Hype in the gaming industry is a form of entertainment all its own, and history has shown that plenty of people LOVE getting wrapped up in the pre-release fanfare. This is not only something that consumes people in their search for information; it can also be big business for those who cater to that crowd.
Remember Diablo II pre-release? The super-slow info leaks from Blizzard, including releasing teaser or outright misleading screenshots? The countless fan sites that literally broke down every single screenshot, dev post, or movie frame by frame? How many mega-sites launched years before D2 was released, feeding on that info frenzy and no doubt making a pretty penny along the way? If you don’t remember it, just follow along as the same thing happens with Diablo III.
That frenzy did not hurt Diablo because, well, Diablo was an amazing game. For all its hype, it lived up to it and more. No backlash from the super fans, and everyone following the game got to play something great, perhaps even enhanced due to all their ‘insider’ knowledge and being able to finally experience what they had been waiting for all those months/years.
Pre-release and post-release are two different phases of a games life cycle, and success in either can lead to some profit, while success in both is not only rare, but also exponentially rewarding. If your hype machine succeeds in selling a ton of people on a pile of crap, and that crap had a modest dev budget, you can still turn a profit even though your actual game failed to ultimately deliver (AoC for example). At the same time, a quality MMO will EVENTUALLY get the attention it deserves; even if it takes a while for word of mouth to spread (EVE is perhaps the best example). And of course the genre’s most famous example, WoW, delivered on both a successful hype machine and a quality game (since ruined by carebears, obviously). The MMO graveyard is littered with failed hype AND failed game examples.
And just like the games themselves have different phases, so do fans. Some people only play the pre-release hype game, jumping from one game to the next, always feeding on the possibility that the next game is going to be ‘the one’, moving on from a previous game a month or so after release because it did not live up to their own self-created vision of what that game should be. Others not only ignore all pre-release hype, but give any MMO a good 3-6 months of post-release time before getting interested, knowing that what is promised or even delivered on day one is NOT going to be the same game 3-6 months later. Between the two extremes is the gray area, where fans might pick a title or two to follow pre-release due to a particular interest, but generally don’t engage in the long, drawn out process of following a project years before release and gobbling up any and all scraps of information.
At the end of the day, regardless of how effective the hype machine was, or how many superfan dreams get crushed at release, a quality title will attract its buyers, and more importantly, deliver a quality gaming experience for its target audience. After all, we are GAMING fans, and not news/hype fans… right?