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Should We Ban Video Game Previews?

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It has been brought to my attention that after the lovely Aliens: Colonial Marines clusterfuck, hurt gamers are now calling for the “ban” of previews from gaming websites. Does their desire to ban video game previews have merit, or is it just another desperate attempt to further the “gamer entitlement” agenda?

From the moment a game is announced, the hype train starts chugging along. Back in the day, the hype was purely between a magazine ad and a group of friends. There weren’t season passes, day one DLC, crazy preorder bonuses, and official merchandise in Hot Topic a week after the game was announced. We had discussions purely about the game, without any of the tacked-on bullshit deluding our thoughts.

Now we have to worry about if the season passes are worth it, if the DLC is already on the disc, where we are going to preorder the game at to get the best swag and if the Hot Topic hoodie symbolizes the success or immediate death of a franchise. It’s to the point where our purchasing decisions rely less on the game and more on all the other shit that’s spewed around in an attempt to create and maintain hype.

When you look at an established franchise like Halo or Assassin’s Creed, the hype is almost always justifiable. They have proven themselves time and time again and have the sales data to prove that they are doing something right. But a more original title like Aliens: Colonial Marines or Bungie’s Destiny doesn’t have that luxury. Sure, they are both from developers that have hit titles, but when you’re supplying a brand new IP or original game based on a beloved franchise, the marketing teams have to go one step beyond and promote the hell out of the games long before they get a release date.

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That’s where previews come into play. Previews are essentially highly controlled demos of video games that are still a work in progress. Of course, an actual demo released on Xbox Live can be also be used to write a preview, as could an alpha or beta build of the latest indie title. Previews exist to help spread the word of video games by having the writer tell the player what to expect. They are opinionated product descriptions, if you will, with the added bonus of a blogger having the added benefit of playing the game ahead of the general public. Why exactly are gamers wanting to ban previews?

Despite knowing very little about Bungie’s next game Destiny, I am beyond stoked for it. The next time I enter causally walk past a Hot Topic I’m going to get even more excited for the game when I see the official T-shirts. I don’t know a name of a single character but I’m already in love with the character design and want all the action figures setting on my mantle. I’m already immersed by this world long before the game is even out. And all that anticipation came from a few concept images and an amount of information that could have been placed in a couple tweets.

Pre-release hype is a double-edged sword. I was excited for Aliens: Colonel Marines and look what happened. Everything shown of the game up until release was blatant lies and fabrications. I fell for the false promises just like every other Aliens fan that preordered and bought the game. It breaks my heart that the game turned out as poorly as it did. Thanks to the previews of the game, the betrayed fans are now more pissed than ever and will only further spread the (negative) truth about the game to every unsuspecting potential buyer. That’s where the call to ban previews originated from. The betrayed felt it was their duty to prevent this type of thing from happening again, and that the previews various publications did were the cause of their excitement and unfortunate post-release pain.

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Hyping early and hard makes for easy marketing in the long run, but it can also damage a companies image if the game doesn’t hold up to the standards they put in place. If a game is hyped from the beginning, that hype train will chug along for a long time, snowballing as every new tidbit of information is leaked until release. You have to maintain the quality or surpass the expectations of everyone watching your game since its conception. That’s a lot of pressure.

If Colonel Marines taught us anything, it’s that you can’t simply create hype and hope for the best. Developers need to start earning the preorder of fans and those very fans need to stop buying into it from the very start. I’m sorry, but a concept image is not worth “leaking” to the Internet for a preorder. Concepts mean jack shit. Remember the original Borderlands that was gritty and realistic? I loved that style and that’s why I started following the game. The final product looks nothing like that. Maybe that’s why I’m still bitter and not the biggest fan of the franchise despite knowing I should give it a break and enjoy it. Sure, games change a lot over the course of development, and that’s why you shouldn’t preorder it until it’s almost complete. Preordering should not be an option for the public until the game goes gold or in the very least entered the final stages of development, with more than enough in-game videos shown to gain fans trust that it won’t turn into another Colonel Marines sized clusterfuck.

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I understand that a lot of people no longer trust previews, but to want to ban them completely is a level of idiocy I haven’t seen since the infamous Left 4 Dead 2 boycott. While they can do a lot of harm if the game doesn’t turn out the way you though it would, they also do a lot of good. They help publications and their fans build a relationship with the company. And how many of you can honestly say you don’t get excited when you first see gameplay of the hottest new IP? You get to see the game before it’s out and learn about the problems or details the previewer experienced. If you don’t want to get burned, don’t preorder. Or, you know, preorder and then cancel it if you feel you’re going to get burned. In most cases, you get the preorder bonuses up front and don’t have to return them if you cancel.

If you’re going to be upset at anyone, be upset at those who are responsable for games like Colonel Marines. Men like Randy Pitchford refuse to accept responsibility and have even gone as far as to create fake Twitter profiles full of praise so he can retweet them in an attempt to prove the critics wrong. I hate the term “speak with your wallet,” but that holds true here. Instead of wanting to ban previews, which publications aren’t the ones at fault for fabricating what’s previewed, you really need to target the company that’s responsable and not buy their games. If it’s too late, take it back to the store for a refund and let the publisher know that directly lying to the consumer (and press) is not acceptable and is the dirtiest tactic a video game publisher could do.

So, no; we will never ban previews on Geekenstein and I don’t think any other publication should either. Of course, opinions are just that. How do you feel about banning previews? Do you think it would hurt the industry as a whole or just the developers? I honestly don’t see how banning previews could benefit anyone at all, but I very well may be in the minority here and would like to hear from the other side of the fence.

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Like any good gentleman of the evening, Dustin has been around the Internet more than a few times. He's co-founder of Geekenstein Media, a regular co-host on the Nuts and Bolts podcast and co-stars in the Broke and Bored video series. He does a lot of co-things.
  • http://twitter.com/Xx334xX Terrence B.

    Really great article. Never occurred to me until recently how different the preview builds for A:CM were so drastically different than the retail version. It was pretty much as if the game was purposely downgraded.