During the creation of a mod, one can recognize various stages: the idea, the first outline, creating graphics, coding, mapping, figuring out what works and what doesn't work, re-assembling, beta-testing, etc. These are all stages that are controllable by the creator(s) of a mod. But when a mod is finished and gets released, you let go and it becomes an item for the public. They judge your creation based on their own experiences and their mindset at the time, but they also base their judgment on the image of the mod that the developers created in release threads on the forum via posts and screenshots. Creating hype is an element of modding that has always been something I've been skeptic about. Which is why I consider it an interesting topic to write about. In this article I want to take a closer look at the various ways in which authors promote their mods, why they decide to do this (and in which way), and if it's beneficial in the end.
As a modder who works in a team, from experience I can tell that there are bound to be differences in terms of approaches to the release of a game. I personally favor to just wait until a game is finished and then release it, with no pre-release hype whatsoever. Contrary to that, there are those who are in favor of opening a thread for a mod months before said mod is released, updating it randomly with screenshots, news or other tid-bits. The third most-used option is to open a thread when the developers have settled upon a release date. This is usually done when a mod is 99% finished.
As I have stated before, I'm in favor for the first approach: to just release a mod when it's done without any pre-release hype. In my opinion, this ensures that the player can go in 'fresh' i.e. without any preconceptions or (unrealistic) expectations based on months of screenshots and hyping. I base this on my own experience: when someone tells me something, in my head I immediately create my own version based on what the person is saying. Which is most likely to be quite different from the 'real' version. The same goes for when someone tells me the story and the features of a mod. This evokes images, which are rarely surpassed by the real thing because the implementation isn't what you thought it would be. Sometimes you can be surprised and still enjoy it for what it is, but I personally believe that those expectations will always have an effect on the gaming experience, whether conciously or not.
Based on the previous paragraph, it is therefore easy to conclude that I'm not a fan of months and months of hyping. And it's true. The degree of hype can actively make me want to not play a mod. These are the cases where every tid-bit is shared; every coding feature of the mod is announced as if it's a grand victory and every stage of the game is shared through screenshots. It gets to the point of over-saturation for me, where I do not read the info anymore because it seems that all those posts are there for one purpose: for the author to get instant gratification out of the compliments he/she will receive from the screenshots/teaser trailers/coding features/news. But the more you share, the more you are expected to deliver. WSJ summed it up nicely in his Q&A when he said the following:
"The more you advertise, the more you will be expected to deliver. It's like in politics... if you make a bunch of campaign promises to get elected, then you better make good on some of those promises, otherwise you'll lose a lot of voters in the next election. Now, it's one thing to promote something which you've already finished, but there will often be projects which never get finished, even when you're "sure" they will (you'd be surprised how many mods I spent months working on which I later had to abandon for one reason or another.) And if you keep making announcements for your mods and then cancelling them before they're finished, you will just be letting people down and they'll lose interest in your work. So in general, I don't like to promise things. And I don't see much point in the way that some people advertise their mods on the Wolf 3d Dome or the forums, where all they show is a "grocery list" of changes/features... no demo level, no screenshots, no story... just "features." I mean, if you're going to hype your mod, at least provide people with some evidence of why it's so awesome. But I would rather devote more time to actually making the mod than hyping it. My motto is "Less Talking, More Modding." I do talk about my mods a little bit while they're still in development, but that's usually when I'd like someone's help or input on something that I'm trying to work out. I don't want to spoil everything about the mod before I've even released it... what's the point of that?"
The over-saturation of information pre-release seems to be a sympton of the way marketing is using the internet more and more to create hype. Big blockbuster movies release ten trailers, a whole lot of screenshots, then release the first 10 minutes online; it nearly shows all of the movie. And now this has almost become the expected thing to do, and people have begun to feel entitled: that they deserve to know everything about a movie before it's released. And I personally feel like this 'over-sharing' kills a movie, because it ruins any surprise the movie might contain. Trailers are used to lure consumers to the cinema, but they use the money shots in order to attract the movie-goers. It ruins the good stuff. And it's the same with mods: in your screenshots you show the most beautiful environments, the coolest coding features, the most awesome weapons, etc. It spoils the experience, because the player knows what's coming. The joy of discovery is gone.
I do realize that the article so far makes it sound as if I'm totally against 'hyping'; I'm not. I prefer that it is done in moderation. While I might personally prefer to just share a mod when it's done, I also realize that some modders need to get their name out there. And in order to do that, you have to advertise and deliver. Plus, now that I'm a moderator over the DieHard Wolfers Forum, I'm glad that there are discussions based on upcoming mods: it keeps the forum active. Next to that, a release thread is a good way to attract beta-testers in the case that the creator(s) needs them. Therefore it can be said that sharing info about a mod has its pro's as well. And for some, a compliment based on work in progress can be motivating.
Sharing in moderation can keep the element of surprise, while it can also bring your mod to the attention of other users. After it's released, good feedback from your public will do more to bring in new players than the creator(s) patting themselves on the back and declaring it to be the best mod ever. It is for the public to rate a mod, not the creators themselves. In a small community, which the Wolf3D community is, this is easier to do than when you mod for a big game and vie with thousands of others to bring your mod to the attention of others. Yet I still believe that quality, something made with the right intentions, will still find its audience. To conclude, I believe 'hyping' should be used when it's functional and should not be used to satisfy the ego of the creator.