I still let myself get excited, and I hope I never become so disillusioned with the game industry that I can't bring myself to look forward to something I might enjoy. That said, I try to keep my expectations realistic; we've all heard developers make claims that were more than likely completely sincere, but didn't quite work out as advertised. I think MMO fans tend to be more than a little superstitious about the concept of "hype," to the point that I often see comments that treat strong anticipation as a kind of jinx. It's magical thinking: With few exceptions, games that aren't anticipated and don't have strong marketing don't generally set the world on fire in reality, no matter how good they are. But some people still seem to have this impression that liking a game pre-launch is the kiss of death, and that's a mindset I just can't grasp.
I still get excited. It's fun to gush. I bet most of us love to be in love with games or we wouldn't be doing this for a living, which probably means it's not so much advertising hype as our own hopes and wishes that lead (and mislead) us. But I've (personally) been lied to by MMO hype for almost 16 years, so skepticism is part of the package now. A game can promise anything it wants, but if it doesn't actually deliver, players and journalists just aren't fooled anymore. I don't think that makes us susceptible or jaded to hype; it just makes us realists!
I have always been a mixed-reaction kind of person. Sometimes I am so excited I can't contain myself; sometimes I ignore a game for as long as possible. But the outcome is always the same: I play it regardless. That being said, I don't take the studio into consideration at all. I am more focused on the IP than anything, and if a game seems as if it's going to have awesome lore or concepts, I am into it. Same goes for some kind of interesting gameplay mechanic. Advertising definitely works on me.
Before Age of Conan
I thought every game would be my next World of Warcraft
. I figured I should be prepared with a seven-page-long guild manifesto. Since then I've slowly progressed to being what I would consider "reasonably optimistic" about games that haven't entered open beta. I still get excited. I still get curious. But I'm cautious now, especially after entering into the mystical realm of games media. I've accepted that the starting areas, press demos, and even beta I'm lucky enough to experience is frequently gated in ways that make the company's game look as super rad as possible. I try to keep in mind that what I'm experiencing at level 7 won't necessarily reflect the game at level 42.
I've dealt with the absurdly optimistic, misleading, and sometimes downright wrong information released pre-OB by emotionally detaching myself from the success and failure of individual games. At this point, my thought process is almost exclusively "I hope this game succeeds at the level the developers would like -- oh hey Dexter's on tonight!" I still care quite a bit about how each new MMO turns out, but I care from an objective (as possible) vantage point. I love the world of MMOs, the cycle they go through, and how they're changing over the years. For me personally I find it just as interesting when MMOs succeed as when they're awe-inspiring flops.
Despite being pretty jaded, I did pee my pants when Chris Roberts announced Star Citizen
last fall, but at the time I wasn't really thinking about it as an MMO or considering the effects it might have on the industry. As it crystallized, I realized that even though his company is avoiding the MMO label like the plague, it's closer to what I expect out of MMOs than any other game, so, yeah I'm riding that particular hype train.
One of the interesting things about SC is that the company behind it isn't big enough to generate its own hype beyond the initial Roberts name recognition wave. From the outside looking in, there's comparatively little effort devoted to PR since everyone is crunching on the actual product. Who knows how it will ultimately turn out, but if you conduct yourself a certain way -- and add features rather than remove them -- it is possible to make a believer out of a skeptical bittervet.
As a dude who writes about games, I have a sort of, "Suuuure you'll do that" approach to press releases, trailers, screenshots, and everything else that gets sent to us and pushed to the public on a daily basis. But as a gamer, I have infinite hope in the ability of developers to surprise and impress. I don't often get excited for new releases, but when it seems as if a studio is trying something new (EverQuest Next
, I'm looking at you), that studio has my immediate attention. I love risks and innovation, both of which are severely limited in an industry that seems bent on copying other people's successes rather than making meaningful contributions or taking chances.
I would say I get cautiously hyped. EQN
is the perfect example; I know it looks cool, and I know I'm excited about it, but I also know that Sony Online Entertainment
has broken our hearts before with over-the-top promises and sloppy implementation. As for optioning IPs into MMOs, well, it mostly feels like a cash grab. Unless the studio can make a case for why being online benefits a particular title and its players, it reads like a "me too" decision aimed solely at increasing revenue. I'd wager we can count the number of worthwhile MMOs based on existing IPs on one Simpson's hand.
For hardcore fans of MMOs, I think it's become popular to be skeptical and hesitant toward any newly announced MMO. They understand that presentations and fly-throughs are nice, but only playing the game can truly give you the sense if an MMO is worth your time and money. I, however, like getting excited over announcements and seeing what various game developers are trying to do with their game and IP. I enjoy how the gaming community gets together on various social platforms to discuss the recent buzz. So I allow myself to get excited at these announcements and enjoy the moment, but at the same time I don't feel like I buy into the hype.
Sometimes I think about how naive I used to be when I first started working at Massively and how everything excited me. While I wallow in my old-timer skepticism now, I often miss that excitement of the early days. Certain games still do it for me, but the ratio of fist-pumping vs. eye-rolling is widening as more and more MMOs are releasing in an unfinished state. Once we start getting back to the quality instead of quantity format of developing these games, I'm sure I'll be back to the Fanboy Shawn mode.
What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.