Published on February 7th, 2011 | by Ken Yarbrough, Editor
The Dangers of Hype
“Never settle for mediocrity.” This is something my parents used to tell me when I was growing up. Never before has it rang more true, than with the current state of the videogame industry.
A perfect score in a videogame used to mean something. It didn’t necessarily mean that a game was perfect, but that it was as close as possible for it’s time. Now, it seems that as long as a game has enough marketing, or is from a specific developer or publisher, it gets 10s across the board. So why is that and how can we stop it?
The “Hype Machine” as it’s called is very quickly becoming the biggest plague of the videogame industry as we know it. While mass marketing campaigns have increased the number of people playing videogames, they have also begun to influence review scores and critic’s opinions. As a result of this, developers have begun to get lazy, and no longer strive for the quality that they once did. It doesn’t help that the big publishers consistently place deadlines which can’t be met, and insist on milking every cent out of a project.
Now, I’m not saying that some of these “blockbuster” titles aren’t good. Merely that they don’t live up to the potential that true gamers have come to expect. Most of these titles release and are quite good, but how much better could they have been? Take Rockstar‘s open-world games for example.
Known obviously for their Grand Theft Auto series, Rockstar rose quickly after the release of Grand Theft Auto III. The third-numbered entry in the series was also the first to bring the series into three-dimensions. It laid the groundwork for all open-world games to come after it. GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas expanded lightly on this entry, adding little in the way of game mechanics, but adding star power and licensed music, increasing the overall immersion of the series. GTA IV added more realism and online multiplayer.
While GTA III was revolutionary for it’s genre, GTA IV added nothing to push the genre forward. While the story was great, the mission structure is identical to all of its predecessors. Somehow, GTA IV managed to get higher average reviews than the GTAs that came before. While the game is an enjoyable experience, it was released seven years after GTA III, yet does nothing “new”. Shouldn’t our expectations be just a bit higher for a game essentially seven years in the making? Fast forward two more years, and Rockstar releases Red Dead Redemption. Receiving critical acclaim and some of the highest honors in the industry, again it serves as a reminder of what “could have been”. While excellent in it’s own right, I can’t help but feel that there was so much more that could have been done. At the end of the day, it’s Grand Theft Auto: Wild West. Why is a mission structure that was stale five years ago so easily accepted today?
Simply put: Hype. The videogame industry is growing to ridiculous numbers. It’s rare to find someone these days who hasn’t played a videogame. Casual gamers now greatly outnumber self-proclaimed “hardcore” gamers. Publishers know this, and market accordingly. Commercials abound for every major new release. You can find trailers for the next blockbuster at the movie theater. The casual gamer doesn’t understand “what could have been.” Reviewers know this and let many issues slide. They want more readers so they tell them what they want to hear.
Rockstar is not the only culprit. Far from it.
The Halo series: Once the pinnacle of first-person shooter gaming, every subsequent release has lowered in quality, yet increased in sales. Perhaps the biggest perpetrator is Activision. With TWO major franchises (Call of Duty, Guitar Hero) seeing diminishing quality while ascending the charts in sales–and reviews.
So how do we stop this? We are in a very important era in videogames. It is up to us, the gamers, to make change happen. Did you purchase Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 at launch? If you did, then you saw the myriad of problems it experienced, and the extremely slow response those problems received. Did you buy CoD: Black Ops at launch? Why? It’s commonly accepted that Treyarch‘s Call of Duty‘s were inferior to Infinity Ward‘s. It’s also commonly accepted that Activision doesn’t have a very strong quality control team (or they just don’t care).
Ask yourself if you plan on buying the next Grand Theft Auto, or the next Halo. Many times we have already decided to purchase the next game in a series, despite knowing nothing of it. This is where the problem truly begins. I purchased Halo: Reach at launch. I had already experienced the terrible multiplayer beta. I had already seen the quality drop over previous installments. Yet, somehow, blind fanboyism drove me to purchase Halo: Reach. I have been rewarded with perhaps the worst title in the series. Worse yet, I have given Bungie my money, telling them that they did well enough.
Many angry gamers have suggested boycotting some of these companies and their games. I don’t actually endorse this. If I decide to boycott Bungie, and their next release is actually one of the greatest games ever, then I have done nothing to help the industry.
Punishment isn’t the answer.
What I do propose, however, is to stop purchasing games blindly at launch. Day one sales numbers are the most important numbers for a publisher. Research a game completely before throwing your hard-earned dollars at it. Get a GameFly account and check it out before you buy it. Buy your games used until the developers regain your trust.
It is up to us, the gamers, to make change happen. Publishers and developers have to start looking at things from a different perspective, but that’s not going to happen unless we make it happen. How many broken Call of Duty‘s or rehashed Grand Theft Auto‘s will we have to sit through before we start taking a stand?
When will we stop settling for “mediocrity”?