Are Developer Diaries Destroying the Magic?


posted 7/13/2006 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
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Despite some Hollywood execs' sworn-to-secrecy efforts, word inevitably leaks about the latest projects.  This is why Hollywood always appears to double-up its efforts, like when a smaller-budget title races the production clock—often going straight to DVD—to garner a parasitic profit off larger productions. 

A glimpse at your local video store will easily confirm this.  Pirates of the Caribbean 2 hit the big screen last week, but the abysmal Pirates of Treasure Island went straight to DVD the week prior.  Jake Busey (Gary Busey's son) shamelessly starred in an exploitive straight to DVD version of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds weeks prior to Spielberg's far superior release.  This process repeats itself month after month ad nauseum.

When employed properly, secrecy creates a bigger buzz than full-spread coverage.  Consider how tight Valve kept the lid on Half Life 2's technological advances (despite the leakage).  Or consider how surprised you were when you found yourself in the Covenant's shoes in Halo 2.  On a tangential note, how many of you are now resigning to an Xbox 360 now that you've finally heard about the PS3's astronomical price point? 

But this constant feed of information is where popular culture is at right now.  America is still, professionally, a nation of progress, and the hungry gaming community wants to bear witness to that progress too.  Unfortunately, these developer diaries are written by—yep—the developers.  This means that you, the reader, are fed a healthy dose of advertising propaganda with each and every diary entry released.  Objectivity is no longer the soup du jour, and putting a positive spin on their product is the diligently concocted intent.

Since this is the aim of all well-choreographed marketing, it sounds like business as usual, right?  Yes, it certainly does.  But in the not-so-distant past, coverage for video games was left in the hands of the print publications through interviews, technical coverage, previews, and reviews.  These were gamers' equivalent to Consumer Reports.  These magazine editors strove to bring unbiased, level-headed coverage to the video game market. 

But as increasing amounts of actual coverage are handed back to the developers, the more these purportedly objective magazines and websites become pages and pages of advertising banners.  A developer diary may be a couple thousand words longer than a popup box, but they serve a congruent purpose to such banner advertising.  Your favorite gaming website may, as we speak, be programming more of this propagandizing filler onto its loading page.

During production, both Black & White 2 and Bard's Tale had at least a dozen developer diaries each.  The Lord of the Rings Online is currently weighing in at over 30, and its release date is still only tentative for sometime this year.  It makes you wonder if there will be any Middle Earth left for players to explore.  Especially when it comes to a household name like Lord of the Rings, overexposure sounds like an out-of-breath inevitability—with the overly-familiar franchise cannibalizing its own sales before the game even goes gold. 

Perhaps, as an unexpected roadside attraction, the developers of LOTR Online could throw in a place filled with illusory terrain and gravitational anomalies, like the Oregon Vortex:  just as long as the game designers keep a trick or two up their sleeve and maintain a sense of wonder and mystery about things. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to watch Making the Band 3 before I burn my diary that says how much I heart P. Diddy.

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