I was sitting down with Game Developer magazine editor Patrick Miller in Japan last week during the Tokyo Game Show. We weren't at the actual event, but on an upper level of Shibuya station, in the heart of downtown, at a katsu joint that came highly recommended by a couple friends.
The katsu was great, the frying technique impeccable ("It's so crispy, but not greasy at all," Patrick noted. It was like crispy, edible, delicious quartz). Over dinner, Patrick asked me a small-talk question that was not unusual, but one that I'm not really asked too often.
"Are there any games that you're looking forward to?"
My response was something like, "I dunno... maybe?"
So I'm thinking, okay, there's Borderlands 2 -- I loved the first one, a lot of my friends have it preordered. And honestly, I am happy to check it out. But am I salivating over its release? Maybe not, but I'll count it.
Then there's Dishonored. There's some notable talent behind that one. I like the art direction, and the promise of player agency. Okay, sure I'll say that I'm looking forward to that one, too.
Are we just old, jaded game journalists, who think we've seen it all, and find it just so difficult to get excited about anything anymore? Are we that cliche now? Eh, maybe a little bit (okay, maybe a lotta bit). But I think there's more to it than that.
Patrick, who felt the same way about a distinct lack of excitement over future launches of big games, said it's possible that we've basically become desensitized to game marketing, not just as game journalists, but as game consumers and fans. The social media and the internet overall have extended and exaggerated the hype cycle, that once that release date is within reach, people feel like they've seen much of what it has to offer. You build up sort of an immunity to the hype.
Is it possible that game marketers have so many promotional tools at hand now, that they're spoiling the surprise? At least with me, I think that might be the case.
I don't really anticipate games that much anymore, and believe it or not, that's not because I've grown less enthusiastic about games. These days, I prefer being blindsided by something incredible, something that comes out of virtually nowhere, something where expectations aren't blown up like a helium balloon. I like it when I discover something through other channels outside of the corporate-calculated hype cycle. That's the kind of thing that I get excited for nowadays, and that's the kind of thing that I'll talk about most passionately on Gamasutra or on Twitter or elsewhere.
Part of the reason I'm writing this is because of FTL. It was created by Subset Games, made up of Matthew Davis and Justin Ma, two former 2K Games Shanghai employees. A lot of us were clued in that this game would be good -- it had three different nods for Independent Game Festival awards in the past, including an honorable mention for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. It also had an enormously successful Kickstarter campaign ($200,000 raised, with a $10,000 goal).
For those of you who follow a lot of game folks on Twitter, remember when FTL finally launched? Twitter went nuts, and people are still talking about it, every now and then. The creators of FTL planted the seed of hype, watered it fastidiously, and one day the sun came out, this beautiful flowery thing sprung forth, and it was so inspiring and inspired that onlookers really had no choice but to talk about it, and share it with others. The hype was organic, and was built around something tangible.
Don't take this as me saying that marketers should pull a Sega Saturn every time ("Hey guys, the product is on the shelf right now!"). Super-hype might be something that's essential for the big-budget games (maybe that's because everyone is in an arms race, trying to one-up one another). But when the hype cycle is completely organic, when it's home grown, and born of pure, untainted enthusiasm, it sure seems to be a lot more legitimate, and a lot more exciting.
And when people are genuinely enthusiastic, they seem incredibly willing to spread the word and open up their pocketbooks to become part of a small movement, whether that involves a video game, or some great katsu.