Author's Note: As noted last week, this is a new column I'm starting that (hopefully) updates every Friday. (Last week's installment was the exception.)
Gamers love big announcements. I think that's the reason why everyone was so sad to see E3, a.k.a. the Christmas in May, dilute itself like the milk in my college's dining halls. The prospect of a ton of big announcements was too good to let go. But let go we did, with a promise from the gaming industry that big announcements would be spread throughout the year, with more press conferences and an increased attention to smaller conventions in 2007. While we never saw an avalanche of gaming news the likes of that which E3, the gaming industry did hold true to its promise, announcing major titles like LittleBigPlanet and Home for PS3 at GDC 2007. However, this had an unintended side effect: the escalation of pre-hype.
As gamers, we're not strangers to the concept of hype. Just look at the launch of Halo 3, which swept up even the most casual of Halo players in its marketing blitz. Or prior to that, the (some would argue totally justified) hype of Bioshock. But a great annoyance, at least to me, has popped up in regards to gaming hype this year: countdowns and pre-hype.
Countdowns are basically the announcement of an announcement for something you can buy way down the road. It started off innocently enough: the countdown to the GTA IV trailer's grand debut. Rockstar had the nerve to advertise this countdown with just the text "IV" in various ads, as if they were the only people to ever get their series up to installment number four. They must have been taking tips from mid-90s Capcom in terms of arrogance (see the bottom of this page). But the hype worked, and the traffic of people trying to see the future of GTA nearly shut down the internet.
Apparently, game marketers took notice. Soon, there were countdown clocks to pretty much everything. A countdown to the new Simpsons game. A countdown to the launch of Smash Bros. Dojo. A countdown to a site for God of War 2, a game that had already come out. And like the sheep we are, we watched and waited for something big to come out of them. And what did we get? A normal announcement for a game, a website that would only have worthwhile content about once a week, and a code to activate progressive scan. A code. That's something gaming magazines used to toss on a page with tips like "Don't let Mario fall in the pits!"
Perhaps the biggest offender of pre-hype for me was Konami's spring "megaton" announcement. For me, the word megaton has been spoiled by hyperactive Nintendo fans expecting any convention that Nintendo appears at to contain a big announcement that will let the Wii become undisputed king of the console wars. Still, when Konami announced their "earth-shaking" news, I couldn't help but wonder what it would be. Would Petal Rear Squalid Door finally be coming to 360? Would it be some brilliant new game that will turn the industry upside down? Not even close. They announced a DDR for Wii and Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles. While the Castlevania fan in me was pumped for the Dracula X news, there was nothing near earth-shaking in that announcement.
In the end, when you hype up a simple announcement instead of announcing something and following it with hype afterwards, gamers are going to be disappointed unless that initial announcement is the Best Thing Ever™. A prime candidate for pre-hype would have been the initial announcement of Twilight Princess, which originally debuted at E3 2005. However, there are few games that actually need pre-announcement excitement to be generated.
One need only look at Capcom's megaton announcement this week. The simple announcement of a new Street Fighter game would have been good enough without the added announcements of a new IP and a PS3 port of Lost Planet. However, because Capcom had the nerve to get people speculating, the real announcement fell flat with some people. Some people brushed aside the significance of Street Fighter IV, either because they didn't care about the series or wanted a new Marvel vs. Capcom game. Still more didn't see why they needed to be bothered about the inevitability of a PS3 port of Lost Planet or why they should care about Dark Void right now. I was wondering why there was no Dead Rising 2 announced or, god forbid, Mega Man Legends 3. Capcom promised the world, and as a result, the natural hype that would have been built from a normal announcement of Street Fighter IV was diminished.
Maybe developers should take a look at the hype for Super Mario Galaxy. No big lead-ups, no countdown timers, just pure, naturally-generated hype for what looks to be a great game. Maybe if more marketers took a page from Nintendo, we wouldn't be sick of games by the time they come out.
On second thought, forgot everything I just said. Even knowing the entire plot of the game before it comes out is better than Nintendo's brand of anti-marketing.