Funny thing, hype. Sometimes it builds up for months, until the pressure becomes almost unbearable. And other times, it comes out of nowhere. Drops from the ceiling, punches you in the face, steals your wallet and just disappears.
You may have noticed. Yesterday, Activision and Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2 was officially released, a game that will easily be the biggest game of 2009, if not of all time. Thousands of stores across the planet opened their doors at midnight to greet an unprecedented number of gamers, all eager to catch up on the adventures of some Allied special forces and some guy called "Soap".
Now, it's far too early to get hold of actual sales numbers for the game. Ditto for the actual number of people braving the elements and the ungodly hour to secure a copy of the game. But one look at the sheer number of stores open at midnight — over 10,000 in the United States alone — and the number of consumers it must have taken to secure such an event, and it's quickly becoming clear this was one of the largest launches of the decade.
Yet there's something funny about the whole thing. Where did this hype come from? Anyone even casually following the games business over the past few years will have remembered the launches of juggernauts like Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV. Marketing machines kicked in months before those games were due for release, bombarding us with expensive TV ads, countdown clocks, inescapable street advertising and celebrity endorsement.
But Modern Warfare 2? We all knew it was coming, sure, and everyone knew it was going to be popular — the first Modern Warfare, after all, has sold well over 10 million copies — but I don't think many people realised it was going to "maybe biggest game of all time" big. There were some game trailers, and some press "controversy" surrounding one of the game's earlier levels, but nothing on the scale of Microsoft or Rockstar's big bashes. There was no "Soap"-flavoured Mountain Dew.
It's almost as if the only people truly prepared for how massive it was going to be was were the publishers of other games, who saw MW2 was coming in November, picked up their own titles due for release around the same time and, in an unprecedented move, pushed them back into 2010. Not out of respect, but out of fear, and a knowledge on the part of those publishers that people were going to be buying one game in November, and it wasn't going to be theirs.
How did they see what we didn't?
I've got a theory. It's almost as if it took the night of the game's launch for several different types of gamer to realise they were all interested in the same game. As someone who is, on a daily basis, arse-deep in video games, I know of a lot of other people who play video games. Yet they're all different people. Some only really play sports games. Some only play online. Some prefer shooters, some only buy one or two games a year, and some only buy one or two games a year for their kids.
Yet, and I am serious, every single one of my friends — or even acquaintances/former friends/wife's friends — that owns a video game console not only wanted to buy Modern Warfare 2, but has it already. Which I find simply astonishing. They either got it at midnight, downloaded it beforehand, or went into a game shop on launch day in their lunch break to pick it up.
Funniest part? To many of us, this was a surprise. "Oh, you got it too?" has been a common question over the past couple of days.
And that's the beauty of it. Modern Warfare 2 didn't need to bore us to death with months of advertising, or obnoxious countdowns. It (well, its makers) already knew it was an instant purchase for millions of people, and whether out of prudence or sheer arrogance, spared us the overexposure that nearly soured the release of games like Halo 3 and GTA IV. They simply stuck to a tasteful, on-target campaign restricted to well-timed, exciting trailers and let the product itself do the talking.
It's a tactic I wish more publishers of major titles would employ.