Modern society is a pretty strange world. We can have billboards promising us the greatest time of our life in exotic locations. While the people in that so called faraway paradise have nothing better to do than hassle you in the hopes of getting a few of your measly cents. Ah tourism. Had they actually told us what it was like, we would have never gone there. Unless the billboard promisers were clever enough to put a wall between the fly riddled kids and the advertised exotics.
Growth and obfuscation
More and more people are playing and making games. That's a pretty good thing because with more people comes more variation, so there'll eventually be something for everybody to enjoy. It also means more junk and more noise.
I've been keeping up with crowdfunding projects for a while now and compiling weekly overviews, sifting the actual games from the unsubstantial. It's a good place to see the noise, the propaganda and the chaotic nature as it is. I've been doing this mostly because I'm a little concerned with the "ecosystem" of videogame crowdfunding and the game industry in general. It's not baseless.
Too many disappointing products and in the extreme we might be courting another event like the crash from '83. Or perhaps that's already happened and just got masked by things like: the race to the bottom, "free to play" games and day-one patches and such.
Luckily that growth and saturation means more variety, and there are in fact plenty of good games to play. But they can be hard to find. So let's stay focused on the danger for a bit. (Instead of being in one of those horror movies where victims have the long term memory of a muon.)
A problem that is increasing right now is disappointment. Who's going to buy a second full priced game if it's buggy and needs months of patches? How long before people lose interest in buying bundles of bottom priced games they'll never play?
Disappointment is when something doesn't meet the expectations. Which is where marketing comes in. Its goal being to convince people to invest in your product by building up hype, reaching them and raising their expectations. This process includes the press because they need an audience to sustain themselves as well. So they're naturally on the look-out for things their audience could get enthusiastic about. Or better yet, already is enthusiastic about.
There's this saying creators are fighting against obscurity instead of competing against each other. As a creator you need to be loud, have a following and know the right people. One of the latest "interesting" angles being pushed is that of the creator's personality. It's all marketing really.
You can see nobody has any interest in the actual game itself. "Yes we've all seen a videogame before. What else you got?"
I may say that sarcastically, but yes, growth and obscurity drive almost everybody involved in the industry to find another angle they can use. Of course people could just make an original game right? But that doesn't guarantee press coverage because who's to say people will be enthusiastic about this 'new' thing? It often takes a lot of fanfare and bombastic chest-pounding instead.
So we're back to doing what the real world does.
Marketing is a very always-present, invasive thing in our lives.
(If you own a pair of kids and a telly, you'll know this to be inescapable. You can trade in your telly, but your kids are hooked for life, and there's nothing you can do about it.)
To bring the problem and apathy into perspective from a different angle, a sober look at the music industry might help. The endless flood of bands and artists, which of the new faces you have you heard, heard about? And how? This is likely to be different for everybody reading this. Personally I've quickly learned to ignore channels like the radio and music magazines and learn about new music solely through word of mouth and simply trying something out. Is that where the game "ecosystem" is going as well?
It might not fit that well and be that sustainable, since making a game takes a lot more time than making a song.
The way out is through
Criticizing this process often gets countered with the argument that you're not entitled to attention or coverage by the press. It's the way things are. Which is true of course. But it also pushes creators more towards the hype machine and the selling of hot air. It goes hand in hand with growth unless is gets equalized somehow.
There are a couple of great bloggers and youtubers who pour out long lists of new games. As a consumer, that's where I look for new games. I think that helps, but as a creator I also want to try and minimize the amount of fluff. And I hope others will try it as well.
The crowdfunding projects I see often don't show actual gameplay at all. Let alone provide a demo.
So let's see how this project does.
I've tried to be as clear as I can. I have almost no social network. I will do a round of press emails, none of whom I ever met in person.
If it succeeds, it will succeed on what it is solely.
And if it does, consider dialing down the hype please. Focus on the games, the substance. That's what got us here in the first place right?
Since the post just got featured again I wanted to update a little. Kevin Harwood just wrote a very clear blog post on advertising success as well: http://gamasutra.com/blogs/KevinHarwood/20140509/217429/Advertising_Through_a_YouTuber.php
It provides a nice contrast to this post. Are you selling fun & lifestyle? Because in that case, it really doesn't matter which game they're buying right? So it's not really about the game. And also, if most games aren't as fun as advertised it's likely all games will suffer. Take a look at the Wii's 90% crap library and the trouble Nintendo is having getting people to buy into the Wii U again.
Here's some pictures to get the point across:
It's damn effective, but people are not getting informed at all.
If you're interested in more cynical views on marketing, you can always head on over to ukresistance.