Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Buzz or Hype?

Recently I found an article written by one of my wife's favorite author, Stephen King. He often writes Op-ed pieces for Entertainment Weekly and this one tackled the problem of Buzz Vs. Hype.

Now in the article, he defines both these terms in a way that turned on a light for me.
"Buzz is not hype and hype is not buzz. Hype is paid for: full-page print ads, luxe websites, logos on the sides of buses, billboards on Sunset Boulevard, carpet-bomb TV campaigns. Buzz is free. Hype is often unreliable (Ang Lee's well-advertised but ultimately atrocious rendering of The Incredible Hulk, for instance). Buzz, on the other hand, is almost always reliable. No one knows why, any more than anyone knows how dogs can sense company's coming even when none is expected. But we can say certain things."
- Stephen King
This finally put a few things into perspective for me concerning the MMO blog community.

Blogging about a game to the point of nausea is not hype, it's basically buzz. Hype is when they run ads that support the game, post links to developer's sites, or constantly shove the game's press releases down every one's throats. But if someone is just blogging about their enthusiasm or joy for a game that's coming out, even if it borders on the annoying, it's not hype, it's just good clean buzz.

So, when I've been shouting about how I hate hype, what I've really been meaning to say is that I really hate buzz, but in fact, the truth is, I like buzz. It's buzz that has gotten me fired up to the point where I am searching web sites, listen to every podcast, watching any movie that has any information about WAR. I'm not saying I have it bad to the point of nauseating people that I know, but I'm sure some of my WoW friends, whom I have convinced to get the WAR pre-order so they can try the game out during the open beta on the 7th of Sepember, will be glad when the game starts and I can finally start shutting up. By then, with luck, I will have either convinced them to come on board the WAR train or not. Either way, I will be happy to finally be playing WAR.


  1. Buzz shouldn't be hype except that the essence of viral or guerrilla marketing is to create that buzz for the very reasons you describe-- people tend to give buzz more credibility than hype. Thus buzz starts to loose its credibility and the buzzers are cravenly manipulated by the marketers.

    Even cynics like us are not immune. I may not agree with a bloggers view of a game necessarily, but I'll likely give it more credence than say something just short of a republished press release on a game site or a developer generated trailer etc.

    I find myself only listening to a select number of those buzzing about a topic who have proven to be reliable.

    Far too many are indiscriminate, undiscerning and too uncritical in their thinking to avoid falling into the marketing tar pit and doing the marketers job for them.

    The signal to noise ratio has gotten much lower as marketers have figured out better ways to get their messages out through nontraditional media outlets like blogs.

  2. Here I thought buzz was what I feel after too much rum... *hic*



  3. @P0TSH0T - So how do you separate the honest blogger from the one that is doing the dirty deeds of the marketing puppeteer?

    From the sites I've viewed sometimes it can be really hard, especially if the person has be a fanboy of the IP, but yet doesn't mind being critical of the game at times.

    The only draw back to Marketers pulling the strings on bloggers is that eventually the blogger sees the game for what it really is and is likely to spread dissatisfaction quicker, if they feel duped by the game makers.

    But I have been known to criticize the signal because its so mixed in with all the noise. Besides, its hard from me because I have Tinnitus. lol

  4. That my friend, is the $64 million question-- or maybe the $49.99 + 14.99/mo question...

    Its tough. Even a reliable blogger can get swept away by the hype machine if its a game or an IP that is near and dear to his heart. We all want the next thing to be that most wonderful of games we've all been waiting for.

    I guess the short answer is "trust but verify" and over time compare your experiences, preferences and views against theirs.

    Seems that there are at least two dimensions to that-- how closely does that blogger's preferences seem to match your own (i.e., this guy generally likes what I like, therefore if he says its worth checking out I might) and how much hyperbole or spin or deviation from "reality" creeps in to their posts (i.e., do they ignore gamebreaking bugs, ignore/minimize issues that everyone is talking about, is their commentary fairly accurate even if you disagree with their conclusion, or are their impressions mostly at the poles of the fanboi/hater continuum).

    Marketers do take a risk "stringing along" the blogosphere which can turn on them visciously. If they are only interested in selling boxes, then maybe they don't care. But if they are trying to create a sticky long term community (and a healthy ROI), they do so at their peril-- roll file footage of Conan...

    For me, WAR is a pretty good example. I didn't do closed beta so I only know what I read. I don't bother reading most of the Mythic stuff and avoid most of the so-called mainstream game sites.

    I think you can take impressions from folks like Tobold, Brent, Darren, Wilhelm, Keen, Bildo and Heartless and triangulate back to where you think reality is and where you might be in it. If you read them (or any others for that matter) regularly, you get an idea of where they tend to come out on things and whether their perspective holds water even if you don't agree.

    But my ultimate point is we need to be thoughtful and critical to do that which is something not many of us do often enough.

    What got me thinking when I read your post was a show on Frontline a while back "The Merchants of Cool"

    As well as the experience of a bunch of my friends in indie bands back in the 80s and 90s whose labels relied heavily on non-traditional marketing to drive buzz up from the bottom so that the kiddies and hipsters would all "discover" the next cool thing and be so cool because they weren't chumps that were the tools of marketers.... Same as it ever

    Well that got long, but what the hey, good stuff to talk about.