Due to outside demands on my time, I was only able to catch two of this past weekend’s PAX panels: Marvel Heroes and Guild Wars 2. I just happened to be free when Arenanet took the stage to tell us about the upcoming Heart of Thorns expansion, but I had to watch Gazillion’s panel after the fact. While both did contain a few nuggets of unknown information, I was kind of surprised by the audience’s tepid response in both cases. Since events of this nature are intended to build hype for upcoming product updates, I began to wonder: have these events been diluted due to the constant stream of information we’re bombarded by each day? In an age where developers stream several times a week and interact directly with players, have “reveals” become so commonplace that players now expect new information with each and every interaction?
Gazillion developer Asros, who is very involved with the Marvel Heroes community, made an interesting observation on Twitter last week referencing a stream they were holding to show off some content that was to release in the coming few days: “Do a stream to show off the new release content – all chat asks about is what is after it. Sadpanda”. The need for new information was so insatiable that players didn’t even care to see new content that had yet to be released because it was already old news.
The mood was even more uncomfortable during the Heart of Thorns quasi-announcement given by Arenanet. Several “pause for reaction” moments passed in awkward silence, including the relatively safe and non-disputable (which is different than undisputed) “we’ve got the best community out there!” This was an interesting contrast to the raucous crowd at the PAX South Heart of Thorns announcement when players knew next-to-nothing about the upcoming expansion. During that event, each tidbit was met with applause and even relatively quiet moments were occasionally interrupted by zealous players shouting encouragement at president Mike O’ Brien. Granted, Arenanet’s lack of interesting information at PAX East wasn’t entirely its own fault. Gaming industry invertebrate IGN broke their “gentlemen’s” agreement with the studio and published several stories early, thoroughly sucking the wind out of Heart of Thorns’ sails. Even the revelation that the Guild Wars 2 base game would be free for all players was only warmly, not enthusiastically, greeted.
The Gazillion panel met with a similar audience response. Though the atmosphere was intentionally different – more like a laid-back PowerPoint review than an official announcement – there were some reveals and videos designed specifically to elicit a positive reaction. Since I’ve been playing Marvel Heroes, I’ve been extremely impressed by the constant communication between Gazillion and players of the game. Patch notes come out weekly. Developers and CEO David Brevick live-stream the game multiple times per week. Polls and player votes are held to determine future content updates. This is a game that seems very in-touch with its community, and likewise, the community is very in-touch with the direction of the game. However, this synchronization must pose marketing challenges with regards to generating player excitement. As evidenced by the Asros tweet, how do you surprise your player-base when they already know what’s ahead?
When I was contributing more heavily to LOTRO Players, I used to lament the lack of communication from Turbine, not only with players but also reputable fan sites and blogs. Back in those days, it was rare to get a glimpse of new content and systems prior to an official “developer diary” announcement. This approach could be maddening as a player, but one positive thing that I witnessed was the excitement that a flood of information could bring. One of my fondest memories of that time was the day that Turbine released a slew of news about the then-upcoming Helms Deep expansion pack. LOTRO Players Site director Joel (Andang) Shepard was dealing out article assignments like they were Uno cards. We amateur contributors were publishing posts as soon as we could wrap them up and at the end of the day, it was worth it. LOTRO Players saw one of its best weeks to date (at the time) as thirsty players drank from the fire hydrant of news.
Interestingly, while writing this post, a twitter conversation came across my feed complaining about the overuse of “hype” with relation to gaming. One response placed blame on the “Twitch culture” of today. I can relate to this sentiment. When everything is hype, is anything truly hype?
I’m not advocating a return to the cloak-and-dagger days of content secrecy. I believe that interaction with the community is a vital ingredient to cooking up a long-term relationship with players. Minecraft taught us that. However, I do wonder if there’s a better way to balance the knowns and the unknowns. Something between the fire hydrant burst and the constant garden hose stream of information that players have now come to expect. Something that would make these industry events a little more exciting and worthwhile.