Hype is one of the key elements to the success of a lot of industries. Publicity, promotion and press releases surround products to get the attention of the public, making huge claims about the benefits of owning the advertised item or what it can provide for people.
The games industry is no different; in fact it could be one of the industries that benefits most from hype. Let’s be honest, promotions for the major titles starts early. There are months of screenshots, teaser trailers and interviews all providing us with little bits of information, though in some cases no new information is present, just the promise that the game will blow you away.
I can’t blame game companies for doing it because they invest millions into their projects, and they will promote the games as positively as possible to recoup their investment and make a profit. If they don’t then, like THQ, they’ll go out business and someone else will fill the gap.
There are hundred of reporters, like me, who will pore over interviews and press releases to see if there is anything worth reporting. The hunt for that news is, dare I say it, exciting. It’s what got me interested in journalism in the first place.
However I do feel that hype also has a negative effect on our reporting, and that’s the impact it can have on reviews, and how any deviation from giving a hugely hyped game a near perfect score can somehow be construed as wrong.
A couple of examples come from some EDGE reviews. They gave Killzone 2 a 7/10, one of the lowest scores for the game. For some reason this score was seen as “surprising.”
No review score should be surprising.
That implies that there is an expected score for a game already in mind, influenced by the hype. A review should not be an advert for a game, it’s meant to be a critique. The job of a reviewer is not just to find a game’s good points, but its bad ones as well; it’s not there to buy into the hype and give a game an expected high score because the game’s developers and publishers pumped a lot of money into the PR machine.
The hype can blind us to the flaws of games because reviewers and reporters can get sucked in to the belief of greatness just like anyone else. It’s an area that we as reporters and reviewers need to work on. Given the cost of modern gaming, our reviews should be impartial as possible.
I feel that we as writers need to try and remove ourselves away from the hype and approach the situation just like any journalist or reporter should approach a story, and that’s with objectivity. Of course in the real world that’s a lot harder because people in general are quite easily influenced, but it’s a lesson that needs to be learned by all reviewers.
The Hype isn't always right...
However I don’t think The Last of Us should be able to piggy back off the success of a different franchise, even if it is from the same developers. What if it turns out that The Last of Us isn’t as great as we want it to be, or is awarded a less than perfect score? The pre-release hype may manifest itself into readers saying the reviewer is wrong (it happens) or the score called “surprising” by another publication, just like Killzone 2.
I also ask our readers to take a step back when reading a review of a game you’re excited about. Remember that excitement comes from a well done advertising campaign. When you read a review don’t say a reviewer is wrong because you disagree with the score, ask yourself why you think it’s wrong. Also read a variety of reviews so you can pick up on the good and the bad, to make a more informed decision about spending your money. Reviewers, myself included, will miss something that another reviewer will notice.
Hype is a necessity for the success of any product, that’s a fact. Making the audience think about a game means it’s in their mind and a potential sale for a developer. However, as I’ve stated, hype can also be an element that may influence writers when it comes to reporting or reviewing a game. Yes I believe objectivity is key to reviews but staying out of the hype is a task that needs to be worked hard upon to make sure that objectivity remains intact.