Because you write news, a good chunk of your day is spent prowling for stories. Some of them you find while browsing. Some of them are sent to your email. Once in a great while your cell phone registers a call from California and a way-too-peppy voice tries to sell you on the notion of writing a 2000-word feature on a game that only the mole people have heard of. In all of this, you are exposed to a great amount of PR-speak. You see the same phrases pop up, again and again. You understand how words can be hollow shells wrapped around a complete lack of meaning. You start to go mad until your other head tells you to snap out of it and eat some more flies.
So today you're going to join me here on this side of the news desk as we look at 10 of the most obnoxious buzz words or phrases that studio PR and devs like to toss our way. You could get really cynical reading this list, but I suggest that you make a bingo sheet instead to turn this into a fun game that never, ever ends!
This sinful phrase is a favorite of WildStar's devs (not to mention SWTOR's) and is one of the best ways to send Massively's Bree up a wall. She's developed a nervous tic from her sheer hatred of "elder game" talk that manifests itself in a sort-of half-shriek followed by a flailing of her claws. Er, fingernails. To be honest, they do seem like claws when they catch you in the face if you happen to be near her.
I'll let her explain: "'Elder game' sounds like an ill-fitting, weasely way of saying endgame without actually admitting that your game has an end, as if players are so dumb they'll be fooled into thinking, hey, maybe it doesn't have an end or maybe this endgame will be special. It also makes it sound like a game for the elderly."
2. "Transmedia Synergy"
Like some of the other entries on this list, this phrase sounds clever the first time you hear it. It's totally dripping in PR-sauce (they looove the word "synergy"), but it's got a snazzy zing to it. The problem is that Trion and Syfy latched onto this phrase for Defiance and couldn't stop saying it, even when at home with spouses and children. "Kids, did you brush your teeth with transmedia synergy?" "Honey, make sure you wear that transmedia synergy to bed, rawr!" Now it's like a big painted target that says, "Look how we thought of something interesting to say last year and then officially ran out of words to explain it otherwise!"
3. "Fourth Pillar"
Quick quiz: Can you name the first three pillars that BioWare had in mind? No? It's not your fault. The whole "pillar" metaphor quickly got away from the studio when it was promoting Star Wars: The Old Republic and never looked back. You can see how it happened, too. The devs wanted to stress the unique aspect of their game and that it was equally important to the other aspects (pillars one, two, and three) (we're guessing those are "combat," "smack talk," and "Wookiees"). And pillars hold up things, like a house or a game!
But as with our previous examples, when you run something into the ground, it eventually becomes a weapon that your detractors can beat you over the head with and your supporters won't touch at all. What everyone should learn here is that a clever phrase has, at most, a one-month lifespan. After that it's a meme for two months and embarrassment forever after.
4. "Living Story"
I'm actually going to go a little easier on Guild Wars 2 here for the whole "living story" thing. It's not a bad phrase. If I were hard-pressed to come up with a title for what the team is trying to do with an evolving story, that would probably be it. The problem is that it's still a little vague and full of implied promises that haven't panned out. You could ask 100 players what an "MMO living story" means and you'd probably get as many responses. I think this is why ArenaNet's written a few thousand articles trying to explain what the living story is, what it's trying to do with it, and how it's so very, very alive.
I'm just saying that the literalist in me expects a sentient computer over in Seattle that's calling the storytelling shots right now while ArenaNet employees cower in fear and feed it flash drives.
Let's get away from specific game examples and go to the more widely used obnoxious phrases. This one is probably one of my biggest pet peeves because I always see it in the official press releases of no-name MMOs. Mary Yoohoo or Tommy LeFutzyface will send us a writeup of some piddly little title from a fourth-world nation and start out by saying, "This highly anticipated title is set to launch/go into beta/come overseas/have its own GeoCities website." Always my first response is, "Anticipated by whom? Did I miss the groundswell of anticipatory excitement that exists somewhere for this game, or is this a lot of smoke being blown up my bum by PR twits who are hoping to find a naive writer who will just cut and paste the press release verbatim?"
I think I answered my own question there.
6. "Soft Launch"
You might have noticed that we are not being kind to the whole "soft launch" thing on Massively these days. I don't want to speak for the entire staff here, but it's making some of our weaker-willed writers Hulk out in despair. The insidiousness of this phrase is two-fold. First, it's an oxymoron that's trying to mesh two incongruent notions together. Either you have launched or you haven't. Second, it's wielded as a get-out-of-jail-free card by studios that want to have the money that players are willing to give them but do not want the valid criticism that players are also willing to give them.
7. "Registered Users"
I can stare at this phrase all the live-long day and feel my life's energy sucked away by the vacuum that these words create. Ladies and gentlemen, this phrase is the very definition of meaningless. This doesn't even cast a shadow, as it lacks enough substance to hinder light. PR folks love it because (1) it allows them to whip up press releases with large numbers and (2) there is no universal definition of "registered users." It can mean anything! Signed up for the beta? Registered user! Visited the website once in July? Registered user! Played another one of the studio's games and was automatically flagged for a free trial? Registered user!
Nobody around here likes this phrase but -- and here's the worst part -- we still have to report on it. Because, you see, the numbers could mean something. They could indicate interest, at least. If the studio is being halfway honest, there might be actual players somewhere in that seven-figure number. It leaves us with a scummy feeling afterward while Mr. PR feels that he's done a good job getting the word out that the game he represents did something. Something big. With lots of numbers.
Here's a phrase that's just about gotten away from everyone, like a little dog that's yapping around while we scramble for its leash. Like "registered users," "dynamic content" is used by everyone but is also used in a shocking number of ways. It's a watered-down phrase that lacks specifics and therefore relevance. At least it gives people something to argue about in the comments because no one can settle on what "dynamic" means anyway.
This is a strange one because "immersive" is something that everyone uses -- press, studios, and players. And yet it doesn't seem to be an actual word outside of our weird little gaming circle and Dictionary.com. My spellchecker hates the heck out of it.
Anywho, why is it obnoxious if it's being used across the board? Because studios can claim just about anything is an immersive element or experience. It sums up many of the problems that we have on this list: It's overused, it lacks a universal meaning (in other words, it's highly subjective), and it's tacked on like a parasitic adjective to any feature that a studio wants to highlight. Immersive crafting! Immersive mailbox dancing! Immersive jazzercise!
10. "Action Combat"
"Action combat" is a redundant redundancy. I can't put this better than Massively's Jasmine, so I'll let her take us home: "Just once I want a company to come out and say its combat has absolutely no action whatsoever. You just stand there. You don't even activate any skills. In fact, you'll do extra damage if you take a nap at your desk. Naption combat."
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.