For a while now I have thought of the instantaneous delivery of media as the harbinger of impending doom. Don’t get me wrong, it has some good points. For example, giving people the ability to keep in contact across the world, spread news faster than paper boys and bring awareness to issues that would have otherwise remained secluded in a section of the world. However, along with that comes the people, companies and entities that do not know how to utilize the medium properly. I didn’t think this would be an issue in the gaming space because we got most of our information from magazines and mega gaming conventions. Most developers were tight-lipped about their projects even if journalists managed to talk to them in the beginning stages. I thought we were in the clear but how wrong I was. In the last 10 years we have had horrific game backlashes come to pass that gamers have been the victims as well as witnesses. I think the monetary click culture of internet sites and the game industry not improving their PR strategies may be the main culprits for it.
So let’s start with what we all know is coming, No Man’s Sky (NMS). Did I buy this game? No. Did I have interest in this game? No. But thanks to the internet I have knowledge of this project and the many faux pas it made during its gestation in development space. There was a long Neogaf thread, (that I can no longer find), that chronicled the many promises that this game was supposed to award gamers with on release. Suffice it to say, none of those things occurred on launch day and unhappy customers let the world and the company know about it. What happened here? Could it have been prevented? I have a few thoughts on it.
First, please help these developers with PR and marketing of their games. I’m not a developer nor have I worked for one. I do not know how public relations and marketing works on the AAA side or the Indie side but as a consumer; I know when the hype train is chugging out of the station. One of the biggest mistakes that the creator of NMS made was discussing his ideas in public spaces without knowing if they could do it and not giving a realistic time table as to when they could be implemented into the game. Consumers who have a bit of knowledge about how long developers need to make games could probably surmise that NMS was not going to be what gamers expected based on what he was promising. That in itself could have been fine if the developer mentioned that certain features were not going to be available at launch but will be with subsequent (and hopefully free) patches.
In this situation he definitely oversold it and it appears like no one told him to rein it in or by the time they did it was way too late. I vaguely remember reading tweets where he encouraged gamers to “temper their expectations”. This game was in a 10 year development cycle and it had a phenomenal E3 trailer so it was much too late for that. The Hype Train had left the station. To add on to that, once NMS did hit the streets the developer, who was all over tv shows and social media up to that point, went AWOL. That was a PR nightmare and was commented on by several gaming outlets. I don’t know about other products, but consumers these days want to make sure they are getting value for their purchases and it seems to be a bit more severe in the game space.
Some Gamers have strong brand loyalty, as noted by the “console wars”. We are going to bat with our friends about “why this system is better” or “this game is THE REASON to get this console” with NMS being a contender for Sony. Not only did NMS underwhelm a mass majority of players, the fact that the developer was notably absent during the firestorm was not missed and will not be forgotten easily for their future games. Sony released a statement regarding the issue and pinned most of the responsibility back on the NMS team so they are on their own and will have a lot of ground to make up. Could this have all been forgiven if the developer issued a statement on game launch day? Probably not. But having reasons for missing features will at least help consumers understand what happened, how you intend to fix the issues as well as help consumers justify their purchase. However, the last piece of that last statement is where I think the biggest issues lie
If consumers want to justify their game purchases they need to have evidence right? This is where gaming news outlets and the money attached to internet sites that have the scoop first come in. Please note that having the scoop first can also be measured in retweets from Twitter and Shares on Facebook. All of these things have influenced the culture in good and bad ways. On one hand, let’s say there are some server issues, which are plentiful especially on PSN, consumers can tweet directly “at” the company and they can respond to let us know what’s happening quickly. That is pretty sweet and a useful tool that can’t be denied. But let’s also say that because a gaming news site wants to be at the top of a Google search, they may review a game and publish it before they have actually explored all the features which in turn, can mislead consumers in their purchase.
It’s well-known that the sites with the most traffic get paid more so of course you want to increase your site views as a company. For games specifically, before the internet we had to wait until our monthly magazine arrived to get information. But now, as soon as journalists leave E3 or TGS, they can have an article up from their phone, tablet or lap top within hours. Being patient and waiting is probably a thing of the past. Having information so readily available can definitely help consumers in their console war debates but in the end, this level of transparency/accessibility may have introduced problems that gamers and developers had not accounted for.
So I used a lot of words just now but what exactly is the point? To sum it up, developers, AAA or otherwise, need to either spend the extra dough on a PR/Marketing squad to help them combat problems before or as they happen. Without consumers to support your product, your development studio is going to go under unless you have the extra capital to help weather a mistake. As developers are making a game, if they want to keep consumers expectations reasonable, they need to divulge the appropriate information without a side of hyperbole. We can come up with the hype all on our own so if we are let down at least we can’t cite an interview where you helped mislead us. And finally, while we will never go back to the slow and easy news cycle, consumers of said gaming media need to make sure that they are doing their own appropriate research as they are clicking around the internet. There are some trusted sites to be sure, but at the end of the day they are a business and their business is our views. We need to keep our own thoughts in mind before we buy/preorder ANY game. If No Man’s Sky was anything it was a cautionary tale to us all on many levels.
Let me know what you think,
Until Next Time,
Edited on 10/5/16 because my thoughts, like this article, was rambling at best. Thanks to a commentor for pointing it out.