Snipe the Hype

On the rare occasion that my wife and I get to go out to a movie these days, one of our favorite traditions is to “judge” film trailers in hushed voices amongst ourselves after we see each one.  It’s usually just a quick “Wow, that looks cool”, or “We definitely have to see that”, or “I know it’s not out, but we need to own that movie NOW.”  As far as I can tell, that kind of reaction is pretty normal among friends and couples, as we sift through trailers as an initial pass to see if we want to experience that movie or not.

What I can’t imagine is if a guy stood up during the trailers, and after each one proclaimed in a loud voice, “That’s just a trailer!  It’s not the full movie!  It’s just hype!  Don’t buy into it!  You can’t judge the movie by these three minutes!  It’s probably going to suck!  How dare you get excited by it!”  We’d hate that guy, and he’d probably be stoned to death by raisinettes within seconds.

Yeah, dude, we’re not idiots.  We’ve been around the block a few times, rented a few movies, and generally know that you can’t always judge a movie by its trailer.  But does that mean a trailer is worthless?  That it can’t present a sneak peek in the best possible light to make us want to see it?  That I should never, ever get excited?

Spinks has a great article about how to enjoy hype over at Spinksville, and I feel that we’re pretty much in agreement here.  It’s no new statement on my behalf that I like to look forward to games and enjoy the buildup to release.  As she said, it’s part of the hobby, and once you start down the path of deep cynicism, you might as well just forget about ever liking a game ever again.

What I don’t get is why there needs to be an equivalent to my fictional movie trailer cynic who always posts comments in any thread that discusses a recent trailer.  I don’t understand the purpose of that.  Are there people out there who honestly think that we don’t realize that it is a trailer?  That the company is deliberately putting their best foot forward?  That we shouldn’t take everything they say as the literal truth?

I don’t get why there’s such anger toward trailers at all, or why the theme of being upset that a MMO studio is promoting their game prior to launch is churned up again and again — same story, different day.  If you’ve been burned, you’ve been burned.  It happens.  It doesn’t mean that everything that follows is worthless, and that you should never love again.  I don’t particularly buy into the vague argument that companies can promote their games, just not hype them.  Seriously, where’s the line there?  What constitutes hype and not hype?  How do you define that, as it’s an extremely relative term that changes depending on who you talk to and how they feel about a game or the genre in general?

And I think it’s absolutely silly to get mad at companies for doing what they need to do for their game to get the best possible start.  Yes, they shouldn’t make wild claims that they don’t back up in their games, and they should make a great game that’s well-tested and -polished.  But it’s essential for companies to market their titles prior to launch, and it does them no good to be reserved and quiet while doing so.  This isn’t just MMOs, it’s everything everywhere.  If you’re not bold, if you don’t offer something different, if you don’t wow the crowd, if you don’t dangle a good deal — you might as well pack it in right now, as you’re going to fail.  A great game with zero marketing is a dead game these days.

Trailers are a great part of marketing, and a welcome tradition.  I think it’s fun to have someone try to get my blood pumping with heroic music, action scenes and strong quotes.  I love developer podcasts and articles and interviews.  Over at Massively, we know that statistically speaking, only a few games will really “succeed” in any measurable way, but that doesn’t mean we deny them the chance to make the best possible first impression by getting snarky that their trailer is “all CGI” or that a developer says something outlandish like “We want to challenge tired conventions in the industry” or “This game will be centered around a story-driven experience”.

I just don’t know what goal that guy has in mind when he (or she) stands up to tell us how silly and stupid we are for liking something as fluffy like a trailer.  Maybe that we’ll all start spitting on companies for having the audacity to promote their game?  Maybe that we can eventually shame companies into being completely quiet until they shyly release a title and then stand back so that we can judge it without any preconceptions?

You got me, brother.  I’m at a loss here.

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29 thoughts on “Snipe the Hype

  1. Well there is hype and then there’s hype. You can create hype just by having a history of making good stuff and releasing a teaser/trailer that promises absolutely nothing except showing a really good teaser/trailer.

    StarCraft 2 and SWTOR comes to mind. Two awesome trailers that didn’t include a single in-game footage or promise. Tons of hype from that.

    Then you can make tons and tons of promises, and generate hype that way. Only most of those promises is probably just great quotes specifically put there to generate buzz, whether they are true or not.

    You compared it to movie trailers. Well, a lot of comedies squeeze in every single funny moment into the trailer, but when you actually see the movie it is _horrible_. That doesn’t mean you should get the habit of thinking every movie is crap because one was, but it should also teach you something.

    I’m on the stance that hype = evil. Not to the companies that earn the cash, but to the people that get their expectations up so much that it partly ruins the movie/game they are watching/playing, even when it could actually be enjoyable!

  2. Have you seen this trailer for fable 3?

    I saw it the other week and was immediately attracted by the grim setting and humour that it’s been put on the list when it wasn’t there before. It’s funny because I pretty much ignored all the other promotion surrounding it, it’s Peter Molyneaux after all, then ended up drawn by something very superficial. :)

    That’s the way I see trailers, something to attract interest, not cast-iron promises, which a lot of people seem to view them as, they also seem to blame the company for their emotional reaction too.

    As for the Guild Wars 2 trailer, what I liked the most was the developers talking passionately about their game, they seemed genuine at least and I warmed to them.

  3. Cynicism about the possibilities with an upcoming title, I can understand completely. I try to set my hype meter to ignore words like “epic” and “revolutionary” and just pay attention to the actual descriptions of how things will work, which tend to be more accurate (“you will be killing ten rats, but they will be MASSIVE EPIC rats and it will be REVOLUTIONARY! You have NEVER SEEN RATS LIKE THIS BEFORE!”).

    What I don’t understand are the cynical fans who flat-out say, “I don’t believe what they are saying.” How do you even respond to someone who dismisses the source material out of hand? At that point you’re not trying to have a conversation, you’re asserting that developers are liars (not even mere embellishers of truth), and that the rest of us are dupes for even attempting to imagine what gameplay might be like with the features described.

    Um, okay, I guess?

  4. I can understand disliking the hype, and even actively coming out against it. What I can’t understand is blaming the developers for it, or at the very least blaming them without cause.

    90% of the “hype” comes from press and players, not the game studio. Bioware has been exceedinly careful and limited in their presentation of information concerning TOR, but the hype-meter is off the charts. Does that have anything to do with Bioware? Not at all, but for some reason they’re the ones who draw the fire.

    But even if a company is being aggressive in their promotion – such as ArenaNet is doing now – I think you need to take them on their own merits, and consider the source. I wouldn’t believe a word Paul Barnett or FunCom had so say about their games until I saw it in live action under load, because both have a history of promising but not delivering. But in this case, ArenaNet is a small-ish developer with a history of (as far as I know) delivering what they say they will, and actually has a history of innovation. They haven’t chased million-subscriber numbers or tried to compete with WoW, they’ve done things like heavy instancing and no-sub models years before other companies even tried it. I don’t know if they’ll be able to deliver or not, but I’ll trust them until proven otherwise.

    And on a side note, before the new trailed I hadn’t realized that Ree Soesbee was involved. She has a VERY solid history with pen-and-paper RPG writing that gives me a warm fuzzy knowing she’s involved.

  5. Spot on…if your eyes are open, because just as many of us agree and relate to this post, we ALSO know that there are LEGIONS of people who, come release time, will raise an unholy ruckus that none of what they were promised in the lead-up to the release has come to pass. They’ll say the game sucks, that they were mislead by the not-real-game play footage into BELIEVING that it WAS game play footage. They’ll have listened to one thing in a manifesto video or dev interview, but will have HEARD something completely different that their own mind wanted to be true, and then they’ll blame the developers for lying to them.

    And THESE are the people we’ll need to try to talk down from their anger because they won’t be posting to obscure websites; they’ll be bitching wherever they can post a comment. They’ll be psychically drawn to any gaming site that posts news about the game JUST SO they can “educate” everyone about how the game fails.

    I’ll say that I’ll remain on the fence about GW2. I DO feel that that in many cases games that I HAVE been pumped up about have failed miserably to meet the expectations they fostered (The Patron Saint of Failed Expectations? Vanguard). I’m also not a huge fan of GW1, so my enthusiasm is more tempered then others. I’ve not been pushed to counter anyone’s excitement because those who are excited have a right to be so. I also think that those who are interested in questioning WHY people are so excited over marketing material have a right to express themselves in a nice, polite manner. I don’t think anyone should come to blows over this; after all, everyone’s tastes are different, and ultimately the finished product will be the final arbiter of whether hype or anti-hype was more appropriate.

  6. Regis said:
    “I’m on the stance that hype = evil. Not to the companies that earn the cash, but to the people that get their expectations up so much that it partly ruins the movie/game they are watching/playing, even when it could actually be enjoyable!”

    I do agree that some people get their expectations up to an unattainable level for certain things, then they come crashing back to reality when the game does not match what they’d imagined.

    Developers/marketers can share some of the blame for this if they outright deceive or actively encourage misconceptions, but I would not imagine that those who do would be trusted again too quickly. More often what I see is an internet-wide round of “operator”. One person reads/watches something about a new game and makes some assumptions based on it. This person then tells their friends and some of those friends make similar, but slightly different assumptions and pass *those* on. By the end of the day, the developer who had just said, “yes, our game will have mounted travel” will be held to the promise of “flying dragon mounts in all zones with possible aerial combat”.

    Ok, maybe not that extreme, but you get the idea. My current real example of this is GW2 “housing”. I am not sure I have seen the developers ever say outright that the game has what players today think of as housing. What they said was “Each character is given a home instance, personalized to their biography choices, located in their racial capital [...] Within this home area, things are more personalized to your character.” People have interpreted that different ways and started calling it player housing which may lead to disappointment if it does not match what people imagine. Could be that the home instances are wonderful and new, but they could still be tarnished by not equaling the “hype” people have created in their own minds.

    Of course, this is just my own interpretation of things. Just like anyone else who is still waiting for concrete information, I could be wrong, too. :)

  7. I can understand the people who say “it’s just a trailer, it doesn’t mean anything” and move on. That’s fine, after all, it IS just a trailer.

    What I can’t understand, are the people who see a trailer, pass (negative) judgement on the game, and write long rambling blog posts about how (based on a 30 second trailer) game X is clearly going to suck balls and should be avoided at all costs.

    O . . kay.

  8. The trailer is only wrongfully hyped if the product does not meet the expectations put out by the trailer. And the only real way to determine that, is too actually play the game the trailer is going on about. Or least listen to reviews of other peeps who have played the game.

    Case in point: I never declared the Warhammer trailers and videos being pumped out as over-hyped until I actually played the game and read reviews of others who played the game over a long period of time. So I could go back to those clips with an informed opinion declare that the enthusiasm portayed within those vids did fall rather short to actual gameplay and it’s expectations.

    I understand that lots of players including myself have been burned by overly glossy vidoes with “this game will change the world as we know it” attitudes. But that does not mean the next game company that puts out a vid is doing the same thing. And they may actually have product that will change the world. It could also be a load of crap too. Either way, wait and see should always be the mantra of anyone taking in those trailers.

  9. I think there’s a difference between critiquing something (and either praising it or deriding it – like you and your wife do in your example) and having a go at other people for liking/disliking a basic trailer or expressing their views. I can be positive about things, I can be negative about things, but I try to express just my own opinion and not judge others. Each to their own etc :) People who take a pop at someone for their opinion are definitely twerps and should learn some manners!! Utter agreement there!

    I would point out one core difference between films and MMOs in your analogy though: in films, the trailers are made up of segments of the “real” material which ultimately are more factual for basing your decision on; in MMOs, trailers tend to be a lot of out-of-game CG or devs/designers talking about their vision and not so much factual evidence to back it up. I do think that makes it harder to get a realistic sense of what the product is truly going to be like.

  10. Gordon pretty much just said what I was going to say. Game trailers are not like movie trailers in that game trailers rarely reflect the actual content of the game. Unlike movie trailers which are made up of scenes shot for (but not necessarily included in) the movie.

    I think the naysayers are useful as a reality check. There have been a lot of promises made and broken by game trailers before. And, it’s kind of silly to complain about comments on trailers because they’re posted online, and discussion is what online does. It’s about as silly as complaining about comments on your blog that don’t agree with you; it can be useful to get many points of view.

  11. It is tough. On one side, I absolutely believe in the intelligence of people, of any age or background.

    People really do know what they are watching.

    On the other hand, hype bombs still start exploding all over the internet that leave shrapnel made of shart, hot, uninformed bits of info that have been exaggerated, and recycled.

    A little of it is what Gordon and Brian says, and a little of it is quite identical to movies.

    Me, I love doing what you and your wife do, with movie trailers. My one friend has become a bit cynical, and he’s the counterpart always telling us. It sucks, you can’t even tell if the movies good, they gave it all away….

    I just don’t want to be the guy yelling at everyone. But… I don’t want to see my fellow gamers all mad and forming lynch mobs because they are upset with the outcome of a game they were promised to be revolutionary. I’m not trying to justify being a negative person. You don’t have to be negative to offer some balance, because hype trains to get started and they do go out of control, and then many people end up spamming the net with hatred and disappointment.

    But, it’s not an excuse to be a rude naysayer, right now.

  12. Re: Movie trailers — It is quite common for trailers to contain material that never shows up in the movies. Dialogue, scenes, even characters — and, of course, music. It’s not a perfect analogy, but both types of trailers are made to get people excited about a product, and intentionally meddle with the viewer’s emotional side as a way to do that.

    What I take umbrage to isn’t discussion for or against a game, but how there are always people who pop up, regular as clockwork, after any trailer is posted to inform everyone in the crowd that it’s a trailer, and it isn’t to be trusted, liked, enjoyed or believed in the least. We know what it is already. We don’t need that “reality check” when all we want is to get a little excited about a game and see what the developers want to show us.

  13. I’m still deeply scarred from the WAR experience.

    Every time I feel hype I have reflex response of emotional pain. NEVER AGAIN!

    I can’t truly enjoy the SWTOR hype because of it.

    Can I sue Mythic for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

  14. The question is then why are you getting excited over something designed just to build hype as opposed to show gameplay. You review movies, Syp-you should know how camera angles, shot selection and editing can be used to show something in an entirely different way than it is.

    Trailers like that are hard for people like me to trust because of that. All the camera angles are chosen for max effect. No UI is shown, and even no combat-those ent-like tigers and the dragon fades out before actual character engagement. A lot of those scenes could just be cinematics using the in-game engine.

    As long as trailers try and blend a cinematic experience into mmo gameplay, you’ll get distrust.

  15. “It is quite common for trailers to contain material that never shows up in the movies”

    Is it really THAT common? I mean, apart from the traditional practice of cutting the trailer with generic music since the real music isn’t finished yet?

    I know there have been a couple of times when I’ve spotted a line of dialogue in a trailer that never showed up in the final cut of the movie, but really, I would say that 99% of what you see in a trailer is content that you’re going to see in the movie.

    Game trailers, really not the same thing at all. Often 0% of the content of the trailer in content from the game, and 100% pre-rendered.

  16. @ Carson – It is that common, actually. I’ve been studying film for a couple decades now, and the process of trailer creation always fascinates me. But I’ll concede that, sure, you tend to see more of the “actual” movie in a movie trailer than a game in a game trailer (of course, this depends on how close you are to launch and if it’s a purely cinematic trailer or not).

  17. Pingback: Hype | Kill Ten Rats

  18. My co-host and I do the same thing as Syp when we go to the movies. However, when I see a game trailer, as much as I enjoy good CG, I don’t expect the trailer to be more than a pitchman doing their thing – thats what they are for. The problem comes in when promises are made to set the industry on it’s ear, so to speak. That become risky territory. At that point you are setting yourself up for a fall if you can’t deliver.

    Still the next evolutionary step in gaming has to come from somewhere, and I am always interested in finding out how someone like arenanet is going to deliver.

  19. I agree with you Syp. I think the point that changes in my mind, is in group hype-talk.

    It’s akin to games informing players, via chat or across the screen in flashing neon lights, that they shouldn’t buy gold. Unfortunately some of those players just don’t know that buying gold(outside the game) is against the ToS.

    I think it’s a similar feel to that. Everyone starts chattering and then someone feels a need to add balance.

    I will take this as a heads up to never be that person though ;) Anytime I feel the need to add balance, I will hit myself with a rolled-up newspaper and say “nnnnNO, no!” :D

    Yeah, I’d say it comes down to: There’s a time and place, and many people(including me) have picked the wrong time and place to interject those anti-hype speeches.

  20. I think in the end people fill the trailer with what they expect. People who are bored see something to excite them, no matter the drawback. People who feel burned by MMO devs see deception.

    I see in GW2 developers who are saying the same things I’ve said about MMOs for years – they they’re dull, boring, mindless, repetitive, BAD GAMES. I play largely for the social experience with my family, but very little about MMOs can be considered good from a pure-game standpoint. The GW2 devs have called out everything I think is wrong with MMOs that has stuck them in a rut since the MUDs of the 80s. That’s got ME excited – far more than TOR, whose old, tired, “The Trooper is your tank and the Jedi Consular will be the healer” gameplay showed.

    Is it all hype? Maybe, but as Syp pointed out at the beginning, I truly believe that THEY believe it, and want to do something better. I don’t believe that’s hype, and success or failure won’t change that in my mind.

    Which is, I guess, the final arbiter. It’s not really hype if you deliver, is it?

  21. It’s been my experience when going to the movies with various people over the years that I’m in a minority of one in takign any interest in trailers at all. Some people pretty much ignore them, several actively dislike them as annoyances that delay the start of the film, but I can’t recall ever going to the pictures with someone that actively wanted to discuss them.

    I find them interesting, but I have never thought they had anything to do with what the actual film would be like. I can’t recall ever seeing a trailer that led directly to me going to see a movie. In general if I was asked on coming out of a movie what movies I’d seen trailers for just a couple of hours ago I doubt I’d be able to remember the name of a single one.

    I’ve followed a few games through development to release because of a trailer, though, so I obviously put a lot more weight on game trailers. I also do expect them to reflect the finished product and I think it’s entirely reasonable to complain about it if they don’t.

  22. On the topic of movie trailers again, I have to say that I really dislike it when they put scenes in them that don’t appear in the movie! I feel like it’s practically verging on false advertising.

  23. Thanks for those links, Dblade. Interesting stuff – I always assumed that the odd trailer scene that never showed up in the movie was due to the final edit not being finished when the trailer was cut. I hadn’t heard of scenes being filmed deliberately for the trailer with no intention of using them in the final cut, before.

  24. Syp, the issue people have with MMO trailers is captured perfectly right here:

    “Yes, they shouldn’t make wild claims that they don’t back up in their games, and they should make a great game that’s well-tested and -polished. But it’s essential for companies to market their titles prior to launch, and it does them no good to be reserved and quiet while doing so. This isn’t just MMOs, it’s everything everywhere. If you’re not bold, if you don’t offer something different, if you don’t wow the crowd, if you don’t dangle a good deal — you might as well pack it in right now, as you’re going to fail. A great game with zero marketing is a dead game these days.”

    The bit in particular is right up front: They must be honest about the game they’re selling. The reason people get so agitated and irritated and trash MMO trailers is because we’ve had a series of games deliver tons of hype building trailers, then generally fail to deliver on all counts. WAR failed to, AOC failed to, Aion failed to and the list goes on.

    Marketing in other markets tends to be a very different beast. Movie trailers, while the movie may not deliver the level of excellence we expect based on the trailer, still give a good general impression of what the movie is. Same goes for any other common advertising. But games, and MMOs very specifically, tend to promise the moon and the sky. GW2 is currently the whipping boy in this aspect. I honestly don’t expect GW2 to be a large, open, persistent world. I expect it to be very similar to GW1; a series of very tight, controlled instances much like everyone else does. But the devs in the trailer go on at length about persistence and impact, even if it’s only you and a couple of other folks who ever see it because you’re zoning from instance to instance based on some combination of events you’ve been party to.

    Short version: Hype *can* be good, when leveraged well. Blizzard is clearly a master of this, despite the backlash surrounding SC2. Other companies have a *lot* to learn in this regard, as we’ve seen with the massive backlashes against games who have failed to deliver on the level of hype they built.

  25. In a way, I almost prefer game trailers that are 100% rendered and zero in-game footage. At least it’s clear and in your face that this trailer is purely intended to showcase the feel and the setting of the game, not show you how it is going to play.

    I remember some particularly marvellous ones – the pre-release WoW trailer with the night elf druid turning into a cat.. a great WAR one.. Hellgate London had a fantastic ones which left you in no doubt that there would be DEMONS and SWORDS and ROCKET LAUNCHERS and HOT CHICKS.

    Were those games any good? Not all of them, no. But I certainly never felt misled into trying any of them by the pre-rendered trailers.

  26. JTHelen, if the game really were instanced or phased in the world outside of towns (personal storyline aside, which ANet has been clear really is instanced), it would be false advertising, but that is not the case. GW2 is open outside of towns and hubs for people to meet up and interact.

    We do have the word of Scott Kurz (PvP artist) who has played GW2 at the ANet offices and states that there were other people around in the open, persistent world, as he participated in a dynamic event.

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