Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In this piece, Mitch talks about the problem with video game hype...
Look up any news about the upcoming Bayonetta 3 and you’re sure to notice a fascinating trend. Even though the developers have time and again reassured fans that development is going well – and they’ve even alluded to their inability to share any updates on progress – there’s still all kinds of negative reaction. People call it ‘vaporware’. They act as if it’s been quietly cancelled, or will somehow just not materialize after all this time. Why? Because there’s no hype.
By hype, I’m talking about all the shiny, headline-grabbing bits of content that developers are keen to toss to the community every now and then to keep interest high. A new trailer showcasing all too thin slices of the whole picture. Blurry magazine scans from next month’s issue with a fleeting glimpse of a new boss enemy or region. A lead developer dropping cryptic hints in an interview that maybe confirm the return of a beloved game mechanic or character. Stuff like this is what many players positively feed on in the months or years leading up to a game’s release. And once the game they’ve so hotly anticipated finally comes out? Well, it’s time to immediately start the cycle all over again with another game.
Once the game they’ve so hotly anticipated finally comes out? Well, it’s time to immediately start the cycle all over again with another game
As the director of Ori and the Will of the Wisps so passionately pointed out earlier this month (despite walking back some of those statements), the modern game industry has a hype problem. Countless people happily throw their money at products that don’t yet exist, solely based on the promise of what it probably will be when it launches. Sometimes the games live up to that promise. Most often, they don’t. And while, yes, the developers and marketers who take advantage of that early excitement certainly bear some of the blame in perpetuating the problem, I would argue that it’s the people buying into the hype that are the bigger problem. The issue at hand is that it’s becoming all too easy and common to conflate the anticipation itself with the real game being anticipated.
Let’s go back to Bayonetta 3 for a moment. In a very brief teaser shown at The Game Awards 2017, the game’s existence was confirmed. We weren’t shown footage of it, nor were there any screenshots. Since then, there still hasn’t been anything further shown. It’s become almost a meme at this point that when Bayonetta 3 is mentioned in an interview, that its development is perpetually in a state of “going well”.
And yet, that’s somehow not enough for a lot of people. There’s a perceived need for a flashy trailer to theorycraft around and watch over and over. A need for an interview where Kamiya says something to the effect of it being Platinum’s ‘biggest’ or ‘most ambitious’ title yet. It’s not enough to simply enjoy the game when (not if!) it arrives, or to spend time enjoying the veritable mountain of incredible games that are already released. There’s a dependency on the marketing cycle, on all the noise which will be quickly forgotten when launch day finally comes. The issue as I see it is that many people are becoming more enamoured with the idea of a video game than they are to the game itself. And that’s a problem.
I’m guilty of falling into this trap myself. For example, I’m a massive fan of the Yoshi’s Island games. I somehow even thought Yoshi’s New Island and Yoshi’s Island DS were pretty good. So, when Yoshi’s Crafted World was announced, I immediately put some money aside for it and went full-on into hype mode. Woolly World blew me away with its quality, and I wholeheartedly believed that its follow-up would deliver that same experience on an even grander and more refined scale. With this in mind, I spent the following months eating up every last bit of information I could. Treehouse footage, new screenshots, new interviews, I was there for it all. All of this seemed to fit my narrative, that this was really going to be the end-all Yoshi game I’ve dreamed of.
Then I actually played it.
Suffice to say, my disappointment was immeasurable. The difficulty level was nonexistent. The level designs were boring. The constant fetch quests added senseless padding. Aside from its adorable visuals, I found very few redeemable qualities in Yoshi’s Crafted World and would rank it among the worst in the series. This would be bad enough for a longtime fan, yet I was also strangely bothered by this; I felt like I’d been robbed somehow. What happened to the game I was so excited to finally play? This couldn’t be it. Could it?
The truth is, the game I was so excited to play never existed. It was a delusion I wanted to believe in. A lofty idea that was never real. I got so excited tracking down pre-release news and discussion that I began to enjoy that more than I ever could the actual product. I used that drip of information to rationalize building up an impossible image of what I hoped the game would eventually be. Of course it was disappointing for me when I had to face the reality. Nothing could’ve matched that expectation.
It can be easy to blame marketers or developers for getting our hopes up, but I’d say the main problem is that we too often become more interested in the chase itself than what we’re actually chasing
Even if it had more closely delivered on my hopes, I would still say this process of getting caught up in hype is bad for long-term enjoyment in games. It conditions us not to take games as they are, but to continually scrutinize and judge them. It takes the magic out of the raw experience, encourages us to weigh the final product against what we expected it to be, regardless of how reasonable that expectation is. More importantly, it teaches us that we should always be turning our attention to the next game on the horizon, rather than focusing on fully enjoying the ones we have now.
For a good window into this, take a look at Trophy lists for PS4 games you’ve played (should you own a PS4, of course), and look at the percentages of players that get the trophy for ‘beating’ that game. I’ve been playing through Jedi: Fallen Order lately – a game that takes about twenty hours to beat – and only 49 percent of players have seen the end. At one point, this game, too, was the source of all kinds of excitement at the prospect of a new big-budget single-player focused Star Wars game, and yet barely half of the player base actually saw it through.
That’s the real problem with hype in the industry. It can be easy to blame marketers or developers for getting our hopes up, and to some extent, those criticisms are warranted. But I’d say the main problem is that we too often become more interested in the chase itself than what we’re actually chasing. Once we have something, we suddenly want it a whole lot less. To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to enjoy the anticipation of a new release or to be excited about an upcoming project, I’m simply contending that we should be cautious to not let that hype replace or supersede our enjoyment of playing games right now. Let new games come out when they come out and don’t worry about them now. Play the games you have, and if you must get hyped over something, focus that on games that are already out which you just haven’t picked up yet. I’d wager this would be better for everyone’s mental health in the long run, too.