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.”
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.