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..did I say too much?

I meant to write a little on this subject a couple of weekends ago when I originally read this article over on Kotaku. Do game companies spoil too much about their games prior to release? Does saturation marketing for the huge titles means we reveal too much about our games?

Firstly I thought it was interesting to give a little insight from my personal experience, I can't really talk about the industry at large (having worked at one developer the whole time) but I can speak for how we interact with our friends in marketing...and honestly, I don't mean that with even the faintest hint of sarcasm.

You need to market your games, you can't avoid it, whether it is through community or viral effort for small developers through to the mega budget TV campaigns for World of Warcraft or Mass Effect 2, marketing is important. The question asked in the article is whether we are at a tipping point where we are running the risk of spoiling the effectiveness of the story-telling within the game by revealing too much. Now so far I count myself lucky, our marketing folks are usually involved in the process, and while I'd be lying if I said we always agreed, I think we generally reach good compromises that allow them to market the game effectively, and allow those producing the game to not feel that the experience is spoilt. Our marketing folk at least genuinely understand that we are better hinting at, or simply teasing about key elements rather then revealing them outright. Maybe that is different within the more corporate developer / publisher arrangements, but even when we have worked with larger publishers I have still found they are generally respectful of the production process.

I also think that on many occasions the issue is often just as much with those of us in production as it is anyone in marketing. You see, we are gamers as well, and we want people to like our games. We want people to get excited about them, we want people to want to play them, we really want people to play them and like them. Sometimes that excitement gets the better of us, and it usually takes a lot of self control to not reveal more about the project than we know we should. I have definitely seen developers reveal things that they would have been annoyed a marketing person revealed...I have even done it accidentally myself a couple of times. (just with really safe things mind! The real problem there is possibly revealing something that might get cut, or dropped before release...that never goes down well. It might be something you are excited about, but if it ends up being cut from the release you'll have dissapointed someone, somewhere, by mentioning it)

That's also because, as noted in the article, there is also a seriously insatiable desire out there for information. The public seem to want more all the time. There is that constant thirst for the latest news, and what's more, no news is suddenly translated into conspiracy theory and it is presumed that if you aren't hearing anything, it must be bad things that you aren't hearing...probably very bad, the game probably sucks or something. The internet is getting better at that all the time. Even the studios with the best reputations and track records get doubted if there isn 't a constant stream of reveals and information flowing out of them...hearing nothing is worryingly becoming something that is translated as a warning sign.

Maybe this is a chicken and egg situation, which came first? The desire for information or the willingness to provide it? Now that we have started and some people have decided that giving more is better, if you don't follow suit you better even have an undeniably great game game, or the best reputation in the industry. Perhaps it is a self fulfilling prophecy, which is why I found the article interesting in the first place.

Take TV shows for a similar situation. I have to admit that personally I have stopped reading some of what were previously my favorite spots on the internet because they post casting calls, set reports, rumours and leaked script info. They do detract from my enjoyment of the shows, they are spoilers, I would rather experience the shows without knowing what's coming. I already tend to avoid the interviews and video previews of a game I know I am going to play (which can be challenging these days, it was really hard to avoid the Mass Effect 2 coverage), so I know where I stand on the issue, I am fine with a little mystery, even if it means I make the odd duff purchase.

So what about you? Would you rather hear less or more about your potential purchases? Do you take a lack of news to be a warning of scary bad things, or are you willing to wait till you can try it for yourself?
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12 comments

AmandaP said...

Good read

Personally I hate spoilers. No wait, I DESPISE spoilers. I do seem to be in the minority these days however :(

derFeef said...

I always take Bioware as example for this case. They spoil their games way too much, they even tell you the beginning and the end of their stories. They post video after video with detailed description of story and characters.

I like beeing surprised and this is why Bioshock hit me so hard - I had no idea what is going to happen and when "it" happened, I was blown away.

kryator said...

Mass Effect 2 is a good example, I watched 4/5 trailers and it was enough for me, couldn't watch the other 30, as said above they showed to much of the game, i prefer to "read" things, interviews, previews, etc..but, at the same time people were going crazy, video after video "ohh look a this" "ohh you can do that" "this element 0 char seems to be a blast", etc..

It helped a lot for the game marketing, because people watch 5 video "hum seems nice", and 10 "wow this game must be really good" and 15" I cant wait to get my hands on it"...

It helps creating "hype", but for games like Mass Effect that are story driven its way too much..at the day of the release you feel that you have already played the game.

In the end its really hard, you cant give out too much, but you have to keep the gamers interest..its quite the balance.

Long gone is the time were i went to a gamestore and just watched the backcover of games..sometimes it was quite the surprise in a good and bad way. :P

So nowadays I like to get the maximum info, but no "video" spoilers showing all places, all weapons, all caracters, etc..

Quasigrue said...

I think it's a question that's going to have a different answer for every game...but personally I probably would prefer that companies err on the side of secrecy.

derFeef mentioned Bioshock and I think that's a great example. I'd heard almost nothing about this game. Then someone at work mentioned a demo had just become available. I played through it and was absolutely floored at the experience.

There is always a desire to know more, but I think in recent years it's gone from desire to expectation. There is an assumption from the audience that they 'deserve' things laid out on a silver platter, they 'deserve' a fully functional beta so they can find out how good a game is prior to paying anything.

That expectation can play out in any number of negative ways...and I think a lot of companies feel the pressure to reveal more, to do more up front to try and meet this expectation.

I'd love to be surprised more often. I remember playing EverQuest back when it started...and it was a new experience for everyone. There was awe, a genuine sense of discovery simply because it was legitimately new for most of the players. Now, the pressure to reveal almost everything up front, to use beta testing as a marketing tool, to partner with news sites to create compelling invitations to play...it's just not the same.

I'd love to see developers be more creative in how they roll out their games...I've played some very good games, but the ones that hit me the hardest are the ones that concealed their true charms until the very last moment. Play with my emotions, dammit :) ...the best payoff comes when I don't know what's coming.

SA_Avenger said...

I think it's all a matter of being fair. Story wise we don't want spoiler, we like teasers but not more.
On the gaming side however people like to know how it plays, how it feels, what are the stance compared to this or that. And in that regard there can't ever be enough details (as at the end it's when you put your pawns on the game that you know) but the thirst for info stands mostly there. For TSW I love how the ARG stays evasive about the story and the tons of hints we have. But gameplay wise we know nothing and this can worry people because that's what making good games in the end.
But I think keeping mouth shut until something is not definite is good. People will always make themselves an idea over what is revealed, and having an uproar about something people think is not good but haven't tried is not something a company wants. (if it backs up it means they listen to people but the decision might be bad in itself and if they don't people will talk bad about the company for not listenning which can cover any other reveal).
So in that regard, interview, previews are worthy and then "hard numbers" (dev diaries explaining what is done, why it's done, with screenshots/vid to explain and being clear whether it's going to change or not) is what I prefer when something is revealed.

Recoil said...

I am torn to be perfectly honest. I consume all the information i can get, but I would also love to be surprised by some things. Can I be a hypocrit? Is that an option?

Anonymous said...

Nice read, informative as always. I would be very interested to know if you have final say or the marketing guys do? If it comes down to a disagreement who actually gets to decide? Is it you as exec producer or can one of the big wigs in marketing overrule you?

Craig Morrison said...

@Anonymous I guess it would depend on the area...if just in terms of the subject here, what is revealed and when, I can honestly say that I can count the number of times it has gotten to the point where we have had to actually argue on the fingers of one hand. Even then it is usually on small things (like screenshots or visual reveals) rather than the overall strategy. On most occasions we reach a good solution without having to try and 'veto' each other.

Anonymous said...

I think bioware approach to this with SWToR is the way to go. Do not reveal anything before its 100% sure its in the game. Keep the fans interessted by posting history around stuff thats 100% in game, but no storyspoilers.
The worst situation must be a chief devoloper going around blabbering about whats gonna be awasome in the game and then its not in the game or poorly executed.

I also think that devolopers should keep their stuff in beta on a invited by existing player kinda way longer. Like gmail and spotify. But this is probably easier in a f2p with p2p option than in a p2p(I aint paying to beta kinda whine).

Anonymous said...

Very interesting read, I myself find that the way I get really hyped or excited about a game is if they release trailers of one of the games landscapes or setpeices and everything else they reveal or show HAS to be in that Setpeice or area that they have showed before.

Then when I get the game I'm in awe of how beautiful and creative the games levels or environments are because I've only had the privilege to see only one of the MANY brilliant locations in a game.

Kendrick73 said...

There is a definite balance that must be achieved.

All in all, I just don't think that marketing teams (for MMOs) get it. Plans are devised and put into place; plans that appear to be etched in stone, dictated by a PowerPoint presentation done 2 years prior when the go ahead was given for development. This conflicts with dev schedules that are always in flux despite the best intentions (i.e. 'things happen').

Marketing teams tend to be too reactive, rather than proactive. Forums, if you’re using them as a tool, should be scoured daily by your CMs/ACMs to keep a pulse of your consumers. Are unique page hits up/down? Are new posts up/down? What are they talking about? What are they happy/displeased with? The tools are in place, they just have to be used. That said, as a potential customer, I don't have to know everything *right now*. But I *do* want to know the basics, the Big Five: Who, Where, What, Why, and How. And if any of those change, I want to know about it as quickly as possible. MMOs are a service and everything you do to interact with your potential customers should be thought through at least for more than a few minutes to think about the implications of your approach.

Communities can be placated in many ways that aren't the equivalent of presenting your design docs. Screenshots and concept art, two or three paragraph dev diaries. Easy to make, easy to publish. And cheap to do.

What I am about to say flies in the face of conventional wisdom: Wait as long as possible to announce. No official forums. Tease or leak info, maybe, but that’s it. Don’t go full public until you're ready for beta aps and you have a target release quarter within a year of that date. Beta should begin within a month of those aps being received. The problem with forums is that they are filled with early adopters, rabid fanboys, doom casters, and others all jockeying for one thing: beta keys. Worse, they possess a hidden agenda that doesn't become apparent until after it's too late. Every developer worth their salt knows a handful of people that they can get accurate, unbiased feedback, and true beta testing out of. The public just isn't needed. Further, when you've got two previous MMOs under your belt, there should be no shortage of known prospects to use as testers. Don't *even* get me started on the way betas and beta forums are run. I could go ALL DAY as to what's wrong with *that* monstrosity.

If I were a MMO studio, I would *not* have official forums, but instead rely on a blog type site. Let communities develop outside your game, and have your CMs patronize the ones that are truly supportive of your game and the most well done (at least by amateur standards, which in many cases is still pretty damn good given the tools available). Once live, updates and surveys for feedback are done in game by the people actually playing the game and NOT playing the forums. This allows you to solicit feedback in a controlled environment you can ACTUALLY DO. This keeps out the pie in the sky dreaming that overwhelm your signal:noise ratio, which is the biggest problem of forums to begin with.

IMHO, MMOs suffer the same catastrophic mistakes over and over, to which I attribute to poor leadership and even worse project management. If I ran my business (logistics, project management) like an MMO studio, I would have been shuttered by now. It is astounding to me that the same mistakes are made by the same people over and over again. Worse, the same people are handed the keys to 20, 30, 50 million dollar multiyear projects, despite previous public and private failures.

I realize that game development, in particular MMOs, are still in its infancy, but project management and logistics are the same *everywhere*.

There's a culture in game development that needs a radical, complete overhaul.

Oh my. Probably more than you wanted to read, and it changes directions several times. Apologies for that.

Craig Morrison said...

@Kendrik73 Some interesting points. The games industry is very much learning the ropes in that regard and I am sure that the standards of project management varies. As someone who was also worked as a manager in other more traditional businesses prior to gaming, I can say there are certainly differences, but not as many as you might think.

The challenges might be different, but you'd be surprised how relatively well organised some of the studios are becoming. I am sure that's not the case universally, but from my experience the industry is definitely adapting to better project management practises.

Then you have to factor in the fact that creating games is a creative process, and that means the project management is different. The fundamentals may remain the same, but the application of them has to vary in many ways when dealing with creative teams. The industry definitely can, and is, improving in its professionalism (from a personal point of view I can already see massive differences over the last few years) as it moves from being driven by enthusiasts to being driven by businesses....we do have to be careful though to maintain some of the creative spark, or you lose what gives games the potential to be great.

Just like great movies sometimes require giving certain directors more leeway and allowing them to overrun budgets, but also sometimes great movies are driven by lack of resources and ingenuinity, the games industry seems to developing along the sames lines, only it has been around far shorter than the movie industry!

I am not sure what you consider 'catastrophic mistakes' by 'poor leadership' due to 'even worse project management', but at least from my point of view I can genuinely say that I try an avoid catastrophies wherever possible...

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