Mitra's Method: Stephen "weezer" Spiteri's Age of Conan ColumnMitra's Method: The Great White HypeMitra's Method: Stephen "weezer" Spiteri's Age of Conan Column - RSS 2.0
To most of us it's no surprise that 'Age of Conan' has been receiving such positive feedback from the gaming press. But while most of us have been salivating over new gameplay footage and interview content from the last few days, some press response has been mixed, largely due to the "choppy and laggy" nature of game demos they played for their reviews. In response to another gaming network's review of an 'Age of Conan' gameplay demo, developer, Jayde, had this to say on the official forums:
"I have no trouble believing that there were some choppiness issues in the presentations, but a lot of it depends on the machines, settings, build, etc. It's a very complex statement, despite seeming rather simple at first..."
"... Anyhow, our coders are working really hard to make sure things run smoothly. It is a huge focus for a rather large number of them."
So once again we're reassured, and thankfully the staff at Funcom have not likened their public relations capabilities to that of any former Iraqi Information Ministers. Yet it's not press-feedback I'm here to discuss today - it's the hype surrounding the game. They say that too much love can kill a man (it killed Freddy Mercury anyway), but does the same go for MMOs? Can fans of a game ever be impartial and be realistic about what they're actually seeing? Are we turning into a pack of rabid fanboys?
For a lot of MMO gamers 'Age of Conan' will be a bastion of sorts after not-so-good experiences with MMOs played prior. Going by the general feel on the official forums, there appears to be a lot of gamers leaving 'World of Warcraft' for a variety of reasons, and even those that have left 'World of Warcraft', gone to 'Vanguard: Saga of Heroes', and are leaving that because it apparently has failed to live up to the hype. But really, how important is hype in the scheme of things? Sure, there needs to be publicity if a company ever wants to sell their product, that's expected.
Hype is only as good as the promises the game company is able to deliver on. There's no sense in building hype for a game if you can't deliver on what fans are wanting. But hype works on a symbiosis, that is, fans will get excited about what they hear, read, and see, and this hype is synergised throughout the gaming community - it breeds, basically. So not all is at the fault of the game developer, in fact, it might even be fair to say that we have ourselves to blame for hyping up a game too much only to be disappointed at the end.
While no one is telling you how excited you should be about 'Age of Conan', it should be kept in mind, like with anything else, that if you set your expectations too high there's more room for disappointment. As inferred in the previous paragraph, this is a responsibility that should be held and something that can be controlled by the developers of the game. This is something I believe Funcom have done quite well: they've conceded that there are things that require further tweaking and testing, and while some may argue they have been vague on particular aspects of the game, this in itself is a wise move.
Okay, so must of us are disappointed that we can't seem to find out more about those awesome features Funcom have mentioned, like siege combat, mounted combat, dungeons and raiding, and so forth, but picture this: A developer (it doesn't have to be a Funcom dev) says, "Yeah, it's going to be awesome - we're going to have [insert awesome, whiz-bang feature here]!" and a some time later at the game's release players find that the "promised" feature didn't end up in the game, so in a cacophonous cry the game community screams, "WTF?!?" and developer responds with "Oh yeah, we've been meaning to tell you..." Do we honestly want that with 'Age of Conan'? If you answered 'No', then that's good, because it doesn't seem like this is going to be the case with Funcom and 'Age of Conan'.
It shouldn't come as any surprise that Funcom is being so selectively tight-lipped on the finer details of 'Age of Conan'. This is to ensure that no false expectations are raised through superfluous hype. Doing this, Funcom gives themselves the time and the space they need to work on such features to ensure that when players come to test them during beta phases they can continue making all the necessary tweaks and polishes before release. And yes, while it is frustrating that the fan-base is seemingly left in the dark in regards to such details, but let me put it to you this way: a game like 'Age of Conan' is like a present under the Christmas tree - you know it's there, and you know it's for you. Undoubtedly, you're going to be curious about it and ask all sorts of questions and you may even be tempted to pull a bit of the wrapping paper off just to have a peak (a peak or the odd hint never hurt anybody, right?), but in your mind you know that a Christmas gift is meant for Christmas Day. All the assurance you need comes from the person who purchased the gift for you: "I'm sure you'll like it - I put a lot of thought into it".
Funcom have been very careful with what they have revealed to the 'Age of Conan' community in its detail also, so as not to confuse the fan-base with subtle hints or clues so cryptic that interpretations by players range from the "WTF?!?" to the "ZOMG!!" (put those terms in the Urban Dictionary if you're not sure what they mean), and is mostly the case with the scenarios, word gets around and before you know everyone is playing this game of Chinese Whispers which has a two-fold effect: hype about something that does not exist (or that's been blown out of proportion); and negative hype (hater-hype) about something that just sounds whack (again, something that's been blown out of proportion) and completely unfeasible. And let's not deny it, there's a fanboy in every single one us, either dormant or fully manifested, so can you blame a developer or two exercising a bit of selective tight-lippedness?
We have to accept the fact that at the moment, we're probably not going to get the answers we're after right now. In response to a few questions regarding an interview with Italian gaming site, GameTribes, Erling Ellingsen (known better as "LordOrion" on the forums and sometimes "LordOnion"), said this:
"I'm sorry you don't feel you got the answers you wanted. Some things I can't go into details about, and that's when you have to start saying things that are not completely related to the questions just so that you can give the interviewer something instead of a simple 'I can't tell you anything about that right now' type reply..."
It's not so much a case of dodging questions as Erling is referring to, because understandably things are still in development and so as a precaution little or different information is given to at least set minds at ease and to avoid false expectations being aroused. If it has ever been said that a detail can't be revealed right now, it also means that that particular detail will be revealed later, when it's ready, so as to avoid disappointment in the end. Erling even said himself a couple of days earlier:
"As we've said before, we will never reveal everything there is about the game. We will certainly show you a wide selection of content and we will reveal the outlines of the different game mechanics, but the meaty details of the game is for you to explore (and for the manual to explain). One of the great joys of gaming is exploration, both in terms of content and game mechanics."
Like earlier explained: there's the present for you under the Christmas tree, but it's for Christmas Day to open and enjoy and there after. Personally, I'm comforted in the fact that there is still a lot left unknown about the finer details of the game and how some of the more appealing features are going to work because that in itself leaves room for little (but now necessarily low) expectation, and there's less room for disappointment with little expectation. Fans of any game when hearing or reading about something will create an image of that detail in their mind, thus creating an expectation, self-generated. If that expectation does not match or does not supersede what is actually implemented in the end product, then that's when disappointment and disillusionment sets in within the fan-base.
So to tie this all back in with how too much hype is not necessarily a good thing for a game. Where it begins is your own expectation of the game - it originates from the information given by developers in the first place. If developers are shooting straight, giving you the facts, not bending any truths, not being too cryptic or too vague, and providing everyone with the opportunity to make most of the discoveries themselves, then it's very hard for expectations to be exceedingly too high and leave more room for disappointment. Expect what you already know about, but leave a question mark over the things developers may not be able to reveal now or at any point before release. Do not be too worried about press-feedback concerning nit-picky issues like glitches and what appears to be "choppy and laggy", because you know just as well as others that the game is still in its development stage, so these things are to be expected.
While it's hard not to be excited about 'Age of Conan', one thing that alleviates our fears of the game falling well-short of expectations, is the very professional and approachable team working on the game. We're very fortunate to have developers humble enough to admit that there things that still need to be worked on and ironed out, and forward enough with us to say that they can't talk too much about a particular detail. This is a lot better than being that of an Iraqi Information Minister and saying to some effect "Everything is fine - there is no invasion", or placating the fan-base with a contrived response. But if in the end you are still concerned or disappointed by one or a number of things, you can always leave your feedback (Here's some recommended reading if you'd like to know more about how to leave effective feedback), and in fact it is encouraged by the Funcom devs themselves, as Erling has also said:
"We really encourage you to let us know what you want to know more about. We certainly read this forum, and as long as you make suggestions in a constructive manner, we're all for it!"
A final thought to finish on: you usually receive what can be anticipated, and satisfaction is reality minus expectations.
Until next fortnight, this is Stephen "weezer" Spiteri,
Want to contact me? Then email me here.
© Stephen Spiteri, July 2007