and many more and although they may not have sold well (FarCry sold fairly well but still not up to Unreal or Doom standards), the game was amazing. The reason it didnt sell well is because it didnt follow the traditional path of bombarding the customer with ads promoting the game, they were going to let the game go solely on the experience the end user will have.

I just preordered my copy of GTA: San Andreas and I am avoiding reading anything about it other than the game trailers available on the official website because when I get a game, I want to discover what it has to offer for me and not what I am told to expect. This is of course a sequel so I know what to expexct but with a new franchise, such as XIII or Timesplitters that came out a year ago, I wanted to be surprised as well so I can learn as I go and get out of the game what I want and not have that affected by user reviews or what the developer tells me to expect.

As you can see, personally, I like to know as little as I can before purchasing a game. If it looks really good on the box and maybe the one movie trailer I see about it, I will buy it, and if I don't want to take the plunge and just buy it, well then, there is always Blockbuster and Gamefly!

Nintendo DS

Nintendo is always secretive regarding upcoming products.

Andru: You know, I have always looked down on Nintendo for their overbearing silence on what is going on at their development houses. I remember when Retro Studios confirmed that a Metroid Prime sequel was in the works without Nintendo's official permission to do so. The studio was frowned upon by the Big N. Why? Well, with the recent events, I can now see why. Nintendo has always told us just enough to get us excited. At E3 they gave us a Legend of Zelda trailer, but didn't say much of anything about the game. We saw it in action, and thusly, came to our own conslusions about the game. If we develop an expectation and the game doesn't have that specific feature, that is our fault - not Nintendo's.

However, when you have Sony talking up Gran Turismo's online mode for years, and then all of a sudden announce it was not going to make it into the final version, it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of gamers who have been waiting for the game for all these years. The company put that concept into the minds of their customers, and obviously it became an expectation. It makes the developer look weak when they can't meet their promises.

On a similar note, when Lionhead Studios talked up all the features in Fable (formerly Project Ego), it was exciting. They said that anything you did in the game as a young person would have a direct influence on the game world as you grew up. The catchphrase was "For every action, a consequence". They promised a completely open environment in which you could explore anything and everything. Both of these things simply turned out to be untrue. Lionhead did make an apology recently, stating they may have been overzealous. However, if they hadn't overpromised so much then maybe Fable would have scored higher across the board since people would discover it for themselves. It's hard to give a game a 9/10 when you are expecting an 11.

Looking towards the future, the next big thing will be the handheld wars. Nintendo never announced any Nintendo DS features until they were absolutely confirmed. Sony, on the other hand, has been talking about advanced features in the PSP that they aren't even sure will make it into the final product.

So game publishers, stop overpromising. Let your games sell themselves, instead of your PR representatives. Have some faith in the developers talents, just like in the old days. Yes, your game may sell well, but when expectations aren't met you can expect the sequel not to do so well.

Posted by Andru at October 21, 2004 01:13 PM

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» Game Developers and Hype... from SFSignal
In my routine perusing of Slashdot, I found a link to a commentary discussing game developers and the hype that surrounds some games. Its a very interesting read and points out companies that maybe the Nintendo model where they are... [Read More]

Tracked on October 22, 2004 08:06 AM

» Hype from what's the point?
This article takes an interesting look at the topic of overhype and video games (a topic itself becoming overhyped). What I find interesting is the omission of the fact that despite the overhype of certain games (Fable is of course... [Read More]

Tracked on October 22, 2004 09:26 AM

» Don't believe the hype from yarbroughs dot org
Here is a nice little rant about how overhyped games fall flat, and why. There's a lot of reference to Fable, which came out to little fanfare, and is regarded as one of XBox's top titles. ...and the counterpoint, Doom 3. :)... [Read More]

Tracked on October 22, 2004 05:56 PM


Funny thing is, I was just talking to a friend about this last night. But there is a problem with the article.

You talked about games that only had alot of hype behind them, but the small developer HAS to do this in order for his game to even be noticed.

Posted by: Ryen at October 22, 2004 06:49 AM

Its the whole concept of preconceptions creating misconceptions. If you have a preconception you have created a bias based on nothing. I have always loved Nintendo because rather than asking the public what features to add, they come up with ones you would never have thought of, two screens? Sony on the other hand has always been a proponent of marketing till death, anything they create will have a huge launch because they have created preconceptions in the heads of the public, be it right or wrong biases. This helps explain why Sony has done so well, imagine if Nintendo came out of the release on fire like Sony. Most people that are not gamers have no clue about the DS, but know everything about the PSP. I must peronally say, I think the DS will be a lot better because its original and actually has a bettery life you can use.

Posted by: Oren at October 22, 2004 08:50 AM

Hector, fanboys are not "starved" for game information--in anything, they've been overfed to the point that they feel they are entitled. You will not survive without food, but you will survive without information about Carmack's next engine. It's a desire that's turned into an expectation, but it's not a need.

Posted by: Dan at October 22, 2004 09:24 AM

I keep waiting for Valve to announce that HL2 will actually now be a 2D side scroller.

Posted by: Zach at October 22, 2004 09:57 AM

As the old adage goes, if we don't support it, it will fail.

Posted by: EA at October 22, 2004 10:15 AM

It sounds like you are pretty ticked off about not getting online mode in GT4 ;)

Metroid Prime was pretty dissapointing in my opinion...


Posted by: gary at October 22, 2004 04:21 PM

Interesting writeup. A few thoughts.

For one, the problem with hype is that gamers buy into the hype. When every other game is screaming about how great it is, it's hard to be the voice of reason. Hypothetically, if one game says it offers 100 features and another game only promises 20, people are going to buy the 100 feature game. Of course, they're going to find out that there's probably only 15 good features and about 50 half-assed features (and the other 35 might be patched in later, if ever). Of course, the money has already been spent and people will simply put up web sites to complain about it.

I'm a little biased, because I run my own small online game, Meridian 59 (http://www.meridian59.com/). We've tried to be honest about our game. It's not super-pretty, but it's still fun. Our game focuses on player vs. player (PvP) combat, which is a niche interest. The problem is that other games have come out promising the moon. Why play an "old" game like Meridian 59 when ShinyNewGame 2 will have AWESOME GRAPHIX! Of course, it will take six months to actually patch in the game, make sure the login server works, and stop the client from crashing every hour. Meanwhile our game remains stable and fun, but attracting only a small fraction of the people that the overhyped game does.

Unfortunately, it's hard not to support the system. Even Doug in the article above pre-ordered a game! That's perhaps the worst thing you can do. You're essentially telling the big companies, "You could sell me a box full of steaming crap, and I'll still pay for it!" I'm not saying that GTA:SA is going to be a terrible game, but how can you know a game is worth buying before it's even out? ESPECIALLY if you haven't even read anything about the game?

There is an easy solution to this issue, though. Independent games. There's a lot of great games out there that aren't overhyped, so you probably haven't heard of them. Garage Games (http://www.garagegames.com/pg/) has a selection of good independent games that you can buy for very affordable prices. These games often focus a lot more on good gameplay because they simply cannot afford to hide bad gameplay behind glitzy graphics.

Most game developers just want to make a cool game. Few of us care about hype or making large piles of cash. (If I cared about money, I wouldn't be making games for a living!) So, supporting independent developers is a great way to see more games that have actual fun gameplay, not that suffer from endless hype and overpromises.

Thoughts from an indie game developer.

Have fun,

-Brian 'Psychochild' Green

Posted by: Brian 'Psychochild' Green at October 24, 2004 01:16 PM

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