Bethesda VP of Marketing: Buy Our Game Because It Is New
Pete Hines, Bethesda’s VP of Marketing, recently made some comments on the Offical Xbox Magazine podcast.
After 12 minutes of obligatory “we love our fans and we’re the best” framing, Hines fomented: “When somebody flips through a magazine… you may or may not get them to read it… but they will look at a screenshot and make a snap decision: ‘that looks awesome’, or ‘I’m not interested’. So if you can make something look amazing, just at first glance, it’s so much easier to get them.” Later he asserted, “There’s a lot of people who say graphics don’t matter. To them I usually say ‘you’re lying’.”
Reading this quote, I was momentarily confused. Thinking Pete Hines was a member of Bethesda’s creative staff, I freaked out. I was pained to think that someone important at Big B might be unaware that it was despite their technically poor art and animation departments that their games had still achieved quite a lot. But Pete’s role as a honcho marketeer — a person paid merely to convince gamers of whatever is convenient for him — explained it all.
He’s right! As a vampi-err marketer, your only goal is to sell a lot of units, and to do that you need to first make lots and lots of shiny graphics. Second, you need to make as many controversial BS statements as possible, and hope that fools like myself will create buzz for you. Third, you need to sell your stock options in case the company actually gets burned by creating one too many tired-ass sequels.
Sure, graphics matter. Gameplay and debugging also matter. Ironically, I tend to give Elder Scrolls games a free pass on the quality gameplay department. I see their job as giving us top-shelf sandboxes, in which modders gain the tools to create the real masterpieces.
If all else remains equal, then improved graphics give us all a better set of capabilities to play with. However, implying that your customers are “lying” for preferring Morrowind gameplay to Oblivion flashiness seems foolish. Look at all the strategy fans still clutching Civ IV to their hearts. Why would strat games or RPGs even exist if not for gameplay? Millions of people are re-paying for re-releases these days, many of which don’t even feature improved graphics.
After reading about this podcast, I assumed Pete was just talking smack. That’s his job! But after listening to the podcast, there really wasn’t even that much of a story here. It was a poor choice of words (hint: never put “customers” and “lying” in the same sentence). But, it was also clearly a statement made primarily to justify his choice of promotional materials, and in that context, it makes some sense. This is why everybody who isn’t a marketer — and that includes gaming journalists — shouldn’t listen to marketers. Just pretend they aren’t there!
Most marketers only work to deceive people, and the ones who don’t (the “good ones”), like Hines on this particular day, are simply going to bore you with vague promises and belated excuses. There are probably a few really cool marketers out there, who genuinely want to see the very best games (and not only their games) succeed. These people might even be as quotable as the developers for which they work. However, I haven’t yet noticed any people such as this.
The sad truth of Bethesda’s situation is that graphics do matter, more than anything else, because they have mostly abandoned everything that made their games great. The open world framework remains, and I do hope that the next game somehow builds upon their past storytelling and AI accomplishments, but I see no evidence of that thus far. Graphics matter to Bethesda, probably to the detriment of their games. We certainly know that the attempt to compete with better voice-acted RPGs in the last Elder Scrolls game was disastrous. Pete claims that “We tend to show what shows well. It’s very difficult to convey to somebody in a short period of time… a character you didn’t create, but somehow I’m gonna get you to care about this quest… but everybody gets pretty pictures.” That sounds perfectly rational, but based upon Bethesda’s recent track record, that line is quite likely pure spin.
Why on Earth is it common practice to regurgitate this garbage? We can all forgive a press agent for being a press agent — it’s not shilling, since he makes it pretty clear where he’s coming from. The stranger thing may be, why do the majority of gaming sites see this as news that’s fit to print? Far more than half of the headlines I wade through every day are this sort of crap, the same things from the same talking heads, presented in the same manner by a dozen different “news outlets”. Admittedly, it is easier to simply regurgitate than to wait for quality news to come along, and to fact-check boring news is even tougher (shakes fist at good editor). But have we no value for our readers’ time anymore? Is it necessary to cover things simply because they are vaguely related to our favorite games? Aren’t our readers smart enough to visit the websites of games they are eagerly awaiting?
Returning to the issue of ye olde vaunted RPG-devs jumping ship and turning to casual RPG-like products, I don’t complain about this because all the games that result are bad. I wouldn’t even argue that devs shouldn’t make gobs of money off of the exploding casual gamer market. There’s plenty of room for indie devs working on real RPGs to pick up the slack. The problem, for me, is that you guys are so incredibly insulting to our intelligence in the process! We are RPG fans. WE ARE NERDS. That doesn’t mean we deserve control over your business strategies. But what did you expect from us as you whittle away the games we loved? Were we simply to nod politely?
Stories like this one make one thing clear: there is no logical reason for any gamer to care what a game company’s marketing department thinks. Hopefully, someone will logically remind me that I am furthering this cycle of injustice by commenting upon it. It’s just that I was reinstalling Morrowind this very week (for the third time) and was overwhelmed by Hines’s stupidity. Writing hasn’t helped. I’ve finished ranting, but I still need a bath.
The question I have for Pete, and OXM, is if graphics are so damned important, why would anybody buy your game for the Xbox? Zing!