Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Effects Leaks Have On Fans' Reactions to Games

It seems that a lot of developers lately, especially those working on fighting games, have problems with their metaphorical plumbing. Leaks are becoming more and more frequent during the pre-release periods of hyped games, hell, while I was typing this piece this link appeared on my Twitter feed. There are three kinds of leaks- inside sources getting info out, companies goofing up and accidentally releasing information somehow, and fake leaks that are made purely to get attention. With potential customers desperate for information on upcoming games, it’s only natural that people would try to leak out information (or pretend to), either to be a ‘nice’ person or to just get some attention. There’s plenty to talk about on the subject, like whether leaks are ethically right or looking into why people would leak information, but what I want to talk about today is the effect leaks have on hype towards a game. I’m going to reminisce on three relatively recent leaks for games I’ve been following, and have a look at what I noticed on message boards during the pre-release period, and my own personal feelings.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was a really hyped game, being the successor to one of the most popular fighting games of all time, finally released after 10 years. Being a crossover fighter, I’d argue most of the hype comes from the character roster rather than the fighting itself. Not to say the fighting isn’t important, just that more people will get excited over being able to make the Avengers fight against a S.T.A.R.S. squad than Team Aerial Combos and hitstun decay. So naturally, the game’s message boards were pretty much filled with character wish lists, made up movesets and PHOENIX WRIGHT SHOULDN’T BE IN THIS GAME BECAUSE HE CAN’T FIGHT. Good times. The message boards always get interesting when a ‘leak’ appears. It’s hard to trace down all of them and the time they came about, or exact details on some of them due to the game being about a year old now, and an Ultimate version having been released, but I’ll do my best to explain. One of the first leaks wasn’t a full leak, rather a few hints of information given by kensk, a now ‘retired’ leaker who leaked all or part of the Street Fighter IV and Super Street Fighter IV rosters, and the very existence of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Obviously this guy could be trusted. He claimed to not know the full roster, but said it would have 40+ characters, and that all other ‘leaks’ he had seen were fake. People knew roughly how many characters there would be, but not who they would all be, so they were still very hyped, and speculating about who will or should be in the game. The speculation was aided by character silhouettes released by Capcom that hinted at characters in the game. A very controversial pair of silhouettes was those of Frank West and Crimson Viper, characters from Capcom’s Dead Rising and Street Fighter series respectively. When these two silhouettes came out, people were very surprised that C. Viper would be in the game due to not being overly popular compared to a lot of other Street Fighters. When asked about her inclusion, Seth Killian (Capcom’s community manager at the time) suggested not all silhouettes showed characters that would be playable. Everyone took this to mean C. Viper, as Frank West had previously appeared in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and he was a very popular character that Capcom themselves had said they wanted to be in a lot of games. C. Viper was eventually revealed for real, and people now took Seth’s comment as a means to throw us off the trail, because there was no way Frank wouldn’t be in the game, right?

More and more leaks came out, some seeming to be true only to be proven false with more reveals. The one big leak though, was one from a guy going by the name Lance Lingos, or lupinko. The list lupinko came out with eventually ended up being the game’s real roster, including the two DLC characters. Not everybody believed it right away, for a few reasons. The first, was that including DLC it was only 38, not the 40+ kensk promised. Second was there was no Frank West and Megaman. We all knew Capcom wouldn’t leave out two incredibly popular characters, RIGHT? Forums burst into arguments about whether lupinko was right, wrong, or just didn’t have the full roster. It escalated to a point where the GameFAQs mods banned you from mentioning him, and any topics mentioning him would be locked by a moderator ASAP. This combined with people still discussing possible characters and DLC meant the forums were receiving a heck of a lot more activity than usual, with so much to talk (or argue) about. When lupinko’s list was finally proven to be 100% true beyond a doubt, you can imagine that people were slightly angry. The roster wasn’t as big as we were led to believe previously, and quite a few fan favourites were missing. The forums were still lively due to discussion about the actual gameplay being possible once people had gotten their hands on it, but the focus then moved onto who could be put in as DLC. But how would have reactions been different if the leaks hadn’t existed? If kensk hadn’t gotten our hopes up about 40+ characters, would we have felt as disappointed with the final numbers? If lupinko hadn’t given us all the characters, would we have been more angry when the final characters were revealed? I think lupinko’s list prepared everybody for the worst, as his list became more and more accurate, most of us eventually gave up hope of more characters being in the game. The more… ‘vocal’ people who were unhappy with certain exclusions had mostly vented themselves by the time the game was out. If we didn’t already know what was coming, the forums would have been filled with rage (moreso), making discussion of the actual game nigh on impossible. The leak had made the forums more enjoyable for people who wanted to play the game.

Arguably one of my favourite game trailers ever (Source)

A few months went by, and lupinko was at it again, hinting at a possible ‘Super’ version of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. At this point, people who were going to cave in and buy ‘Vanilla’ Marvel vs. Capcom 3 held off, and waited for this new version. If lupinko had been quiet, sales of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 probably would have been a bit higher, but at the same time, the people who just bought it probably would have been really annoyed at the fact an improved version was announced almost immediately after they bought it. Instead, people who held off from Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (which I’m now referring to as Vanilla to save time), felt happy with themselves for being ‘wise consumers’ and holding off, and weren’t annoyed about a new version because they hadn’t bought the original. Quite a few of the people who did buy the original were quite annoyed to say the least, and this probably had some effect on sales. Eventually, lupinko started giving out cryptic leaks via his Twitter account. These were hints towards certain characters, but some were reaaaaally vague, and he didn’t confirm when people got them right, so while people had general consensuses as to who was being hinted towards we never knew for sure. This led to a sudden increase in hype, as speculation towards characters was accepted again because we knew a new version was coming. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (which I’ll refer to as Ultimate) was finally revealed by Capcom and we saw four new characters, and were told there’d be 12 new characters in total. There would be one, final leak, and it was a HUGE goof by Capcom. Someone decided it would be a good idea to put all the character profiles on the Ultimate site, but just hide them away. A bit of snooping around led to people finding out the full roster mere hours after the game was announced. Now, as a consumer, this was a great thing. As a fan, however, not so much. On one hand, we got to see what characters would be in the game right away, and decide whether we thought it was worth it. We didn’t get hopeful to see a certain character be revealed, only to be disappointed later on; we saw who would be playable right from the start. We also got to freely discuss the characters without being flamed for mentioning Phoenix Wright (I still haven’t gotten over the abuse I suffered on GameFAQs :3), and the forums were generally a better experience. However, I don’t think the hype was as strong since there wasn’t a surprise element. Sure, we didn’t know how the characters would play, but not knowing who would be in the game made for much more hype and excitement. Bringing up Phoenix Wright again, I was one of the people who was strongly campaigning for his inclusion, making Youtube videos and moderating a Facebook page for it, and while we were let down he wasn’t included in Vanilla, we were hoping for him to be DLC. He was one of the first two characters leaked for Ultimate by lupinko, and we were extremely happy, especially when he was shown in the site leak, and then later on when his moveset was shown in a trailer. Because he was known to be in the game from the start, we didn’t have to worry about being flamed to hell for talking about him like during Vanilla pre-release, which was also a good thing. But I can’t help but imagine how much more excited we would have been waiting and waiting for news on his inclusion, holding on to whatever faith we have left, and then at a conference out of nowhere, a reveal trailer for Phoenix Wright appeared. The leak helped us judge whether we wanted the game much earlier, and allowed us to get excited over what we knew, but I think it detracted from the hype as we knew what to expect for the most part.

Battlefield 4

This leak is a bit more recent, and is about a game we know pretty much nothing about. When EA’s digital distribution service, Origin, was taking pre-orders for Medal of Honor Warfighter, it advertised beta access to Battlefield 4 as one of the perks. This was taken down not long after, suggesting this announcement wasn’t meant to be made just yet, but the damage had been done. Now, people weren’t annoyed that Battlefield 4 was being made, we all knew it would be coming eventually. Most of us also weren’t annoyed it was coming so soon, EA have always been in a cycle with a Battlefield game being released one year and Medal of Honor the year after. What we were annoyed with, is that DLC for Battlefield 3 was still being released, with no details on what most of it was, yet a new MAIN game had been announced. If it was a spin off game, such as a new 2142-esque game, or a Bad Company game, people probably wouldn’t have been as annoyed. But with a main game coming so soon, it implies not much is going to be different. With the game being developed at the same time as the DLC for 3, it’s hard to believe Battlefield 4 will have as much effort put into it as it could, and being a main game, a vastly different setting is unlikely. Also, EA have confirmed they’ll be supporting Battlefield 3 even after the launch of 4, but this raises the question- if 4 won’t offer much more than 3, and 3 is still being supported- why buy the 4th game? Now, this is based on a lot of assumptions, but that’s what happens when a game is announced in a such a poorly handled way as it was. If EA had come out with a trailer in a few months which revealed a 4th game, and showed a brand new setting that we hadn’t seen before, with a heap of improvements over the 3rd game, people would be more open minded about the game. But when a controversial game such as this is accidentally name dropped in order to get people to pre-order a less popular game, it just reeks of a company trying to milk its consumers.

Pre-order the Battlefield 4 Beta and get Medal of Honor Warfighter for FREE! (Source) (Original Story)

When a game is being developed whose existence could very easily be taken the wrong way, as it was with Battlefield 4, you’ve got to be really careful how you handle its announcement. You’ve got to make sure it’s shown in a way that makes it seem like a game with effort put into it and not being a blatant cash grab, while also ensuring that the purchasers of the current game’s DLC (or ‘Premium’ services as it were) weren’t being tricked into buying something that’ll be redundant in a few months. I’m a huge Battlefield fan, but I honestly don’t see myself picking up Battlefield 4, if only out of principle. If EA can redeem themselves with better marketing of the game rather than using it as a way to sell copies of Medal of Honor, perhaps I’ll change my mind.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

We’ve now come to the most recent leak. Although, pretty much everything about this game has been leaked, from its very existence, to which characters would be revealed next, and now, what seems to be ALL OF THE GAME’S CONTENT (side rant: I was going to post about that and would have beaten a few gaming news sites to the punch but forgot. Never again). That’s right, in the recent beta test of the game, people uncovered data that reveals what appears to be the game’s entire roster, as well as items, support characters and game modes. I imagine someone will be fired over that, who puts all that important data inside an easily accessed BETA? Aye aye aye. As I said earlier, everything about this game has been leaked, and as a result there’s been barely any hype for it. This is probably also due to the fact that the roster really isn’t that interesting (in my opinion, but I feel that opinion is shared by many). When any possible surprises the developers could throw at us are spoiled, it’s kinda hard to get excited about something. Especially when what appears to be the final roster is really small for a crossover, and is lacking most of the characters people were excited for in a game like this. Not to mention that it’s apparent that some of the choices were purely made for marketing reasons- Raiden over Snake? Oh yeah, Metal Gear Rising is coming out soon. The new Dante that everyone seems to be against, rather than the old one that was probably the Capcom character that had the most ties to Sony and Playstation? Oh yeah, his game is coming out soon. A Columbia stage to represent Bioshock rather than Rapture? Oh yeah, that’s from Bioshock Infinite, coming out soon. I honestly hate how overrated Cloud and Final Fantasy 7 are, but in a game called ‘Playstation All Stars’, how could you possibly leave him out? He means much more to the Playstation brand than someone like Fat Princess, who very few people will actually recognise. The big leak has pretty much killed any hype that a lot of people had for the game as they’ve decided it’s really not that exciting. And I think that’s one really good thing about leaks.

Unfortunately, Ethan Mars will not be Pressing X to Jason in Playstation All-Stars (Source)

Not that leaks turned people off of Playstation All Stars, but rather that leaks mean that developers should be afraid that all the information on their games could suddenly become available. It means they have to ensure that the game is at a high standard and is what people are hoping for, rather than just being vague and letting out as little details as possible, so that when people realise the game’s not for them it’s too late. Leaks allow customers to see all there is about a game (or most of it) before it’s released, and make more informed decisions, rather than just going off the PR released by a company. Can you imagine what would have happened if Mass Effect 3’s ending was leaked in its entirety before it was released? Parts of it were leaked, but from what I can gather the really controversial parts weren’t communicated clearly, and people tended to stay away from the leaks anyway since they didn’t want to be spoiled. But imagine if the ending was leaked, plot holes and controversial choices and all, and game sites came out with stories like ‘Why Mass Effect 3 ending will disappoint Mass Effect fans’, prompting people to read about it, and before too long the ending was common knowledge. I think there would be a high possibility that a lot of the people who had a distaste for the ending would end up not buying the game, leading to a significant drop in sales. Or the opposite could in fact be true, in that people would be less disappointed by the time they actually got to the ending, meaning a lot of the ‘controversy’ surrounding the game wouldn’t have happened. It’s really interesting to think whether or not we would buy the same games we do if we knew a lot more, or all of, the intricate details about them. Now, obviously the Mass Effect 3 example was a bit exaggerated considering people won’t willingly spoil a plot for themselves in most cases, but imagine if leakers more frequently told us how long games would be, how they played, and other details we couldn’t possibly know pre-release, especially when we’re essentially spoonfed what developers want us to know. In an industry where marketing is what really sells a game, how would big name games hold up if we knew what a game involved, and could better judge whether we wanted it based on that, rather than what we’re told by the developers? From my experiences, leaks have definitely had a big impact on how people see a game, so it’s definitely something to think about.

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