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The Hype Machine Rolls on

I was on the phone with Tophat recently when he made an accurate observation.

“Elrood, the amount of hype for Halo Reach is insane.  Even if it was the best game ever, there is no possible way it could live up to all the publicity it’s getting,” he said.

“Tophat, we’ve known each other since fourth grade, why did you call me Elrood?”, I responded.

“I have forgotten your real name! Please help!”, he yelled.

Tophat being insane aside, he has a point.

For the record dear reader, if your looking for information and reaction to Halo Reach, this is not the blog for you.  Myself (Elrood), Tophat, and Enosh are not Halo fanatics.  I actually think I’m the only one of us that owns any Halo games, that being Halo 3.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Halos.  I respect what it’s trying to do, namely have a compelling sci-fi story wrapped around a FPS, but while I think the games are good, I just don’t buy into the near fanatical level of devotion many people put on this game.  But those people are important.  They are SO important that they are the reason Tophat can’t log onto Xbox Live without Master Chief kicking down his door and punching him in the junk while yelling the release date of Reach.  (Now that would be some marketing!)

So why is Halo getting all this hype?  Actually, I think the more interesting question, is why all games seem to be getting more hype.  As the industry changes, so does how it communicates with its customers.  Games, even the super hardcore ones, are no longer the realm of just a select few.  I was watching NFL Live on ESPN just today and noticed an interesting commercial.  It was an ad for Call of Duty: Black Ops, touting the fact that if one one pre-orders the game at Gamestop, they get a recon flight suit for their Xbox Live avatar!  Think about this.  Activision has chosen to market VIRTUAL CLOTHING FOR VIRTUAL AVATARS to people watching a sports show on a network that ONLY deals with sports.  Would this have happened ten years ago?  Five?

Halo Reach commercials were all over the place for Week 1 of the NFL season as well.  But I know what you’re saying.  Call of Duty and Halo are huge franchises that have broken through into the public psyche where everybody knows about them, even non gamers.  Your not going to see a commercial for some uber nerdy thing while watching something like, I don’t know, the NBA playoffs.

IN YOUR FACE MADE UP PERSON WHO IS QUESTIONING MY POINTS.

This commercial for Starcraft 2, which I think we can all agree is pretty damn nerdy, ran during the NBA freakin finals.  What this tells us is that Activision has a metric freak ton of money.  What this also tells us is that their market research showed that it was worth purchasing that commercial time for Starcraft 2 during the NBA Finals.  Gaming, like any business, comes down to the bottom line of profits.  A commercial like that is not just somebody from Blizzard saying “It would be cool to run a SC2 commercial during the finals!  Let’s make it happen!”.  We may not like Activision for driving franchises into the ground (hello Guitar Hero) but I admit they are good at what they do, namely getting large numbers of people to give them money for their products at a high profit margin.  The fact they went ahead and did that commercial tells us a lot about how prominent gaming culture is becoming and hell, already is.

So where does this large hype machine take us?  What does a world with commercials for real-time strategy games during important sporting events mean?  In the aforementioned phone conversation, Tophat lamented the amount of hype and said it was a little much.  From a personal standpoint I agree, but I think on a large-scale level, this helps the gaming industry as a whole.  We have Nintendo to thank for that.

For a while, I was very concerned about the Wii.  It had crappy games, it had many of them, and they were making a bajillion dollars.  All those things remain true.  My, and I don’t mean for this to be some sort of revelation, I know many people expressed this, concern was that developers would see the “casual” games making money, see the hardcore titles failing, and the industry would just turn into giant piles of mini-game collections.  That just has not been happening.  Look at the software numbers for August:

  1. Madden NFL 11 (360): 920,800
  2. Madden NFL 11 (PS3): 893,600
  3. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii): 124,600
  4. Mafia II (360): 121,600
  5. New Super Mario Bros. (DS): 1104,000
  6. New Super Mario Bros. (Wii)
  7. Mafia II (PS3)
  8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (360)
  9. NCAA Football 11 (360)
  10. Wii Fit Plus (Wii)

I wouldn’t say Mario Galaxy 2 is “casual”, and Mafia 2 beat both other Mario games!  Yes, Mafia 2 is new and both those Mario’s are old, but a Modern Warfare 2 is old as well and remains on the list.  My point is, I don’t see a tailspin of the kind of games the more hardcore among us want to play.  Even the commercial for the Playstation move, at this point a markedly non hardcore accessory for the PS3 (that could change as software gets developed for it) uses the King of Gaming himself, Mr. Kevin Butler.  Casual product, hardcore ad.

Casual games are here to stay and I for one have decided to stop fighting them.  They bring gaming to the masses, making it more socially acceptable.  They become a gateway drug for some to the more hardcore games out there.  And most importantly, they bring in so much money that the gaming industry as a whole remains viable.  While I’m playing Assassins Creed Brotherhood and Fallout New Vegas later this year, I’ll raise a glass for Wii Sports.  It keeps my favorite industry alive.  I will also thank New Orleans themed Master Chief.

Way more effort than I would be willing to give.

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One Response

  1. I was gonna skip out on Halo Reach until a used copy showed up somewhere, but I couldn’t resist the urge and grabbed a copy last night. Lovin it more than Halo 3 even! It was crazy hyped, but the reviews are what sold me. Anything less than IGN declaring it the greatest thing since sliced bread and I would have waited.

    Casual games are fine. Not my thing, but truth be told, they are even fun sometimes–especially when you have people over who aren’t gamers. They have their place in my collection.

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