Thursday, April 21, 2011

Flash in the Pan Syndrome

Over the weekend, I spent a little time listening to the latest podcast from the women over at Sarcastic Gamer's SG Pink show.  While the ladies were talking about the games they were playing, Jax (a longtime friend o' mine) mentioned how she's been spending a lot of time playing Rift over World of Warcraft.  That's not what really caught my attention, though.  Instead, it was when they mentioned how she'd been playing DC Universe Online prior to Rift, and how the game had just kinda drifted off the radar.  It's not that the game suddenly stopped being fun or anything, but rather that after the initial hype wore off, it just seemed like people moved on to the next thing ... or as Harley said, it was like everyone just went "SHINY!!! ... Okay, SQUIRREL!!", and then moved on to whatever was the next big thing.

That's when the wheels in my head started turning.  What causes so many properties to build up a lot of momentum prior to (and usually just after) release, only to fizzle out immediately thereafter?  Who's to blame? They say it's always darkest before the dawn ... so why is it that when it comes to entertainment, things are always brightest just before they go pitch black?

You know how it goes.  You hear about a project coming out, be it a game, a comic book, a movie, or any other entertainment property.  Leading up to its release, you're blasted by wave after wave of hype.  Advertisements. Previews. Interviews. Eventually, something about it strikes a chord with you and then you can't wait to experience it for yourself.  Finally, the big day comes, you're one of the first in line, and you finally get to see if things live up to your expectations.  Now, here's where things get interesting.  Sure, we all get let down from time to time, and certain projects fail to live up to our expectations ... but let's say this ISN'T one of those times.  Let's say everything lived up to or even succeeded your expectations.  Then what?  What's the shelf life for enjoyment?

It happens to all of us, and hey, I'll admit that I'm no exception.  I'll pick up a game or a comic I've been itching to get my hands on.  Then, after I've played it a while or read it from cover to cover, I burn out on it.  It's like giving a kid all the ice cream he can eat.  He might stuff his face with Rocky Road for a couple of hours, but then he's gets sick to his stomach and needs to take a break for the night.  Yes, I speak of this from personal experience ... remind me one day to tell you about the time I was curled up in the fetal position in the back of the family van, moaning and groaning after getting free reign on an ice cream buffet.  The problem is that, unlike the love affair I still have with chocolate ice cream, when the "new and shiny" wears off on a game, book, or movie, I'm already looking for some new "flavor of the month" to take its place.

It's not just those of us at the consumer level, though, who are guilty of looking over what we've got in favor of the next big thing.  It's every link in the food chain.  Usually, by the time a studio or publisher has actually released its latest project out into the wild, it's already been finished with it for some time and moved on to something else.  Hell, these days, due to the time needed for development, a lot of movies, games, TV series, and yes even comics have already had their fates decided (to sequel or not to sequel ... THAT is the question) before the end user has ever dropped a dime into their coffers.  I've seen movies get multi-picture deals before their first screenings, and I've seen comic books get cancelled before issue #1 even gets shipped.  In a world of dollars and cents, sometimes those "cents" take precedence over "sense".

And then there's the PR.  These are the folks responsible for fueling the hype machine.  Every press release, every demo, every event ... it's all a coordinated effort to drum up and maintain interest.  It's these guys and gals that have the sometimes thankless task of convincing you that the upcoming release IS, in fact, the best thing since sliced bread.  These are the ones responsible for making sure you know that you want what's in store for you.  So where do they fit in after the deed is done and the animal has been set loose?  Well, they're kinda in the same boat as the publishers and studios.  They tend to stick around a little bit longer, but generally speaking, it's only by a little bit.  They also have already started work on the next big thing.  After all, it's called "the NEXT big thing" not "the CURRENT big thing".  That same rational applies to the press as well (something else I'm intimately familiar with).  See, once the news is out, it's out.  The impulse of most journalists, editors, and outlets is that it's not news if it's not "new".

So at the end of the day, once a project is out, it suddenly becomes the Flying Dutchman, doomed to drift forever ... alone, abandoned, and never reaching port.  So how do we fix this problem?  How do we ensure that those projects we love get the attention they deserve and enjoy a lifespan longer than a Mayfly?  It's easier than you might think.  You start from the end of the cycle and work your way back.  As the end user, if you like something, then dammit let people know.  Speak your piece and let your voice be heard.  TELL people how much fun you had and how much you were entertained.  Don't let the flame flicker out, but feed it more fuel.  Brag about what you read in that new comic book.  Spread the word about how much fun that new game is, and how you know you're going to keep going back to it, or getting together to play with your crew on a regularly scheduled game night.  Go see that new movie again, and take a friend ... then let everyone know you can't wait for the DVD.  Make enough noise and then the next link in the chain will take notice.  Before long, you'll start seeing the press and PR hanging around a lot more.  After all, if people are still talking about something, well then there's GOTTA be something about it worth talking about.  Make enough noise, fan those flames hot enough and bright enough, and even the higher ups in charge will take notice.  Simply put, if a property you love is in danger of becoming another lost ghost ship in the sea of pop culture, it's up to you to be the one to build the lighthouse and guide that ship to port.

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