The amount of cynicism and hot takes doing the rounds after Elden Ring footage leaked online is gravitating into an ugly, caustic morass that forgets why the hell people love video games in the first place.
If you missed the news, the first skerrick of Elden Ring footage hit the internet this week. It’s the first bit of information on the Dark Souls/George R.R. Martin crossover since the game’s announcement in 2019, so naturally the internet had a mini-meltdown. And why not? The fandom for Dark Souls, and anything created by Hidetaka Miyazaki, is a powerful force. People still want PC ports of Bloodborne; Miyazaki’s Demon’s Souls is probably still the best next-gen exclusive on either console.
It helped re-popularise a genre and a style of more punishing, considered gameplay that people are deeply appreciative of. So, people rightly want more of that.
But as is customary after any game that triggers class-action lawsuits and gets pulled from sale, there’s been an all-too inevitable backlash circulating online. “Elden Ring is Becoming Gaming’s Biggest Roller Coaster,” one story reads. “Is the incredible pre-release hype for Elden Ring setting us up for another Cyberpunk 2077 scenario,” a subheading asks. Another draws a parallel between Elden Ring‘s anticipation and Death Stranding. Forums and social media have plenty of posts where any positivity or cheer for Elden Ring is met with immediate derision, pointers towards the drama and failure of not only Cyberpunk 2077, but games like Assassin’s Creed Unity, No Man’s Sky at launch, and so on. It’s not just this week either: “Elden Ring, Cyberpunk 2077 and the pitfalls of gaming hype,” another piece begins.
It pays to be cautious. No-one disputes that. But there’s something disingenuous about creators and outlets sanctimoniously telling people not to be excited, especially if that follows videos, stories and articles directly fuelling said excitement. The sentiment is deeply unfair on the developers too, who are effectively having their work — or lack of work, in Elden Ring’s case, because basically nothing has actually been announced– tarnished by association because of what happened somewhere else to another project they had no hand or influence in.
It’s easy to forget that hype isn’t worthless to the development process, either. For studios, the “hype train” often provides tangible feedback and information they can use to make their games better. Apart from the community building (or collective depression in Elden Ring‘s case), that energy spurs individual developers on. It might even help in recruitment drives, as seen recently with the excellent Black Myth: Wu Kong.
If you have to work for a living, wouldn’t you want to work on something you’re excited for — and something others also draw obvious excitement from?
It’s why E3 Awards, things that seem like the most facile creations imaginable, have some value. It’s not because a vertical gameplay slice, which is often re-engineered or scrapped entirely before release, actually represents the Best Game of that year. It’s an appreciation of the vision and direction, an indication that says: “Yes, what you’re working on is cool, and we’d love to see more of it.” If you’ve just spent four, six, eight weeks doing absurd hours trying to make sure a game character doesn’t fall through the in-game world, or you’ve been constantly working on animations to avoid your game from being memed into oblivion, that small amount of validation can mean a lot.
That energy developers draw from the hype train — or at least one element of it — is something Blizzard developers spoke to me about this week. I asked each of the Diablo 4, World of Warcraft and Hearthstone teams how they planned on coping without that surge a physical BlizzCon would usually provide.
“Getting to show By Three They Come at Blizzcon 2019 was an unforgettable experience of my life,” John Mueller, Diablo 4‘s art director, told me. “That moment, that anticipation, the people reacting and just freaking out when it comes through the blood curtain, that was pretty awesome.”
Not being in the room when that reveal happens is a very different experience. You can still follow metrics on social media, track posts on internal forums, and there’s still a physiological boost from that. But it’s not quite the same as the goosebumps you get when a crowd goes silent, or the unexpected reactions humans often have.
“I don’t think there’s anything that can replace the feeling of the fan who tells you, ‘I played the demo seven times.’ I literally had a guy … ‘I played your demo seven times.’,” Luis Barriga, Diablo 4‘s director, said in our BlizzCon interview. “I’m like, ‘Dude, you had all of this stuff to do at BlizzCon, and you played our demo [seven times]?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I love your demo, I played a different class, I went different places.'”
The lesson is not to dampen the excitement. Hope, anticipation, enthusiasm: these are all positive vibes, not things that should be immediately squashed. We’d be better served as a community talking about how to channel that energy in the right way. We’ve all just been through 12 months of constant, collective trauma. Some communities and countries are still living through that trauma, not to mention its potential long-term effects on friends, family, loved ones. Hope gets us through these things, and if a video game is what people want — or need — to put their collective faith into, then so be it.
Instead, it’s better to remind everyone to be cautious. Stay excited. Just don’t preorder anything. The culture and expectations around preorders breeds an exceedingly toxic cycle that doesn’t benefit the consumer or the end product. Committing $60, $70, $80 or hundreds more for “limited” edition packs creates a mental state that’s fundamentally incompatible with the reality of development: Games change over time. Throwing down money before seeing the final version of a product emotionally ties you into a product that might not exist, potentially for a very good reason.
That’s what needs to be fixed more than anything else. But it’s still possible to remain excited in a healthy, productive way, and that’s the message creators, streamers, gaming websites and communities of all sorts should concentrate on. Excitement is good for the soul! But the solution is to channel that properly so people continue looking forward to things without falling for the trap of buying virtual pants or merch that inevitably disappoints.