What do you think of hype cycles? How long out should a product be announced?
From a marketing point of you, hype cycles are a pretty novel concept. In very few industries can you simply release a teaser for a product that has yet to materialise and garner consumer interest. In many respects, a dynamic hype cycle can whet the palate of your audience more effectively than a single marketing campaign. By releasing early footage, mentioning features in interviews, providing screen shots, or allowing players to participate in an open beta, publishers can increase the likelihood of a title being positively received in the marketplace. But not all hype cycles are created equal and more than one studio has shot themselves in the foot by releasing too much content, too soon. So what makes a good hype cycle?
Well for starters, the game should be close to completion. One of the things that killed Star Craft: Ghost was that we saw too much when the title was still in its infancy. By releasing periodic videos and screenshots over the course of 4 years, Blizzard Entertainment pushed the hype machine past its capacity. They soon released that the market had unreasonably high expectations for what appeared to them to be a killer app. As a result, to match consumer expectations, Blizzard continually pushed back the title to meet higher development standards. Eventually, it must have appeared to the company that regardless of the games quality, it would never meet the hype and was promptly put on indefinite hiatus. The same can probably be said for Final Fantasy Versus XIII. We have been waiting seven years now for this title and only have a handful of trailers and screenshots to show for it. I once said that it was the only game that could make me want to pick up a PS3, but as time moves forward I can only see it becoming vaporware or moving to the next PlayStation console.
Tight deadlines and consistent vision are also important for a good hype cycle. Simply put, you want to ensure that the content you release to the public represents the finished product and to do so you should likely avoid pushing back deadlines too far. Duke Nukem: Forever is probably the most obvious case of a project changing incredibly due to a lack of a stern deadline and trying to keep up with the hype. First images and videos for this infamous title displayed a futuristic world with starships, dozens of weapons, and crisp, realistic graphics. Flash forward nine years: suddenly, Duke’s world is comparable to ours in many respects, he was limited to two weapons at a time, had a recharging health bar (or ‘Ego’ in this case), and the title was considered by most people to be less-than-innovative. When 3D Realms posted the, “When it’s done” release date on their site for DNF, I doubt they realized what they had got themselves into. They moved away from creating their own title and suddenly became incredibly conscious of what the competition was doing (hence, lifting so many elements from Halo) and how much hype was being generated for their fledgling title. What’s worse is that they continually changed graphics engines year-to-year to keep up with the market (creating further development costs and slowing the game’s completion). In the end, Duke Nukem’s poor development schedule didn’t just shutter 3D Realms studio – It generated a derivative and subpar game.
The hype cycle should also start within a reasonable period before the title’s release (for argument’s sake, I’ll say a year). We’ve already covered a few titles that have had to contend with content being released way before the game was actually ready, but there has to be some time for hype to build in order for your game to have a positive release in the marketplace. Blades of Time is an excellent example of this. What? You’ve never heard of Blades of Time? That’s probably because Konami did NO marketing for the title until well after its release. In fact, their support was so horrible that Destructiod’s Jim Sterling decided to run an advertising campaign for them. That’s sad.
So, we’ve determined that a good hype cycle begins after a title is far into its development, relies on a firm development schedule and consistent vision, and still gives the game the time it needs to garner an audience before release. A perfect example of a game with a good hype cycle is Max Payne 3. Sure, people were concerned with the title at first because it was not being developed by Remedy, but as soon as they started seeing gameplay videos and developer diaries it was clear that the title would be a great game. Rockstar was smart in their release of information. Sure, it had been ages since the last Max Payne video game, but the mega publisher only revealed the existence of Max Payne 3 after it was pretty far in its development cycle. This meant that fans could get hyped for a game that wasn’t too far away from release. Low and behold, Max Payne 3 shipped three million units in its FIRST WEEK. Sure, the quality of the finished product had a something to do with why it sold, but I think the real driver had to be the game’s hype.