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A game's biggest fans are usually those who make it. Many developers pour their lives into projects at the expense of friends, family and natural light; it's understandable when they get overexcited. This, however, can be poison to an aspiring game community.
The only thing worse than making a game with no hype, is making one that is overhyped. "Overhype" is when a player's vision of what a game will be far exceeds what a developer can possibly deliver. As a result of overhype, the game is judged more harshly than it otherwise might be.
A perfect example of this is Farlan's MMOG, Dark and Light. They launched in June and have been universally panned. Admittedly, the game is no masterpiece, but is it truly deserving of the harsh criticism it's received? Over at my day job, the user ratings would tell you so. It is currently scored 3.4 out of 10, a full point worse than any other MMOG on the market. This includes garage games and titles approaching 10 years old. It is no coincidence that Dark and Light was rated the most-hyped game in our system for nearly six months prior to its beta. But the game shipped unfinished, and disenfranchised players responded by scoring the game negatively.
Developers have to balance their enthusiasm with what they're actually capable of accomplishing. On one hand, it is imperative to get people talking before the game ships, especially if you have little to no marketing budget. On the other, the more fans talk, the more they dream, and the more they dream, the more they expect. If it gets out of hand, expect a violent backlash when reality rears its ugly head.
I am writing from personal experience.
Wish was an MMOG cancelled in January of 2005, despite very good beta sign-up numbers and a slew of online media coverage. We bore all the trademarks of a small independent developer. One of these was my serving simultaneously as the Co-Lead Game Designer, Assistant Producer, World Designer and Community Manager, and I was hardly the only one wearing multiple hats.
Two of those hats got us into trouble, though. I had little development experience, and when someone serves as both a senior designer and a community talking head, things can get out of hand.
My experience was in the realm of online journalism, and I knew how that worked. I took that knowledge and tried to spread the word as best I could. We relied nearly exclusively on word of mouth. I spent a lot of time answering questions on message boards and working with game sites to place features.
As a company, we knew our defining and differentiating features and made it our goal to drive them home. Our concept was called Live Content, which called for a small team of game masters to set in motion macro-scale world events so the playerbase could respond to them. Unfortunately, this was a grand concept and not easy for a small development studio to pull off.
By December of 2004, we had a decent-sized community. We had been working hard and - to us at least - it seemed like we'd come a long way from where we'd left off in the last round of testing. Combat was more fun, the magic system improved, the graphics overhauled and some small part of our defining feature existed.
On January 1, 2005, we opened the doors to the 80,000-plus players who had signed up to participate in our open beta. It was during this time that the Half-Life 2 demo had released, and I remember being quite pleased when our beta dropped it down to second on the most active list over at FilePlanet. It looked like things were going well. Famous last words ...