We look at the power of words in game advertising.
Our team of professional writers has pulled out all the stops to bring you the most startling, controversial exposé you will read this year!
Okay, so the teaser may have been just a teeny bit exaggerated. Misleading, even. But when you're dealing with the subject of marketing hype, some of the lingo tends to rub off on you.
Let's kick off with a hypothetical but entirely realistic scenario: you're in need of a new game to enliven your downtime, so you rock up (or log in) to your favourite gaming outlet. Spotting a possible candidate in its glossy packaging, you flip it over to learn more. The superlative-laden description and tiny screenshots on the back don't convey an awful lot of useful information. Nevertheless, the convincing text persuades you to take a punt.
Or maybe a glitzy trailer has caught your eye, seducing you with its movie-quality theatrics and professionally-scripted sales pitch. It looks and sounds so promising, but all too often you'll take your new purchase home, only to find it's not all that it's cracked up to be. In much the same way that packaging is designed to give the impression of increased size and value, getting sucked in by marketing hype can ultimately end in disappointment... time and time again.
The English language is absolutely riddled with adjectives which, when used within certain contexts (such as the literary or dramatic arts) can enrich our experience and even broaden our vocabulary. However, when employed to sell a product — be it a game, a car, an Ab 'n' Bun Blaster Pro 2000, or even an idea — the adjectives lean heavily toward the superlative. After all, who would buy a reasonably entertaining game with mediocre gameplay and bog-standard production values? Not me, that's for sure!
There's a lot of money in video games, especially those with a well-established fan base. Dedicated followers are likely to shell out for a new title, regardless of whether or not it delivers on the advertising hype. This particular coterie is also more likely to spend more on limited and collector's editions, as well as other related merchandise. Apparently, consumers want to believe these new products will improve their lives; all it takes is a little convincing.
What better way to do this than by talking it up with a few choice adjectives and putting the best possible spin on the product? Why settle for 'great' when you could use 'perfect'? Or 'vivid' when you could have 'stunning'? Perception is subjective, after all; even if a description is not strictly accurate, who's to say the game you're considering isn't the best thing since sliced bread? The developers and marketing professionals seem to think so, often to the detriment of you and I. When it comes to selling a game to the masses, the consumer is bombarded with carefully selected images and 'super adjectives', designed to appeal to our image-driven, risk-taking, fantasy-based right brain. Some of the worst offenders are (in no particular order): innovative, compelling, epic, amazing, immersive, stunning, engaging and original.
That's an awful lot of superlatives being bandied about, and this 'adjective abuse' happens with such frequency that you have to wonder whether we have become desensitised to them. Have certain words lost their impact, their power over us? If you're anything like me, your inner sceptic tends to kick in as soon as you lay eyes on them. Unfortunately, this can make it difficult to spot a game with genuinely innovative or compelling attributes. The effect is not limited to the marketing of games, either; I actually hesitate to use certain adjectives in a review, for fear they won't be taken seriously. It's a bit like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. For those who haven't heard of it, a young and obviously bored shepherd's lad with a penchant for telling porkies would yell "wolf!" just to see all the villagers come a-running with their pitchforks. This happened so often that when one actually did appear, nobody believed him, and his woolly charges ended up as wolf chow. Granted, it's probably impossible for a lone wolf to devour an entire flock of sheep in one fell swoop, but it's a good example of hyperbole, and a cautionary tale regarding its overuse.
So how do you cut through all the marketing crap and determine whether a game will deliver on its packaged promises, before making a possibly costly mistake? Well, nobody knows your gaming tastes and expectations better than you, so the best approach is to be proactive and conduct your own research. Magazines and websites often get some hands-on time with preview material several months prior to release, so take time to read the published previews. Go to the developer's website and check out the blogs (although these can contain a fair bit of hype). If the game in question is the latest in a series, it pays to ask someone who is familiar with it — either on the forums or directly. Play demos wherever possible. From personal experience, if the demo hasn't got you hooked within the first 30 minutes, or by the time you've completed the learning curve, the finished product is unlikely to fare any better.
You could always sit tight and wait for the reviews to roll out, although these are not always objectively written. With its 'weighted average' Metascore system, Metacritic will provide you with a better idea of a game's true entertainment worth, once enough reviews have been published. Or you can judge for yourself by reading a bunch of reviews from trusted sites. Weed out the extremes and you will have a fairly realistic picture of whether the game is likely to deliver on its marketing hype.
Have you ever been disappointed by a hyped-up game, or have any tips for dealing with the marketing hype? We'd love to hear from you!