The interactive media industry is one of ever-constant innovation and advancement. Each new title carries with it the obligation to provide a hook – some unique bullet point on a features list that sets the game apart from the veritable swarm of competition. What results is a digital arms race – better graphics, better multiplayer, better AI, better everything. With that, comes the expectation of the audience that a particular title is the next big thing – even if it’s not.
We gamers are an excitable bunch. When a title catches our collective eye, we often set aside rationality in favor of anticipation. We shovel each trailer, screenshot, and press release into the Hype Train’s boiler, further accelerating our expectations. Eventually the train reaches such a velocity that the game itself can no longer keep up, resulting in a phenomenon known as Overhype.
Will Wright’s Spore is perhaps the most notable example of this concept in recent memory. The hype surrounding Spore reached such a critical level that it garnered a comment from Wright himself during an interview with Game Informer. “I think it’s too much hype.” he said. “About a year ago, we were realizing how much hype we were getting and we decided we should start to say that it’s going to suck just to de-hype it.”
Like many gamers, I was not dissuaded by Wright’s cautionary words. Upon the game’s September ’08 release, I found myself forking over the fifty dollar admission fee to what I thought would be a revolution in interactive entertainment – the box was literally illuminated with the glowing manifestation of my desire to play it. I gingerly tore open the plastic wrap, opened the case, whiffed that brilliant new game smell, and at last clicked install.
I played four separate creatures well into the space stage before I was willing to admit that I’d been wrong.
Although Spore certainly wasn’t a bad game, it simply didn’t – couldn’t – live up to the hype generated by the developers, media, and gamers surrounding it. After just a few days of play, I returned Spore to its case – the new game smell still present, but tarnished by the foul odor of immense disappointment.
Had it not been for the hype, I certainly would have reconsidered my decision to purchase Spore – though I do not claim innocence. Prior to the game’s release, I personally helped conduct the hype train – spreading the proposed glory of Spore to all that would listen. I heralded various articles about the game as holy texts, and ensured that the good word was spread. But we, the gamers, are not alone in our guilt.
Wright’s comments regarding Spore receiving “too much hype” are fairly ironic, considering one of the largest proponents of that hype was Wright himself. Over the course of the game’s eight year development, Wright regularly discussed and demoed functionality that never made it into the final game. His presentation at GDC 05 is an excellent example, in which many of the key features displayed are nowhere to be found in the final product.
However when all is said and done, this is not a question of blame. Developers will continue to push their titles as best they can – one could not expect them to do otherwise. Furthermore, any content demoed prior to release is likely subject to change. The responsibility falls on us, the gamers, to make informed purchasing decisions, and perhaps question ourselves before shouting, “All Aboard!”