Hype in the game design industry is a formidable force, spurred on by good publicity, sensationalized trailers, and overall by fan interest. Google defines Hype as “extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion”. Which tells us what hype is, but doesn't explain its essential effect in driving game publication and sales. The ‘Hype Formula’ is a unique blend of marketing, media publicity, and fan response, via forum or websites. All of these variables blend together around a game to produce excitement and anticipation, and excitement sells. In the constantly changing environment of game design, the single most important factor is game sales. Games sales drive console sales, future game development, job expansion, and so on. This is why many companies strive to achieve levels of hype pre-release, but is all this excitement warranted, or even good for the game?
One of the most sensationalized games of the year, Destiny has set a ground breaking record for most pre-orders of any game. With a 500$ million dollar budget, superstar ‘parent’ companies, and famous voice actors (Peter Dinklage, anyone?) It’s no surprise the game was hyped up. The consumer’s expectations were built up to epic proportions, and Destiny was promised to be the dawn of a new age of game design. Instead, though the game has good graphics, solid gameplay, and quirky cool features, it’s hardly the revolutionary fresh start for Bungie that gamers had in mind. This has been reflected in how Destiny has been received by both critics and fans, earning a meager 76 on Metacritic to show for all of its money.(4)
Disappointing features include a poorly written single player campaign, a cliché ‘light versus dark’ plot, and large gaps in the universe backstory. The story feels unfinished, or even worse, like information was withheld. This means that the consumer can expect to shell out more money in the future in order to learn more about the universe. Which is a huge disappointment to the fans who spent years anticipating a game rich in lore and backstory.
Even eagerly anticipated events such as Iron Banner failed to do the very thing it was supposed to; which was to make level and gear have a substantial impact in PVP. Instead the play mode is similar to regular Crucible, where even a level 2 player can come in first against level 20’s. And even if you win? The game’s ‘positive’ feedback can sound like it is passively putting you down.
Despite certain setbacks, Destiny has redeeming features as well. It nicely integrates various across-the-industry influences, drawing inspiration from games like Oblivion and Borderlands. Gameplay succeeds in keeping everyone on the same page, casual and hardcore gamers find themselves on an even playing field. Combat is also fun and addicting, shooting feels engaging with weighted guns, boss mechanics, and great raid level design. Levels in raids boast the best design and features, with a maze, and other crazy mechanics never seen in a shooter before. Character customization is a whole other ballgame. The armor designs are beautiful, and a wide variety of shaders spice up gear appearance, and the guns… The guns have perks, elements, and even stories behind them, which is something that brings a little ‘zest’ to the gameplay. For example, a player can have an auto-rifle with accuracy that improves the more its shoot, or a rifle that replaces any missed bullets in the clip. All of these little things mesh together to create an enjoyable experience, but that doesn’t make up for all of the games misgivings.
Many gamers are confident that Bungie can ‘fix’ the game, but the fact that a game this big needs fixing in the first place is somewhat puzzling. Destiny is a cool game, but not the fantastic game-altering blockbuster that was expected.
In contrast, Shadow of Mordor by Monolith Productions, was expected to be yet another uninteresting game under the Tolkien IP. However, despite all guesses to the contrary, the game is a runaway success, and though it’s hardly perfect, it’s been described as a game-changer that will redefine gameplay for the next few years, a description many expected from Destiny. So what makes games like SoM succeed where Destiny failed?
But not the presence of Hype, instead, the lack of Hype is what’s driving Shadow of Mordor to receive such widespread critical and audience favor.
Most Lord of the Ring games in the past have been intent on dragging out the Tolkien IP rather than contributing to it. This laid the foundation for SoM’s success, no one was paying much attention to a series of games that had produced only mediocre products the past. In fact, the eponymous ‘Lord of the Rings’ was left out of the title by the lead designers in an attempt to step away from the series past failures 3). However, by completely surprising the industry with SoM’s new Nemesis System, the game is being lauded as initiating a new era of combat for games. (2)
Expert game design is a large reason for SoM’s success; its main draw lies in the innovation of a completely new feature that was unheard of before. The Nemesis System is a procedurally generated enemy system that responds to the player’s choices. It creates new enemies each run-through, and decides their rank, appearance, names, and how they interact with the player. Each enemy is affected by the player’s actions throughout the game, both directly and indirectly.
But how does hype feature into this? Well for starters, there was no speculation on the details of the Nemesis System, which meant that the small amount of people who bought the game were surprised by the mechanic. Word of mouth and a few articles piqued interest and people began to buy the game to experience the new mechanic for themselves. Which in turn led to increased media coverage as they hopped on the bandwagon and tried to define what made the game so engaging. This led to even more people going out and buying the game because of the generated interest. Hype was generated after the games release, which garnered SoM favorable reviews and sales, and that is partially what led to it being the success that it is.
Shadow of Mordor and Destiny share certain similarities, in each the main story is lacking, but both are graphically stunning, and possess engaging gameplay. However, what makes Shadow of Mordor a success where Destiny is not, is the fact that gamers love to be pleasantly surprised as opposed to disappointed. This is reflected in the Metacritic scores for Shadow of Mordor which are at an impressive overall 85, along with a user score of 8.5, as opposed to Destiny’s disappointing 76, and a low user score of 6.5. Simply put, instead of building up expectations, only to let players down, like Destiny did, Shadow of Mordor simply waited for their game to speak for itself.