Recently, RIFT was back in the news, offering free subscription time to new and returning players. While I salute Gamigo’s generosity here, whenever the topic of RIFT comes up, I can’t help but think of the spectacularly ill-advised “we’re not in Azeroth anymore” ad campaign.
In my opinion, RIFT was about as close to a carbon copy of World of Warcraft as we’ve seen, making the slogan tragically ironic, but regardless, it’s never a good look when the only way you can sell your game is by hating on something else.
When the best thing you can say about a game is that it isn’t something else, that tells me that it isn’t good enough to stand on its own merits. Whether that’s true or not, that’s the message this kind of marketing sends. The “we’re not in Azeroth anymore” campaign lets me know that the developers knew deep down that there wasn’t really anything special about their game.
This isn’t a problem that’s unique to RIFT, either. I use it as a jumping off point because it was a very obvious example of this mentality, but it’s not the only example. While they were at least smart enough not to call out other games by name, WildStar’s infamous “hardcore cupcake” marketing and Crowfall’s awful “Play2Crush” manifesto carry the same energy as “we’re not in Azeroth anymore.” There’s the same sense of smug superiority over their competitors.
It’s the worst kind of over-hyping. You’re telling me your game is going to be better than a more well-known title, but not how. And that’s the biggest problem with this kind of marketing: You’re telling me only what your game isn’t, not what it is. Why should I be hyped for that? What’s there to be excited for?
A good game stands on its own merits. Comparisons to existing titles can be useful to give you a general idea of what a game is like, but you need to be able to tell me why your game is special on its own. Don’t tell me that this other game’s combat sucks; tell me why your combat is great. That’s what will get me excited to try your game.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the games I’ve cited as examples so far are all various shades of dead or dying. This kind of marketing is a sign that the games aren’t good enough to be sold on their own merits, a sign that the developers are overconfident, or perhaps both.
But developers are by no means the only ones guilty of this. Often the fans are even worse about selling their game only by dumping on its competitors.
There’s a phenomenon in gaming where some fans seem to want to set up rivalries between games, even if the developers never aimed for such a thing. Often one game is appointed the “better” alternative to a more well known title. Game X is so much better than Game Y, and if only the unwashed masses could realize this. This is often fueled by embittered former players of one game seeking refuge in its competitors.
There’s also often a strong element of elitism underlying this. Game X is a real game for real men, and Game Y is a baby game for babies.
One of my main duties here at MOP is running the Not So Massively column, and ARPGs are one of the main genres that column is concerned with, but you might have noticed I don’t talk about Path of Exile much. Partly this is because my esteemed colleague MJ Guthrie already has its coverage handled pretty well, but partly it’s because I could never really get into PoE, and part of the reason for that is I have found its community so utterly off-putting.
In my experience, PoE fans don’t seem to love their game so much as they hate Diablo III. I almost never see any praise of PoE that isn’t couched in the form of a dig at its biggest rival. And once again there’s a great deal of elitism at play; Diablo III is seen as “dumbed down,” and PoE is supposedly where the real gamers are at.
As a fan of D3, I find this a turn-off. I’m left with the impression that Path of Exile and its community are not only not for me but actively hostile to my participation. But even if I weren’t a D3 player, I think I would still find this attitude distasteful. The waves of scornful elitism radiating from the PoE community are so far from anything I would consider welcoming.
To be clear, I’m not saying every PoE player is like this. It’s not even necessarily a majority. But the bitter, elitist fans are the most vocal and prominent. They’re the ones who dominate the game’s narrative.
And you know what actually caused me to lose interest in PoE when I finally tried it? It was so easy. I know it must have difficult content at some point, but the low-level content was perhaps the most trivially unthreatening content I’ve ever seen in an ARPG, and there’s no difficulty setting to provide any relief from the monotony. Meanwhile, Diablo III lets you crank up the difficulty and have a meaningful challenge right from level one.
Maybe I would have given up on PoE anyway, but the elitism displayed by its community coupled with the reality of how faceroll the game’s introduction actually was just killed my ability to take it seriously. Once again we see how braggadocio sets up a game for failure.
The Path of Exile community may be one of the most prominent examples of this toxic side of fandom, but it’s not the only one. I have also seen some of the same behaviour, albeit to a much lesser degree, from fans of Final Fantasy XIV in regards to World of Warcraft, especially as it increasingly becomes the go-to refuge for embittered ex-WoW fans.
You can even see this kind of attitude outside the realm of video games. It’s increasingly becoming the case that every question or comment about fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons is answered with some version of, “Play Pathfinder 2E; it’s so much better.” And as a 5E fan, I can tell you it’s getting a wee bit tiresome.
So whether you’re a developer trying to market your upcoming title or a fan who wants to evangelize your favourite game, remember to do so by talking up your game’s merits, not tearing down its competition. Games are so much more appealing when they’re presented through a lens of joy and excitement, not bitterness and smug superiority.