Are we addicted to the hype machine?
We're more machine than man!
Most gamers are part of the hype machine, either willingly or unbeknownst to them. A new game gets announced and fans swarm around the reveal trailer, press release, first screens and so on. From that day forward, there’s a constant desire to hunt down every last tidbit of information, analyze each millisecond of footage, scour screens for the most minute of details, ect.. It’s a vicious cycle that’s seemingly on a never-ending loop.
What about when the game we’re drooling over finally releases? Most of us purchase the title as quickly as possible and dive headfirst into the experience. It’s almost like a mad dash to start the game and consume the content at a breakneck pace. What we’ve waited months, if not years for, is gobbled up in a matter of hours. A day or two for some games, a couple of weeks for others. The creation we thought about non-stop for days on end is gone within the blink of an eye.
Does anyone else feel a bit dirty about that?
Let me be clear; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with how people play games. You spend your money and (hopefully) enjoy a game however you see fit. Take your time to explore every nook and cranny, or push through at a blistering pace. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to interact with a game, so play on in whatever style you’d like.
Personally, I can’t help but feel there’s something a bit sad about the hype machine. It may be an unavoidable situation to some degree, but even with that in mind, the thought of longing for years and using up in days seems like it can’t be good. Is it actually possible to come away with the intended experience a game offers in such a short amount of time? Is it fair to cram something that took hundreds of people years to create into mere minutes? Again, there’s no right answer to those questions, but they’re certainly worth pondering.
I know some will argue that the quality of a game will dictate the time and attention it receives. A game that’s mediocre at best will be shelved soon after its purchase, while a fantastic title will keep you coming back for years to come. I do see some merit to this argument, but I think it takes an extreme stance on both ends while ignoring the absolutely huge middle of game content. Seeing games as an all-or-nothing makes me squirm a bit, and that’s coming from someone who is guilty of that approach.
In my earlier days, I used to read gaming mags and daydream about their releases. I would literally picture playing those games in my mind while sitting in my bedroom, or I’d hype myself up about their release while in school. When those games did finally launch, I would work my way through them as quickly as possible. I was definitely enjoying myself, but I also felt compelled to consume these titles at lightspeed. I honestly can’t tell you why that is, but it was very much a part of my personality. Hell, back in my very early double-digit days, I even used to internally scoff when friends/compatriots used to slack on finishing a game. I haven’t been that way in 30+ years, but it still bugs me that I once was.
Nowadays, I’d say I’m still part of the problem, but in a different way. Instead of personally blowing through games, I’m constantly feeding the hype machine. I’m putting up every trailer there is, sharing interview snippets from all over the world, and so on. This is part of my livelihood and a necessity for a news-focused website, but I still recognize it as adding fuel to the fire. I might be the tiniest cog in the hype machine, but I’m a part nonetheless. To be completely honest, some days I think quite a bit about that, and I’m still not sure how it all makes me feel.
This all comes back to the hype machine in general, and how it impacts not just games in general, but the people making those games. I honestly cannot imagine what it would be like for developers, especially those working on passion projects, who literally spend years working on their magnum opus, only to have it chewed up and spit out a few hours later. This could very much be a ‘me’ way of thinking, though. Depending on the game, developers, and personalities at play, those creators could be perfectly fine with someone ripping through their release. I can’t deny that just having people interact with your content, be it for a minute or a month, would be a wonderful feeling.
Again, I really have no desire to change how people play games. That said, I do want to offer up the idea of potentially taking a moment or two to slow down. Spend a few minutes really appreciating the scenery. Sit with the game’s music and let it really sink in. Take a day or two off from a 60-hour RPG to let the story breathe and possibly connect with you in a different way. When you wrap up a game, give yourself a chance to ponder what you went through and what it all meant. I don’t think these are crazy ideas at all, and I think we’d gain a deeper appreciation for these amazing experiences, but again, to each their own.
While not related to the hype machine itself, I think the game review scene serves as a microcosm of what I’m getting at. It has always made me extremely uncomfortable that games are reviewed for deadlines, and everyone is rushing to publish their take when the embargo lifts. To be clear, I 100% recognize that I have been guilty of this, but I’ve really taken a different approach in recent years. While some games can be easily completed by embargo time, others aren’t getting a fair shake because of it. When outlets have a week to run through a 60-hour RPG, the experience they have on the other side is going to be tainted. Issues will arise that wouldn’t if a more relaxed playthrough happened, burnout can definitely set in, and portions of the game can blend together. Speedrunning is a wonderful thing when it comes to gamers trying to push a game to its limits, but I don’t think it’s a good way to review games.
The lopsided hype machine, with years on one end and days on the other, could also be nothing more than a sign of modern-day life. Games take years to make; that’s something we all recognize and understand. Some developers want to get the word out on their games early and build hype, and I totally get that. Once the game releases, people are excited to see how it came together. Along with that, people only have so much free time to give. When you’re working or going to school, you have a family life, and you’re trying to live in a healthy manner, that can leave you with an incredibly small amount of time for your hobbies. This leads to people pushing their gaming sessions to the limit. You have to maximize the time you have, after all.
The hype machine is a very complicated beast, and there’s so many ways to come at it. I honestly find it a fascinating topic of discussion, as examining it brings up so many other questions, and also helps to put all of gaming under a microscope. Of course, the one question at the end of it all is, “Does it really matter?” Well, to some it will and others it won’t, and that’s totally okay. Simply talking about the hype machine might make some consider how they approach games and adjust things, while others will shrug and continue on. As I’ve said a handful of times now, I’m not here to judge or make you change your ways. You do you, and that includes playing in whatever manner you want.
Humbly, I’ll suggest that perhaps from here on out, we all could spend just a few more minutes smelling the digital roses. There’s always another game to hype and wave of excitement to ride, and I’ll be right there with you. I’m just going to make a concerted effort to appreciate what we have just a tiny bit more.
I hear you & definitely feel the message behind it. There’s this constant rush for the next big thing and games have about a week to breathe before the next big thing is being hyped up. Who can keep up with that pace? I know I don’t have the time to even if as an adult with more disposable income than my child-self ever did.
Gamers of a certain age can remember plowing through weekend rental games, but there were still some games in our collections, particularly RPGs that we took our time with but like you said - maybe it’s a sign of the times & things have changed..?
I don’t have the answers but it’s always wild to me that as soon as a game releases if you fall into certain websites or go on to YouTube, you can see every hidden boss, secret, & ending before I’ve even gotten the chance to play a game very much. And then there’s the next game on the horizon that everyone hypes & consumes.
The cycle doesn’t quite stop but I ignore it when possible and try to enjoy things at my own pace. It does get a bit quiet when it seems like you’re the only one playing a game/late to get into it and the conversation about it has died everywhere online.
Yep. It’s bad, it’s not getting any better, and as trite as it may sound, it basically comes down to social media. Everything on the big social media platforms comes down to attention, which fuels “engagement”. Other forms of virtue and merit are unworthy before the alter of attention. And the best way to get attention, it’s been proven, is through appeals to two emotions: anger (which would be a different article) and awe/excitement. Everything’s gotta be a big deal. If there isn’t a big deal, you’d better find one or make one up. In the case of gaming, that also leads to rushing through media that had been in the hype cycle for months or years. The anticipatory element can no longer be mined, so the incentive is to pivot to the next big thing. The implications are too numerous to go into here.
It’s honestly sad how some fans have come to treat Nintendo Directs as equally or more important than actual game releases. It was supposed to be a more entertaining way to promote upcoming games that could be done outside the usual game industry schedule. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that they’re big advertisements—there’s going to be marketing anyway so you might as well have fun with it. But when it’s treated as a necessity for the maintenance of fandom culture and Twitter mobs are demanding en masse to be advertised to as a sign of respect you know something has gone wrong. The games are going to come out somehow or other. They’re what matter, period.
I can count the games I immediately start on one hand. My backlog is huge so at some point I started with 'first-in-first-out'.
It takes quite some time for me to play all those games (the oldest is from Nov 21 right now) but at least I ignore the whole hype train thing completely.
I don’t get wrapped up in the “hype machine” mostly because I’m not on social media. That said I am so damn excited for Tears of the Kingdom.
I will buy it day 1, but I don’t rush to complete games. I take my time and enjoy it at my own pace. I’m more liable to do the opposite and “save it for later” sometimes.
I do think there can be a bit of a “binge culture” when it comes to certain games. The spotlight gets put on a game and then poof it’s off to the next thing. There’s also a sense of FOMO that can creep in. In the sense you feel you have to play the current big game everyone is talking about so you can be part of the discussion. But all that makes people chase the next “high” and it’s not for me and it’s not how I enjoy games, movies, TV, books, etc.
Fascinating article, RMC. It really made me think about the relationship gamers have with developers and the journalists. You shouldn't feel too bad about your role in spreading game news. You're making what's out there easier for us to find, and it's up to us how we consume that information. Some of us stop watching trailers and reading articles about a game when we decide we know enough to want the game. For others, the videos and screenshots are part of "playing" the game. And they're just enjoying the game early.
As for me, I know I'm a willing participant in the hype machine. I periodically crave new game information. When it doesn't come soon enough I think, "Where's our Direct, Nintendo?!" But the structure of my life has changed so that I can't blaze through a game when I get it. I don't have the time. Instead, it's a question of whether or not I finish a game. And THAT bothers me. I used to finish every game I bought.
Great article, I really enjoy content like this that takes a step back to re-examine things that have become the norm.
Not that I necessarily want to see the 'norm' criticized, but it's nice taking a time out to see where the industry, and the fans of it, is at.
I actually made a conscious decision to duck out of this machine about 2 years ago.
I stopped going to Reddit and other message board sites. I stopped reading comments on game news sites. (GoNintendo is the only one I occasionally still engage in the comments section.)
I started ignoring any and all cinematic trailers. I avoid all video content around a game unless it's looking at actual gameplay to try and decide if I want to purchase or not.
And I never want to go back.
Maybe I'm just old now, but I see no point in pouring over every pixel of a frame in a trailer to wildly speculate about what we might see in a game. Wait until it's out, and we'll all see it, no speculation needed.
Of course, if that's part of the fun for some players out there, that's fine.
But I really do think content creators and their audiences have taken us down an unfortunate path, where the minute a game launches you've got a dozen "all story cutscenes + SECRET ENDING" videos with spoiler thumbnails popping up everywhere trying to get those clicks before the next one.
I wanna say relax guys, chill. Let's just enjoy the game.
You've brought up so many good points, my friend. The part at the end about playing a game 'late' definitely resonated with me. That's very much a thing, and I know it can really suck when you have something you'd love to spread the word on and talk about, yet the vast majority of people moved on months, if not years ago.
I hear you, man. Like I touched on in the article, I do have very mixed feelings about being a part of that hype machine that literally feeds the beast. It's something I think about often and it's always nagging at the back of my mind. After writing this, I have even more reason to ponder it.
Oh man, my backlog is overflowing as well. Ignoring the hype train definitely helps you focus on working through that catalog. Good on you, my friend!
Yeah, 'binge culture' is a great topic of discussion as well. You have to be there day one or you're frowned upon. Even worse, if you don't blast through a game within the first 24 hours, get ready for people to share every single spoiler possible on social media, in articles, via YouTube videos and more. It can be extremely frustrating.
Thanks for the kind words, as well as talking about how the hype machine impacts you. Like I said, it definitely makes for interesting conversation. I think it's something constantly churning that doesn't get much attention, yet it drives the entire industry.
I'm definitely in line with how you approach things. I'll watch a trailer or two, but I'm not really one to have every tiny bit sifted through before launch. That said, once a game is out and I work my way through it, if I really like it, I want to watch as many lore videos and dive deep into articles as possible!
You are completely right that the "hype machine" and the rush it creates changes how people talk about and view games. A lot of writing about games suffers for it. I have very mixed thoughts about the reviewing process as a whole someone who has done it for a while. It's exciting to review a brand new game, but it can be a frustrating balancing act in actually writing the review. My biggest concern is that I simply won't have anything interesting to say on a rushed timeline. I may not even fully understand the game without having enough time to dwell on it.
For example, I often find a lot of initial reviews and previews uninteresting because they fall into a lot of same-y viewpoints. Some will straight up regurgitate talking points, features, and phrasings from press releases in a way that supplants their own thoughts. I'll read some parts of a review and think "is this something you actually care about or do you simply feel obligated to bring it up?" If you're not actually interested in what you're talking about, it will always show in your writing, in my opinion. Sometimes writers are way too close to the "machine," so you're not getting their full view because they do not have time to develop a full view. It's very tempting to lean on what everyone expects your view to be, including the marketers for the game.
That's dangerous, because these initial impressions and reviews constitute the vast majority of writing about games. People will "settle" on how a game is supposed to be viewed based entirely on metascores that result from these potentially compromised reflections of someone's experience. Kinda scary to think about!
In my view, the most interesting writing about games comes from people who have had significant time to mull it over. I say this of course as someone who just recently posted a fairly lengthy article about E.X. Troopers and MML 3 while the iron was ice cold, frozen over, and accidentally shattered. Still, once the initial "hype" discourse has faded and everything expected has been said, you tend to be left with someone's honest and unique thoughts. Whether that takes the form of some detailed analysis or just a genuine reflection on a game someone enjoyed, I value that deeper kind of writing a lot more than anything else.
I really enjoyed reading this. I think it is really valuable to step back every now and then and watch what we and I are actually doing in this landscape. Your story I feel is honest and resonates with me. I think it is great to read about the more complete experience. How do I really want to interact with this media that needs me to interact with it?
I also kinda jumped off the hype train. Wii was a bit too much for my life at some point, I enjoyed some great games for it but sold it quite early. After some years I bought a Wii U because I knew about this new Zelda game that was coming. But when it got abandoned I wondered why?
It is just because of the moneytrain I think and has nothing to do with the platform. Because one of the greatest games ever can still be made on it. So I decided to not Switch to the next platform. And I did not regret it so far. To not have to play all these new Switch games is going to save me a lot of time. In the mean time I can still enjoy very great older games because I'm not in a rush.
May be in a few years I find myself some old forgotten Switch system nobody cares about anymore, and I'll play some good old classics on it. But I'm not in a hurry, I might wait until its eShop closes that might be soon enough anyway haha ; )
A good game can not really be spoiled for me anyway. It is a bit like with a great movie, often I like the second time I watch it even more. Maybe that has also to do with stepping back and taking in the experience from another angle.
If you want a perfect example of this just look at Smash Bros. Everybody would lose their mind at the idea of who could be added next and when the character was announced, the only thing anyone would talk about is "who is next"? When Sora was announced and no more DLC was announced, the game died.
Wanted to thank you for a thoughtful article with a different perspective! Just some thoughts as to some content "the industry" could provide to help us readers/gamers appreciate those digital flowers more.
- What about adding "Slow Reviews" to the mix that require a Reviewer to complete a certain percentage of a game, or spend a certain amount of hours playing? In addition to a general review, it could include components such as how well a game holds up to playing over an extended period or certain aspects or little things the Reviewer found especially enjoyable that they'd like to call out to the community.
- What about more content from those involved in the making of a game in terms of what they'd like to call out to the community, help us see some things we might have missed. Getting those different perspectives could help us see and appreciate a game in a whole different light.
Personally, I like to savor my games, and I do not have a lot of free time to sink into them. It takes me much longer to finish games, and I would guess I'm not alone in that as portions of the community progress in age and commitments. As such, I am always looking for ways to reduce the volume of "things" (newsfeeds, email newsletters, video content, etc.) flooding my limited time and attention. Quality over Quantity, slow-living (and gaming), all those vibes. All this to say, I would greatly value content that helped to flesh out my experience with those games that I do choose to spend time with (and often, a considerable amount of time)!
I like the idea of Slow Reviews. The reviewer takes its time with the first play review, and then does a 2nd review after a play trough after a year or so, and then maybe one more after 5 or more years. The outcome will be more realistic and in depth. The game release won't be doomsday anymore, there is much more time to discover everything about it and let it sink in.
In my opinion BotW reviews for instance where heavily influenced by the hype machine. Almost only 10/10's! That might be just a little bit different when we were allowed to let the experience sink in more completely. But that little difference will probably make it more honest, which is important.
You'd have more time to step back and think: 'Hey it is a really awesome game but this or that was kinda important and didn't really work in the end'. Instead of: 'Yeah, I did a fast play through to get this review out on time. Everything I missed could be just because of that.. Everyone is giving it 10/10's, and I had these really great hours with this (sparky new found gem) as well, so let's just trust my fellow sufferers with the rest of it and give it a 10/10 as well'.
Of course a second play through, a slow review after a year or so can also result in an even better score for some games. Not for BotW I guess, but for the games that really got burnt forever in the moment they were released into the world. They might just have been overshadowed by another hype for just a moment .