I’ve been at the Leipzig Games Convention for the past week and am now in the long process of allowing my feet to heal while reading up on all the industry blogs, press releases and other ephemera that buzz like flies around fertile heaps of gaming devotees.
Much like watching the production process of sausages, watching the evolution of a game that you have no particular stake in solely from the perspective of a consumer of marketing is a fantastic way to put you off the whole idea of playing games at all. The whole process seems designed to leave a nasty aftertaste in the mouth.
Here then is how it’s done.
Firstly you come up with an idea for a game. This isn’t very hard. There are loads of bargain basement IPs littering the landscape that you can dress up as ‘eagerly anticipated’ or ‘based on the well known works of …’. If for some reason you’re too cheap to pay for the life’s work of a mostly forgotten hack then you can of course just steal it wholesale.
Next the trick is to find some people who will lie like bitches. In general the more morally corrupt your company is prepared to be, the more the fans will like you. You want this feature? Sure our game will have it. It doesn’t matter that you’re receiving death threats from your senior developers, technology improves right? Just because you can’t have terabits of information passing between the client and the server every nanosecond now doesn’t mean it won’t be possible two years down the line when your game needs to have at least a playable demo to keep the VC investors happy. Of course the biggest lie you can tell is that you have a game in the first place when in fact all you have are a couple of web designers, a guy who used to draw the character portraits in your D&D games and a naive belief that somehow everything will turn out ok. Strangely enough this purest of vapourware is often cheered most enthusiastically by the loyal corps of internauts your lie merchants have ensnared.
So you’ve told a bunch of lies, you have at least the basis of a game (if you’ve just funnelled the investment capital to your Cayman Islands account and are currently living under an assumed name in Rio, the rest of the process is largely irrelevant), and now you actually have to show what you’ve done to the fans. At this point you are in some very deep trouble. Each and every one of your fans has interpreted your pregame promises in a way that is unique and personal to them. No two people will agree on what your game will be and of course the reality will be starkly divergent from what any of them expected. At this point the people you hired to tell lies about the game you hadn’t made yet start to earn their pay. If they are good they will convince the fans that what they have is what they were promised all along. By keeping this fiction of Stalinist unhistory going you may be able to salvage your community. Luckily most of them will want to believe, despite the fact that you promised them the moon on a stick they will be grateful for what they have in the same way that an abused dog is grateful for not getting kicked any more.
Sometimes you will have a lie department who feel the need to come clean about the operation. They’ll explain the technical reasons as to why the promised feature set couldn’t be delivered and then you have an anxious waiting period to see if the fans buy it or not. This is generally to be avoided, especially if you made some particularly ambitious claims that you had no hope of delivering.
I’m never going to read a press release the same way again.