If there is one thing that video games are not particularly good at doing, it is convincing storylines. If there is one thing that the video game industry likes to think that it is good at meanwhile, it is raising a pot of boiling hype around even the most lackluster of games; with PR laudably managing to maintain a straight face while telling us about the legions of Ryzon 7 invading your home of Lalaland 5, and how you, the heroic player, must defend well, err, something or other.
So dear reader, if you will allow, I would like to show you some of what the games industry does to promote its games in simple, PR format. If you happen to notice some similarities between many game previews you read and said press releases don't worry, we swear that half the games journalists in this life don't just lift the release, edit out the expletives and inset ones of their own. To think so would be incredibly cynical.
Let the games begin: "Farlan Entertainment, publisher of Dark and Light, The Largest MMORPG You've Ever Seen!, today announced two additions to its popular online fantasy game that provide even more engagement for players on a daily basis." Am! I! the! only! one! who! noticed! that! they! put! an! exclamation! mark! in! the! middle! of! a! sentence!, and! continued! as! if! nothing! was! wrong?!
I mean, to write the above sentence I had to battle, actually battle, with the auto correction system in Word which, after the sixth time, just popped up a message calling me an idiot. All this without us even exploring the massive claim they make, and we're only half of the first paragraph in.
Skip ahead a bit, shall we, to the obligatory quote from a senior member of the team. These are ubiquitous throughout press releases, and often we get two. "'Just as in the real world, Ganareth is a place where nothing stands still. Unexpected challenges and opportunities are a major part of the appeal of Dark and Light,' said Frédéric Caille, CEO of Farlan Entertainment. 'We believe players will find the daily events introduced by Alchemic Dream to be both entertaining and useful. Ganareth is a living, breathing world full of inspiration, intrigue and adventure - a world people naturally want to be a part of.'"
I await the day when I get a quote like that which runs something like, "To be honest," said Joe Bloggs, CEO of We're So Great, "This game is crap. But you know, it's better than the other crap out there, so gamers will like, if not love, it. If they don't then I'll cry."
Alright, moving away from venereal disease land for a moment we come to what is actually one of the more matter-of-fact press releases you're ever going to read. Coming from CDV and concerning Glory of the Roman Empire (the game, not the historical fact) you may see a lot of similarities in the below and any given preview of the game:
"The glorious age of Rome - a time when the empire was at its peak, envied and feared by friend and foe alike. All across the provinces governors spared no expense to build cities of unparalleled splendour and magnificence and leave their mark in history. In Glory of the Roman Empire, players will enter this time of wonder and use their city building skills to create cities that would humble even Rome itself.
In campaign mode, players use careful planning and governing in order to become the empire's most respected governor. Or they can go online in Challenge mode to best players across the Internet and determine who can build an empire to stand the test of time. Glory of the Roman Empire is an easy to learn, yet difficult to master city building and management simulation that will challenge players in an historically authentic settings, while lush graphics immerse the player in the culture of the ancient Roman empire."
Modesty and understatement, we've heard of them.
Forget about games grounded in the relative reality of the Roman Empire, once you go into outer space you can forget about any semblance of modesty, reality or common sense. The release begins:
"DarkStar One delivers fast-paced action within a vast and authentic universe, spectacular graphics, freedom of choice, a gripping story and the power to save the federal galaxy from its nemesis!"
Here's the exclamation mark again. I'll leave it up to you to decide, if it makes sense.
"Centuries have passed since the intergalactic war." There's always an intergalactic war... jeez, calm down.
"Since then, the races within the known universe have lived more or less in peace with each other. The Great Council..." A great council, who'd have thought? "... watches over the peace and the power of the empires. However, a race from the edge of the universe called the 'Thul' frequently violates this peace."
"Kayron Jarvis..." Yep, that's it, I'm asleep "... is a young fighter pilot..." Not a mailman then? Why can't mailmen ever be the protagonists? "... and the player's alter ego. For better or for worse..." Usually worse. "... Kayron's life is about to take an unexpected twist of fate..." Yeah, some jerk is about to take over his body with a keyboard and a mouse. Poor guy. "... At the helm of the advanced 'DarkStar One' spacecraft, Kayron's flight path soon veers from stone-cold vengeance to inescapable destiny."
Stone-cold vengeance? Someone kill his pet fish? Wait, no, I've read ahead to another press release (this is one of those games where we get a press release a week to describe the back story of every race in the game... I won't bore you...), and apparently someone has killed his father. Figures, eh?
So, can the games industry actually be serious and straight faced about anything? Sure it can. All you have to do is sue it.
"Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. (NASDAQ:TTWO) today announced that on June 19, 2006, the Company received grand jury subpoenas issued by the District Attorney of the County of New York requesting production of documents, covering various periods beginning on October 1, 2001, including those relating to: the knowledge of the Company's officers and directors regarding the creation, inclusion and programming of hidden scenes (commonly referred to as "hot coffee") in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the submission of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to the Entertainment Software Rating Board for a rating, and the Company's disclosures regarding hot coffee; disclosures and presentations by the Company of certain events, including acquisitions, partnering arrangements and earnings results; invoices from, payments to, and termination of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and retention of Ernst & Young LLP; acquisitions by the Company in 2005; certain compensation and human resources documents with respect to the Company and certain of its current and former officers and directors; and documents concerning the activities of the Company's Board of Directors and Committees thereof."
Apart from anything else, I'd like to point out that the entire paragraph above is one sentence. Also, not one exclamation mark in sight - replaced instead with big words like "thereof". Just like what youw ould expect to find in your law ABC.
All of the above, barring the final legal release, are everyday, common occurrences. Gamers are big boys and girls however, and I sincerely doubt that exclamation marks and overly positive words thrown into the middle of otherwise perfectly serviceable sentences will get many people excited about any particular game or games.
PR and journalists are in a unique love-hate relationship, some trying to outsmart the other side and some trying to work in a symbiotic relationship. It always has been one of the jobs of journalists to dissect press releases - to separate sneaky marketing blurbs from useful information. Video game PR has become just too obvious. Can we please tone it down a little?