Rising Tide

Two unrelated posts today that got me thinking about the “hype machine”, and why, for me, it does more harm than good. GeeCee over at MMO Gamer Chick highlighted the recent release of an $80 statue for Star Wars: The Old Republic (yes, you read that correctly – eighty dollars for a resin statue for a game that hasn’t even launched). And Ravious at Kill Ten Rats had a bit to say about “content explosion” vs. “content drip” for engaging existing players or attracting new ones. Basically it comes down to letting content or information trickle out over weeks or even months to keep players coming back, or, especially in the case of an upcoming game, using both an explosion of content to build hype and a constant trickle to keep them interested.

“In a perfect world, I think both a content explosion coupled with a content drip would be the best option.  It seems more and more that the roar from the content explosions collapse all the more quickly as veteran MMO players tear through the intricately designed content like a one-year old’s first birthday cake.”

~Ravious

For an existing game, I agree with Ravious. “Content explosions” are great for upcoming expansions or major patches. They get the existing players and community excited about what’s coming, and give others a reason to check out an MMO that they wouldn’t normally play. Around the time Rise of the Godslayer was released, I seriously considered resubbing to Age of Conan (I chose DDO instead, but it wasn’t an easy choice!). But “content drip” also has its place – mostly to keep the existing players engaged and the community strong. The War in Kryta (as Ravious points out) is a perfect example of this; the epic books in LotRO could also fall into this category, despite the fact that recently that particular trickle has nearly dried up.

But, for me personally, there is a definite downside to the hype machine. Especially in regards to upcoming games such as The Old Republic. There comes a point when there’s too much information being released, and I find myself actively working not to read or learn anything new about a game. If things continue as they have, by the time TOR releases I’m going to have the strong feeling that there’s nothing new to learn; nothing to explore or discover. Sure, there will be areas to see and quests to play through, but all of the flavor and “new-ness” of any particular area will already have come and gone. And there’s no reason to expect that the hype will do anything except increase. The Old Republic is starting to approach that threshold; it’s like those movie previews that show all of the best scenes in a movie – by the time you get around to seeing the actual film, it’s grossly disappointing.

Where’s the fun in that?

I understand the business behind the hype. These products take insane amounts of money to create, and have to break even pretty quickly. Ongoing costs are a hard fact of life. Box sales and player retention are critical factors to success. It’s almost as if modern “themepark” MMOs are the victims of their own nature – they are virtual worlds that can rake in millions of dollars of profit, but they are also expansive, thousand-plus-hours-of-content monstrosities (though one could argue the validity of grind as “content”) that must continually be moving towards more content in order to keep their customers happy and paying. I’ll leave the arguments over “themepark vs. sandbox” for another time; but as the sole providers and gatekeepers of content for their MMOs, themepark developers are creating a lot of work for themselves, just to remain viable.

These games need the hype machine, even if it damages their product in the long run.

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4 responses to “Rising Tide

  1. The Bioware folks are toeing a very fine line. If you think about it, have they really released all that much information, really started “approaching that threshold”? They have an uncanny way of making it feel like they’ve released a lot of information, but if you really look at it, they really haven’t. Most of it is stuff the average MMO player won’t really care about — biographies of NPCs, creature profiles, planet profiles, etc.

    It may feel like a lot, but in reality we still know relatively nothing about details of it’s MMO-ness, the “big things” like PvP, crafting, endgame, etc. or even if there’s going to be space combat. I think that’s the important stuff most die-hard online game players want to know, especially given doubts that SWTOR will be a real MMO. I hope we’ll be seeing some of this info revealed at E3.

    I get the feeling you wouldn’t mind knowing the “big” stuff, but the “little” reveals they do each week are the kind of stuff you’re getting a little wary of 😉 There’s irony in that, but I think a lot of people are in that boat, especially if you’re into small details of a story. For example, most people watching a movie who don’t want to be spoiled are okay with sweeping summaries, but will want to avoid specific information about the plot, characters, locales, etc.

    As for the statue, at least it’s not a $25 sparkly mount in game 😛 But I’m a still a little amused that they’re trying to sell $80 memorabilia for a game that’s not even going to be out yet for a while!

  2. Exactly right – the kinds of information they’ve put out so far are really the type I’d rather find out on my own, through exploration and discovery. And they are starting to reach a frequency with which I’m just not comfortable.

    I’d never accuse BioWare of being heavy-handed with the information they are releasing, but, again, it’s stuff I don’t want to hear about – I want to experience it, for the first time, on my own (or with others). The point being, I don’t want BioWare to hand me this stuff. I actually want to work for it.

    Like many, Star Wars holds a special place in my heart. I don’t envy BioWare their position, but based on past performance I think they could pull it off. And while I’m interested in the “big things”, they’re not nearly as critical to me as the overall experience – will it be fun? I’m not opposed to someone, ANYONE, striking off on their own, away from the well-beaten path of MMO norms. Especially BioWare.

    I actually prefer the approach Funcom has taken to The Secret World (number 2 on my list of anticipated MMOs). Granted, I’m not nearly as invested in that particular IP (can it be said they are working on an IP? Is Lovecraft/”urban mythology” an IP?) but I would say I’m looking forward to that game as much as TOR.

    And I definitely agree about the statue. Sure, it’s nice. And, yes, you actually get to hold something real, and put it on a shelf (or hide it in your basement shrine to KOTOR…whatever). I also find it amusing – “memorabilia” for an unreleased product. I know, the cinematic was great. But…c’mon, really? It wasn’t that great!

    • Heh heh, my husband is the same way. He tends to stay away from the weekly updates…me, I eat it all up! I like getting background info, and I’m confident that nothing important about the main plot lines for the classes will be spoiled from now until release, which is the real story for me, and what I care about.

      I think right now, the statue will most likely appeal to general Star Wars enthusiasts and collectors, and not to SWTOR fans specifically. I think that’s the reason it’s being offered on Starwars.com after all. Still, people are already tossing around terms like “Buy-O-Ware” which I think is very clever and I can’t help it, it cracks me up 😛

    • That brings up another thing that’s been gnawing at the back of my mind – the emphasis on story.

      Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for story. It’s the main reason I play. But with all of their focus on story story story, I wonder how much of the open world we’re going to get to really explore. I don’t want full sandbox, nor do I want the game to try to be everything to everyone, but I do want a mix.

      It’s why I love LotRO; at the very least the deeds encourage exploration, etc.

      I know that, realistically, I’m going to find something in which I am disappointed. Or less than satisfied. It’s just nearly impossible for me not to, considering how beloved the IP is, and how greatly I’m looking forward to TOR. I guess I’m just beginning to realize this, and would rather avoid disappointments now and let them get crushed under my enthusiasm and excitement once the game launches!

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