13 Sep Expectations and hype around games
At Krillbite Studio we value transparency and openness around game development, and that’s not always easy. This week we talk about how to share information. Is hype good for your game?
Hey everyone, Jon Cato here, the CEO of Krillbite. I thought I’d hijack our blog to talk a little bit about expectations and hype.
I joined Krillbite in the spring of 2015, before that I spent almost 20 years covering video games for a lot of different media outlets. I’ve covered the business side of video games for trade magazines but I’ve also been heavily involved in talking about and analysing the cultural aspect of video games for the past ten years.
One of the things that fascinate me about video games is the fusion between games as technological, commercial and artistic achievements.
Creating games is inherently technical, everything you want to achieve requires you to overcome some technological hurdle, to create systems and master hardware and string together long lists of logical commands that produce audiovisual results that the player is able to interact with.
Making games isn’t just a purely technical exercise, many games also have a strong artistic presence. Game designers want to create interactive experiences that create feelings and reactions in the player. The artistic side of game development covers everything from how the game looks and sounds to how it plays. What separates games as an art form from movies or theatre are the interactivity, and an artistic game designer makes gameplay choices that underline the themes, narrative and experience he wants to project to the player.
Then finally we come to the – for many – most boring aspect of game creation: the commercial side. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tech wizard and extremely artistic, if you want to make your own independent games for a living the games you create a need to generate income for you.
As the CEO my main priority in Krillbite is to secure income for the company so that we can be artistic and creative and make the games we want to make. Luckily for us, so far our games and visions have resonated well among many gamers, and we haven’t had to make any commercial compromises to realise our visions.
Launching video games used to be hard, but all that changed with digital distribution. Launching video games is now so easy that several hundred games launch daily. This makes game development – despite having access to an enormous amount of tools and middleware and online resources – harder than ever.
A lot of game developers put blood, sweat and tears into a game for years. They finally reach the end, crunch for months, manage to get the game greenlit and launch, only to find that no-one is buying their game. They email the media and YouTube-influencers, but no one is interested. Creating a game is a very focused and all-consuming exercise, it’s easy to assume that the outside world is as informed and interested in your game as you are, but if you don’t put an effort into communicating your game and your vision to the outside world before launch, chances are your masterpiece will be ignored.
If you want to launch a game in today’s climate you need to make people aware of your game, and you need to make people curious about your game. Having worked on the other side of the fence for years, as a game critic, I’m all too aware of this cat and mouse game between publishers and the public. This teasing game where you bait the public with the fantasy of a game experience for months (or years even) before launching. All in the interest of generating interest and future revenue.
This last couple of months we have seen the consequences of this baiting game go wrong. I’ve been following the launch of No Man’s Sky closely, the way Sony and Hello Games have been teasing the public successfully through trade shows, interviews and press events, creating the illusion of a game experience that could never live up to expectations.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I really like No Man’s Sky for what it is. Having been a game critic for years I’ve learned to ignore the pre-launch hype and I think No Man’s Sky is a wonderful accomplishment on many levels. It’s a relaxing and convincing game experience, quite unlike anything else.
The flood of negative feedback, boycotts, and downright campaigning against the game post-launch is a result of expectations not being met. From the game’s first showing, players were immediately hooked on the concept and started making assumptions about the experience. Sony saw this and gave Hello Games front stage at events, giving the game an enormous amount of exposure.
Now I don’t know Sean Murray and Hello Games, but while I think any independent developer would be happy to get this opportunity for exposure from a big platform holder I’m also convinced that Murray didn’t really want to reveal too much about No Man’s Sky before launch.
No Man’s Sky is a game about discovery. It’s about discovering planets, systems, aliens and a galactic mystery. It’s a game that gets better the less you know about it beforehand. It’s a game that should be shrouded in mystery before you actually get your hands on it. You should have the chance to define your experience yourself while discovering the game mechanics, systems and focus on your own.
When you’re put front and centre by a big platform holder at events you will be constantly pressed to reveal information. You will be bombarded with questions from games press and fans wanting to know details about the game, wanting to know if their assumptions are correct. In the interviews, I’ve seen Murray has been vague when answering concrete questions. I don’t think he wanted to deceive anyone, I only think he wanted people to find out on their own. The magic of No Man’s Sky is discovering stuff on your own.
I’ve been studying the No Man’s Sky launch because we are in a similar position with our next game Mosaic. We did an official reveal of the game at GDC this year, showing a teaser and doing a few exclusive interviews. Since then we’ve been discussing how we should go about promoting the game.
The thing is, Mosaic is very much an experience that gets better the less you know going in. We want people to discover every aspect of the game for themselves, not through the pre-release hype. The teaser trailer has been very carefully put together to reveal just enough about the game to give you an indication of the theme and atmosphere we’re going for. We don’t really want to reveal too much more until we’re more or less ready to launch.
This puts us in a big dilemma. We want people to know about Mosaic and be curious about it so that they check it out when we launch the game, but at the same time, we don’t want to give away any details. We want the game to feel fresh and exciting when you start playing it, we want the player to go into the experience with as few preconceptions as possible.
Marketing-wise, it’s a tough puzzle. There is an inherent conflict between providing consumer information about a product you want to sell, and keeping things secret about an experience you want other people to experience for themselves. We want people to know about our game, but we don’t want people to know too much about our game.
We’re working on solving this puzzle and finding a balance with information and reveals that won’t compromise the experience, that will make sure people are aware of our game before release without spoiling the experience for them when they can actually play it. It’s an interesting challenge, especially for a former critic and journalist. Having been on the other side I’ve experienced several botched and failed attempts at this balancing act, hopefully, we can strike the right balance. Maybe you have some suggestions and ideas? Feel free to comment here or email us!