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Brian Szabelski avatar 9:06 PM on 04.01.2010  (server time)
On gaming sites and April Fools' Day

Today's a good day to not be online. At all. April Fools' Day is a pranksterís paradise, and to quote my good friend Coonskin on Twitter:

ďApril Fools on the internet is so annoying. Not that I get fooled, but it gives everyone the opportunity to showcase how "witty" they are. Ö Every website becomes an amateur version of The Onion in their given subject field.Ē

As such, chaos can ensue quite easily, which made me wonder: why do gaming sites so serious about being taken seriously play along and do ridiculous stuff every year?

Why prank?

Because it's fun, duh. April Fools' Day is a day when everyoneís trying to get everyone else, so itís kind of participating with the rest of the world. And if you do it right, you can get all kinds of crazy hits and/or attention, mostly through people linking to your site or reporting on it. For example, this year, BMWís Mini division tricked USA Today into reporting on their new invention, car polish that would be able to change your carís color temporarily.

Is it ethical?

If you do it right, sure. British newspapers frequently participate, and as long as it doesnít violate some basic principles (see below), then itís harmless fun.

Aren't there repercussions?

If you do it wrong, yes. Such repercussions include losing credibility, people thinking you're lame, and having everything you do on April 1 in the future be dissected under a microscope, even if it's real news. Trust matters in the Innernets, and if you've got none of it, then you've got nothing but a nice shiny Web site or blog with no one to read it.

So how do you do it right?

There are a few main things to remember:

Make it believable, but not stand out. No one's going to think, for example, Nintendo's buying Sony, but you might be able to convince them patent infringement suits are being filed over PlayStation Move. Still, even that's too big of a deal. Subtlety is the key to success here. If it's believable but big like our above example, the Internet Matlocks will tear it apart within minutes. So something smaller like Sony considering a Smash Bros.-like game might work. It's believeable and big, but it's not too big.

Second, no cruelty. It's ok to trick people, but not ok to hurt them in the process. Plus, people remember getting burned like that, and they'll find some way to exact revenge. Probably by spreading rumors about you and/or hacking your Web Site.

And of course, make sure you have the necessary Photoshops and/or video to back it up. Once again, believeable is the key word here. Don't go posting screenshots of the new Zelda game. Everyone knows you're lying if you do that.

And that's about it. In fact, there's one place that's done it quite right: here's the best April Fool's joke I've seen all day. Magnificent.

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