No One Rides For Free

written by Alastrom

 

It seems like every gamer plus their extended family and household pets are talking about Apex Legends right now. I should probably do the same and bang out a few paragraphs of high praise which will no doubt get seen by millions of people around the globe (send us money EA) But for some reason I can’t quite get on the hype train. I’m sure the game is just as incredible as everyone has said so far but I’m much more interested in the fact that no one outside of the development team had heard about it a month or two ago. The game quite literally came out of no where and while I’m sure a number of streamers got paid off to get people talking about it, there’s natural value to surprising people with a product release. Reforged Gaming has a little game we like to play called “How long will it take Alastrom to make this about Star Citizen” and in the case of Apex legends, it’s about 170 words (CHECK ‘EM!)

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The hype train likes to sell pre-release tickets and then add a few more box cars when it thinks it can ship a little more cattle. Don’t get me wrong, I live for the hype and a lot of the time it turns out to be better than the game itself (looking at you, Fallout 76.) But I think there’s something to be said about ignoring hype all together and then doing a surprise ship on the final product. This is one of my main concerns with Star Citizen’s open development, a process that I praise as much as I lament. Open development games seems to be the new trend which no doubt plays into the Kickstarter/Crowdfunding mentality that has taken over the gaming world. The ability to secure sales before you’ve released a product was the marketing equivalent of shitting gold twenty years ago. But with the speed of communication being at an all time high we’ve somehow translated that power to the ability to get excited with a product, experience it and then get bored before we’ve ever had a chance to get hands on experience with it. It’s a dangerous balancing act trying to keep people excited while still explaining that the thing they’re excited for won’t be seen for another few years.

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One of my first MMOs was a game called Dark Age of Camelot and you would think I’m overly excited to get my hands on Camelot Unchained. I spent a fair amount of time looking at Unchained last night only to learn that the common theory on a release date is still “a couple years out.” I can’t believe I’m saying this but apparently I’m one impatient bastard because that immediately killed my enthusiasm. It doesn’t make any sense, I know I’ll play Camelot Unchained on launch but I can’t bring myself to invest whatever meager amount they’re asking to get in on the ground floor. I spent a lot of time thinking about why that was and I’ve arrived at a simple conclusion. I don’t have the energy to spend two years waiting for something to release. That’s right, I want to have my cake and eat it to, whatever the hell that means and I have a feeling I’m not alone in this regard. I spoke about this recently but I think we’re in a deadzone of game development versus game release. There’s plenty of games on our radar but none of them are even remotely close to emerging from development purgatory. For myself, I’m more willing to watch a game for several years if I feel like it’ll delivery a unique experience and given that Apex Legends has been called ‘Titanfall without the mechs” I have a hard time saying that it’s worthy of all the hype that it’s currently experiencing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make a determination about whether the game is any good. Instead, I think it points out a common mistake in the thought process of the current way games are marketing themselves. We all want to experience something new and when a company comes out and claims to deliver that experience if we just wait a couple of years, we can’t help but salivate from our wallets at every opportunity. The problem is that those games rarely deliver on that new experience and the day one launch leaves us with years of pent up energy we’re just looking to direct towards our expectations. Without those expectations, we’re free to make our own decision about how we feel about the game, unburdened by preconceived notions of what we should experience. This is where Apex Legends gets it right. I think deep down, they know that they’re releasing content that most players are relatively familiar with. The mechanics and the company already have a proven track record of successful sales so they can balance the need to generate early sales against the value of a strong marketing campaign. To put it plainly, trying to get people to board the hype train relies entirely on convincing them it’s heading in the direction they want to go. But if you show up at the station with flashing lights and a sign that says “Party Bus” you’ll probably pick up plenty of passengers who are just looking to kill the monotony of boredom.

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Star Citizen hopes to deliver what most level headed gamers would agree is a unique, never before seen, experience. Yes, I understand it’s a space game and you can point to things like Elite Dangerous, Eve Online or No Man’s Sky and pretend they’re in the same category but you’re comparing apple seeds to apple juice. One is clearly more refined and in my experience, dedicated players understand that difference and are willing to wait for the final product. Being a crowdfunded game that requires loads of never before seen tech, they have no choice but to go open development and pray to the hype gods that they can maintain the momentum until they’re finally ready to release. Too many developers like to pretend they’re conducting the same train when they’re really just shouting “Choo choo” while running on the rails. While I’m a huge supporter of crowd funding to create your dream world, I also believe that developers big and small can’t handle the additional work load it takes to keep the audience entertained throughout the process.

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I suppose the real question comes down to money. Unless you think Jeff Bezos sits at his desk and slurps instant ramen for pure enjoyment, that shouldn’t surprise anyone. With the backing of a company like EA, Respawn Entertainment could afford to keep their mouths shut about Apex Legends and instead surprise the gaming world with what would no doubt otherwise be labeled “just another Battle Royale game.” For the wide majority of indie developers, that’s simply not an option. With the ever increasing cost of game development versus the need to stand out in a sea of competition, it’s a marketing nightmare with the players at the center of the turmoil. I can’t say what the best option is but one thing has been made apparent: the hype trains offers no free rides.

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