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Denis Dyack Got It Right
Published on May 3, 2007 By iTZKooPA In Gaming
I am sure many of you here haven't heard of Denis Dyack but he has worked with the likes of Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto and his studio, Canadian-based Silicon Knights, is a close partner with Microsoft after leaving Nintendo some years earlier. recently posted a two-part interview with him that include his thoughts on the industry from marketing to the idea of a unified console. What really caught my attention is his views on marketing and the structure of how titles are reviewed today.

The reason I was so perked by this was because not only do I agree whole heartedly with him, but Yarlen and I had almost the same conversation via AIM much like it back when I joined as a reporter. Also I have started reviewing titles more consistently of late and was about to make a post about why I tend to review games that are old, and why I shy away from giving titles a score that so many people expect. So hot off the heels of an industry veteran saying what I believe I figured now was as good a time as ever to express my own opinions, just to have them overlooked as much as possible.

First off he's on the money that the marketing system is screwed and was a large reason why E3 was cut down to what it will be in 2007. Instead of wasting all that time and money there lets get back to making the game, if its already done - do some extra QA and polish. As Gears of War points out a game doesn't need to be all that innovative to be a hit, it just needs to have solid, well polished gameplay and a title's replay value is an important and often overlooked factor as well.

He brings up a good question as well. Why bother beginning the marketing blitz before the title is even in the last stages of QA? Just look at Galactic Civilization II, they didn't really start talking it up (other than through DevJournal's or on their own close knit community) or advertising that I saw until the game was on the verge of release. Betas were already done or wrapping up before their 'blitz' happened and the game sold well enough for their investment. Of course the game was solid all around, with reviews to match, thats the best advertising in my mind. Screw scores, give me positive word of mouth from the hardcore and/or casual audience as a whole and I will at least give the game a chance.

Once you get that kind of momentum going – the game on the shelves with people talking about it – THEN you start the real blitz. This could be a week, a month or even a few months after the game already hit the stores. Just think about it, if you wait until you KNOW FOR SURE that a title will make a certain date then you never risk losing that marketing money due to a delay, it will also produce less rushed and bug ridden games because a publisher won't have to worry about the possibility of losing that pre-emptive marketing money.

Some titles just don't catch on right away, Dyack's own Eternal Darkness never really caught on but that could be partly do to it being talked about years before it release. People had already heard about it years or months earlier, then forgot about it. It sold but not as much as the original hype would lead one to believe. Now if only that hype happened a month before the release, the game could have been a HUGE seller, instead of a disappointing one. God, I am speaking to you Dyack (read the interview), I LOVED that game.

My views on reviewing after the jump, which actually means that I have to meet my Realtor to go look at a house.

on May 03, 2007
So true. The pre-release hypes and the lack of support after release are the biggest problems. Not only for games, but for many other products as well, be it software, hardware or things unrelated to computers at all.

First of all there's a hype. Games get announced when they are still in beta stages. Features are announced which are impossible to hold. In the case of games it would be insane graphics, a revolutionary gameplay and so on. Especially if it's a sequel to another product, the expectations will be high. Naturally, the final product will be quite different to the product that was hyped initially.

One example would be Master of Orion 3, which the 4X fans in this forum will likely remember. Moo2 was awesome and concept-wise it still is. Then Moo3 was announced, and every fan of the series was looking forward to it. The expectations: Moo2 gameplay + modern technology + many improvements and new features
At first it looked promising, the reports from the beta testers looked great, not to say enthusiastic. They pointed out some problems (e.g. bugs, missing features) but it was still a beta.
But then came the release day. The reviews in various magazines gave it great ratings and like many others, I ordered a copy. At first all was good, but then the problems appeared. Some previously announced features were missing (ethos system for example) and the game had some serious bugs. Felt like a beta still. The usual three patches later (see below), not much had changed, the game still felt like in beta.
Don't get me wrong, concept-wise the game was interesting, it just didn't live up to its expectations and the support was horrible.
I still have the copy of Moo3 at a prominent spot in my shelf, partially as warning for future hypes.
A different, blatant example would be A.D. 1503. It had "multiplayer support" written on its box. Even after three patches, said feature was nowhere to be found in the game. And it did get good ratings. If I were a reviewer and a product would not live up to its official feature list, it would get 0/5 stars. (*)

Another problem are the sequels per se: You just cannot take a product and produce something totally different under the same name as a sequel. An example I've had to suffer from recently was the movie "Lawnmower Man 2: Jobe's War". I liked the first part due to its story and the extremely crude CGI in it (I like it retro technology). But the sequel had absolutely nothing in common with the first part despite its title and the name of two (completely different) characters. The 'sequel' was an average B Movie, not good, not bad, but calling it Lawnmower man killed it.
A more common example would be Star Wars Episode 1-3. Pretty visuals and such, a great story we all knew, but it just didn't feel like the Star Wars we were used to.

The last problem I'd like to address is support, especially in the software world. To blame are mostly the publishers. I found it hard to believe, but in the contracts with the game development companies there are actually hard deadlines and support is limited to either a ridiculously short time or a very limited number of patches. A rule of thumb seems to be three patches at most.
The result is obvious: Games in early beta stage marketed as final product, three patches that iron out the most extreme bugs and after that nothing. Disappointed customers who paid real $$$ for a broken product. And there the companies wonder why more and more people use P2P.

That leaves one question: Why am I writing here? Ah right, GC2. Why do I play GC? Simple: Quite a while ago I played the first part. Didn't like it much, lost interest in it quickly. Between I occasionally heard things about Stardock and GalcivII, most important being the Starforce issue.
Last month I had been browsing Wikipedia about the history of 4X games and stumbled upon GC2. By coincidence, I was somewhat bored and was looking for a new game to play. A couple of screenshots, independent reviews and a visit to this very forum I decided to play this game. Especially since the long-term support seemed to be exceptionally good.
At that point I had two options: Use a torrent and fiddle with patches, activation cracks and so on, or use Paypal and download instantly. Now I'm a user, I'm lazy and I always choose the easy way (**). And so far I didn't regret, well invested money.

Dear Stardock team, keep up the great work. Please just post more Dev Journals, I love reading them

(*) The corrupt press praising these abominations is another issue, I'll leave that topic to someone else
(**) Downloading one file and mounting it with Daemon Tools is far easier than trying to play a real physical game CD/DVD nowadays each and every time you want to play.
on May 03, 2007

I'd love to see a lot more developers and game publishers follow Stardock's lead and not hype games and over-promote them before they are ready for market.  I really would.

There's been far too many times that games are rushed to market to meet artificial deadlines or because there's just so much hype that the publishers/developers feel pressured to get something out right away to capitalize on the buzz.   Too bad they don't think about the negative buzz that results when you put out a bad product, or a product that just wasn't ready for market.

Take the time, do it right, and let the fan base help sell the product for you by telling their friends about the game.  If a game is good, it'll sell plenty on word of mouth alone.

on May 03, 2007
This trend is EXTREMELY bad in the MMO genre.

They build up an MMORPG for 2 or 3 years before it comes out. What happens by then is that players EXPECT all the features that have been hyped. Then when things dont work right (balance issues, bugs, useless skills, etc) people get pissed off.

The other thing is that when you hype something for so long, other games can creep in and steal your thunder (and your customers) even if the quality of the product is not as good. "Surprise hit of the year". Just look at Nintendo Wii.

btw....the MMO to watch for is Tabula Rasa This is the next game by Richard Garriot who made Ultima Online and the whole Ultima series. The game has been worked on now for like 5 years (including one scrap-and-re-write) with very little details release on game-play, skills-systems or any tangible details. I'm sure it will be great.
on May 04, 2007
I wasn't even trying to promote Stardock in anyway but I should have expect that my lil rant may have come off this way. Not only are many of you people rabid fans of Stardock but as I and many of you pointed out, they are one of the companies who do it right. They bide their time, perfect their product as best they can with large beta groups and then release a polished product and support it as well as anyone and better than most with the exception of maybe Blizzard (they still update SC and Diablo II).

As for MMOs it is a huge problem there, which is one reason why I hardly ever get into any. Most of the time I can get into the Betas or Alphas of games I want and just from that you can often tell if you will like the game or not, not to mention see what kinda of support they will offer. Many of those titles I haven't touched since doing my dutiest as a Beta or Alpha tester. The only ones in recent memory are WoW and BC and GalCiv2.

Tabula Rasa is a game I have been looking forward to, and one I am trying to become a beta testing for. But of course they have been marketting the title since 2001, which is partly what I am complaining about. Hopefully Lord British can pull it off.

Raknor, I will be tackling the corrupt press issue next time.