A geologist and physicist, John Lister, performed over 14,000 experiments in the Oregon Vortex in the early 1900's. He took copious notes and photographs of his findings, even corresponding directly with Albert Einstein regarding his hypotheses. But just before he died, Lister declared "The world isn't yet ready for what goes on here," and subsequently burned all of his notes.
Either Lister found something absolutely amazing, or he found absolutely nothing. We will never officially know. But since Lister was also an uncanny businessman (opening the site for tourism in 1930) the loss may be for the best. This dubious lack of information keeps thousands of visitors pouring into the rural backwoods town of Gold Hill year after year.
There are many industries that require a sense of mystery to support and sustain them. A magician never reveals their secrets. A chef never gives away his recipes. Even a good stripper knows how to leave a little something to the imagination. This mythical aura—no matter how scantily-clad the profession—keeps people curious long after skill and creativity run dry (witness the lasting power of the reclusive Wachowski brothers, despite every botched project before and after the original Matrix).
Just like magicians, chefs, and strippers, video game producers need to implement a similarly calculated sense of mystery to their advantage.
The constant onslaught of developer diaries is the gaming world's equivalent of reality TV.
This demystifying process, this peek behind the Wizard of Oz's curtain, is only hurting the game development industry, which is indeed becoming a Hollywood-sized industry itself.
Gaming companies are pushing their public relations agenda and adapting a "more is more" philosophy when it comes to putting out product information. As a result, instead of creating a buzz, they're creating a clamor.
It's hard to blame the small developers in this regard: Any amount of exposure for their product is an obvious godsend when competing with the big dogs. But on the other hand, big-name productions do themselves a disservice when they give away too much too soon. Reading months of developer diaries before a game launches is like watching "The Making of" DVD extras before watching the actual film itself. The movie-making (and game-making) magic is irrevocably dispelled.
A glimpse at your local video store will easily confirm this. Pirates of the
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.
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.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Randy gravitates toward anything open-world, story-centric, character-driven, or reimagined. He prefers strategy over shooting, instrospection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. A few of his favorites are Red Dead Redemption, EVE Online and Morrowind. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon.View Profile