Let’s Derail the Hype Train

The hype around video games needs to calm down

Excitement is a fun feeling, isn’t it? You get all of that lovely dopamine flooding your brain, driving up your heartbeat, and making you antsy as you eagerly anticipate whatever payoff is heading your way. When you get that payoff, it’s like being on top of a hill of bliss that you then slowly slide down from. Excitement is a strong emotion, strong enough to be weaponized in the game industry as “hype.”

When I say hype, I’m referring to the feeling that makes us rush to the store to pre-order that new game we just heard about. It’s the feeling that makes us get together with our friends and frantically vomit words at each other about how we can’t wait for a game to come out. Whenever there’s a big reveal in the industry, be it for a game or a console, there’s always a highly contagious wave of hype that surges through the community. Riding that wave is fun, but it may not have a happy ending.

Take this scenario for example: launch day finally comes, and your hype is at its peak as you sit down to play your long-awaited game. Then, as you’re playing, your utter glee is gradually replaced by disappointment and frustration as you begin to realize that your new, expensive game is far from what you had been expecting. Now you’re stuck with a purchase you wish you hadn’t made. This is a common consequence of blindly hopping aboard the hype train.

Obviously not every instance of a hyped-up game ends this way, but it has happened enough times to be worthy of note. I often ask myself, “How many times do we need a ‘Destiny 2,’ a ‘Fallout 76,’ or an ‘Anthem’ before people start to learn their lesson?” Now, again, there have been occasions when the consumer wasn’t betrayed. ‘The Witcher 3’ and ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ were hyped straight to the heavens, but, unlike most other games, these two proved to be full, polished products that delivered superb experiences.

I found playing these games to be an utter delight. Finishing them gave the sweetness of victory and the bitterness of seeing an amazing journey come to an end. However, just because there are some instances of warranted hype, that doesn’t change the fact that drumming up hype for a game is essentially a marketing tactic employed by developers and publishers to get as many people as possible to buy their game. Unsurprisingly, this has led many people to make ill-informed purchases that they eventually come to regret.

This has been seen multiple times, not just with the aforementioned games, but with other big-name games as well, such as ‘Watch Dogs,’ ‘The Division,’ and ‘No Man’s Sky.’ These games were guilty of various offenses, including failing to deliver on promises, technical downgrades, content shortages, and releasing in a broken, seemingly unfinished state. The collective outrage each of these games spawned within the gamer community generated immense waves of utterly vicious backlash. Much of this anger was warranted, but I have to wonder if gamers would have recoiled as strongly as they did had it not been for all the hype surrounding the games.

This is why I would argue that we, as consumers, need to be wary of this hype culture; both because developers and publishers should be held accountable for broken promises and shoddy products, and because new games aren’t exactly cheap. If you buy into hype and pick up a game that you end up disliking, you could be out $65 or more if you opted for a special edition. The developers get to enjoy having your money while you get to enjoy a hearty helping of regret.

Despite my rant thus far about how bad it is, I meant what I said when I mentioned that hype is fun. Hype is loads of fun. That word-vomiting fest with friends that I talked about earlier? I’ve done that. It’s fun. Watching grandiose announcement trailers from big industry conventions like the Electronic Entertainment Expo E3 or Gamescom? That’s always a good time whether you’re there in person or watching online, especially if there’s an announcement of a highly anticipated sequel or new IP.

It’s that fun factor that makes it so easy to slip into the hype trap. Fun is intoxicating and can often be blinding; which is why hype succeeds as much as it does. Afterall, why be a boring skeptic when you could be drunk on the fun of hype? Considering how many debacles there have been in recent years, I would say that it’s becoming increasingly important to resist hype and take a more skeptical stance.

How does one go about accomplishing this though? Well, the answer in a nutshell is take everything with a grain of salt. Take those “grandiose announcement trailers” for example.

Those trailers are often what are called vertical slices, which in the context of gaming are essentially extra-fancy demos that show off various aspects of a game in a short period of time. Think of a multilayered cake. If you take a vertical slice out of that cake, you’ll get a portion of every layer the cake has to offer. These videos and demos are perfect examples of what you should be wary of, as they are meant to build enthusiasm, or hype, for the product and can ultimately be misleading. It seems that with almost every big game that had an E3 showing, videos are made comparing the final product with its E3 demo detailing the unflattering differences between the two.

Take the time to do some digging to locate articles and gameplay footage in order to paint a somewhat more accurate picture of what the finished product will actually look like. I say “somewhat more accurate” because you must still bear in mind that you’re viewing pre-release material, and anything held within is subject to change.

Hype is huge, and it is powerful. With this year’s E3 right around the corner, bringing with it promises of Cyberpunk 2077 footage and a huge show for Xbox according to Phil Spencer, the hype is particularly difficult to resist. However, I still believe we owe it ourselves to remain grounded and reel in our expectations. I do realize that, because of how fun it is, it may be kind of a bummer to oppose hype, but when you’ve been burned time and time again by an over-hyped game that turned out to be sadness-in-a-box, you have to ask yourself if the hype was working for you or against you, and if you want to risk more money on another game that might end up being yet another crushing disappointment. This may just be an unpopular opinion, but I think it’s time to derail the hype train.