Shiny pictures, flashy ads – heck, even simple black letters on a red field are enough to hook me. When John Romero promised to make me his bitch, I promptly rushed out and bought a nice dress. After all, if I was going to be his bitch, I wanted to look like a nice bitch.
I’m an older gamer – in some cultures, I might even be considered “grown up.” Yet most of my peers in my age group tend to be extremely skeptical of pre-release game hype. While I get caught up with the young gamers fawning and cooing over the polygon counts and frame rates in advertisements, gamers my age scoff and ask such heretical questions as “Yeah, but what is the gameplay like?”
I want to be like my peers. They’re the mature, wizened men of the community. I should be one of them: a man set in his ways, distinguished, careful in his consideration, perhaps even so far as jaded. But every month I go through my stack of the latest gaming magazines and I get excited at every glossy ad, every “exclusive” preview and every “sneak peak.” Don’t even get me started on “special feature fold-out covers.”
On the other side of all this excitability is my wallet. Even more pressing than the shame of the peers I respect, my wallet attempts to exert some modicum of control over me. Every time I see an advertisement for the latest and greatest soon-to-be-released game, my wallet begins screaming in a desperate attempt to drown out the siren lure of the hype.
I try to be a responsible adult. I budget amounts for games and try to stay within that budget, but invariably I fall prey to marketing because I’m a simpleton.
In late 2003, one of my favorite games, Puzzle Pirates, came out. Was I one of the first to be playing because I knew it would be the exact sort of game I love? No, because I was busy being infuriated by the Lineage II beta. This was a game that, had I spent any amount of time researching, I would have instantly realized I wouldn’t like. But because I had seen promotions for it and got caught up in discussions involving its usage of the Unreal 2 Engine and not about the actual gameplay, I rushed out to buy a copy of the game. I never even finished my free trial period.
I’m not saying Lineage II is a bad game. But if I had looked beyond its buzz, I would’ve known pretty quickly that it wasn’t a game for me. Level grind, limited character creation, endless hunting – all things I don’t enjoy. Yet because the hype meter on it was reading high, I became brainwashed.
During that same period, Puzzle Pirates, a game not featuring cutting-edge graphics, ridiculous polygon counts nor even a single television ad, completely escaped my notice. It was only after hearing about it from a friend that it came to my attention.
I try to be an “informed” game shopper. I try not to base my decisions on hype and focus on matters that are important to me. I even try and read reviews of games. But the problem for me is that even after spending years reading gaming magazines and websites, I still don’t have any sort of connection with their reviewers. Numbers, stars, percentages – none of those really stick with me. Word of mouth sticks with me. If I hear a bunch of my friends saying good things about a game that’s a game I’m likely to pick up. But by the time I start hearing good things about it, I’m usually so far behind everyone else playing it that I’m stuck being the perpetual newbie.
Instead of heeding solid information, I get excited about the ads instead of the game. Is Hitman: Blood Money a great game? I have absolutely no idea, but it was only because it won’t run on my antiquated gaming system that I was able to resist the amazing (albeit controversial) advertisement campaign. Even then, it was a close call. I had it in my hand and stood in the store for a good 20 minutes debating the matter – because someday I’m going to upgrade. Wouldn’t I feel stupid then if every copy of the game had disappeared and I wasn’t able to find it?
I am learning, though. Not consistently, but I’ve had some occasions where I demonstrated common sense, patience and a bit of immunity to hype. This month, I bought a game, but I waited until I read thorough reviews that talked about the gameplay to ensure it was something I’d like. I read threads on message boards that had nothing to do with hype, but only addressed whether the game was stable and easy to get installed and running. I refused to pay any heed to advertisements and instead focused on cold, hard facts. After careful consideration, I made this informed purchase, and proudly presented it to my friends.
“What? Dude, none of us play StarCraft anymore!”
Shawn “Kwip” Williams is the founder of N3 (NeenerNeener.Net), where he toils away documenting his adventures as the worst MMOG and pen-and-paper RPG player in recorded history.