The word spoiler usually carries a negative connotation. One of the quickest ways to make someone hate you is to spoil the ending to a big movie or TV show. It’s probably happened to you at some point, probably by accident. It can be very frustrating. We hate spoilers because we love surprises, and those two contradict each other. It might seem that nothing good can come from spoilers.
But some would disagree. Spoilers have been said to increase ratings in TV shows, sales in movie tickets, and sales in copies of video games. Marketers know how to get us excited about things. They give us exactly what we crave in the information age: information.
Almost every little detail about a new video game will make it onto the web. In a shooter, you can learn about every weapon in the game before it releases. In a fighting game, you might know the entire roster before getting a chance to play it. Videos are released to showcase many new features in detail: weapons, vehicles, characters, maps.
Now are these spoilers?
I should probably give you my definition of a spoiler since it might differ from yours. I define a spoiler as a surprise that could have been. They’re not necessarily story-related, which spoilers usually are.
Thing is, the spoilers I’m talking about, we love those. Our excitement builds with every new piece of information we get. And developers love them, too. They keep their games on our radars by constantly releasing info, increasing our likelihood of buying them.
So everybody wins right?
Well not exactly. You see, we may love new info, but I think we love surprises even more. Not knowing is all part of the fun, but now we walk into our games overly informed. There are tons of little surprises that aren’t happening. They’re being spoiled.
These little spoilers are justified because they generate buzz and get us thinking about games. Some of them, however, seem wholly unnecessary.
We might not care that some little things are being spoiled. We crave information, not surprises — we’re just glad when those happen. For sequels, we have to know what the game has that its predecessor doesn’t. For original titles, we have to know how the game innovates.
And of course we do. We wouldn’t buy the game if we knew nothing about it. But would we buy it if we knew literally everything? Probably not. We are somewhere in the middle when we play a new game, based on how many spoilers we’ve seen. Ideally, we should know just a little bit more than nothing; the game has caught our interest but there are still many, many unknowns.
Last year Assassin’s Creed 3 was not in my radar of games. I didn’t watch any trailers. I didn’t read any articles or any reviews. I knew very little about the game. Granted, I’ve played other Assassin’s Creed titles so I knew what to expect in terms of gameplay. But when I sat down to play it, there were so many unknowns, so many little surprises to be had. I didn’t know any of the game’s characters other than George Washington. I knew nothing about how the combat had changed from other AC titles. The game’s naval warfare took me by complete surprise, and I ended up loving it. I believe I had a richer experience with Assassin’s Creed 3 having walked into it less informed.
Now of course you can’t do this with every game. I remember with the very first Assassin’s Creed I had to learn a lot before I was interested. Sequels have it easier than original titles; we already know what they’re about to a certain degree. But some games really have to sell themselves via lots of little spoilers.
It takes a lot to sell a game these days, with all their new features and pre-order bonuses unveiled months in advance, all to generate buzz. I can’t always frown when developers and marketers release certain info to help sell their games. It would be unfair; they need to sell enough copies to justify making the game.
But at the same time we need those little surprises to enrich our gaming experiences. There’s a real conflict here. The solution: stay away from the internet.
Yeah like that’s going happen. This is the information age. Some of us have made getting new intel on the internet as part of our lives as food and water. Maybe we could just stay away from all those videos and articles about new games — all those little spoilers.
Again, that’s probably not going to happen. Many of us don’t want to walk into games uninformed. Even if we tried to, we would be fighting temptations. New intel is hard to resist.
I don’t expect any of this change much in the next generation. We’ll keep seeing these little spoilers so as they contribute to a game’s commercial success. If anything, they might get worse (or better, depending on how you view this). If one game reveals a really big spoiler about itself before its release, perhaps a story spoiler, and then the game sells really well, it could become a marketing trend.
I hope that never happens.
Our games should be rich with surprises, big ones and small ones. They are a large part of what make games entertaining. Yes, it’s exciting to learn about new games in the months before their release. But it’s more exciting to get a new game, be transported to a fantastic world, and have no idea what’s going to happen next. The less we know, the more we can be surprised.