Some Thoughts on Hype, Scythe, and Harry Potter

6 October 2015 | 25 Comments

1920_folk_festival_smallHype probably isn’t what you think it is.

A few days ago I saw a post on Facebook in which someone asked what all the hype surrounding Scythe was about. This isn’t unique to Scythe–I’m sure at some point you’ve heard people talk about hype online or in person. You may have done it yourself. It could be in reference to a game, book, movie, song, Kickstarter project, etc, and often something will be labeled “overhyped.”

When I saw the Facebook post, I was finally able to put into words what I tried to elucidate 10 months ago when I wrote about the hype around Scythe’s announcement. Even then–just days after the announcement–some people were labeling Scythe as overhyped. Which is fine; that’s their right. But I think we should have some clarity on what hype really is, because I think people are often confusing “overhyped” with “overrated.”

“Hype” is a person or people expressing their excitement about something.

That’s it. That’s all it is. If something is “hyped,” it means that people are excited about it. Thus, similarly, if you feel that something is “overhyped,” you’re really just saying that you’re not excited. It’s kind of odd to me that anyone would take to social media to express that they’re not excited about something, but hey, that’s up to them.

The key here is that hype is not available for judgment, which is the sense I get whenever I see someone talk about how something is overhyped. There is nothing wrong with being excited about something, even if you don’t share that excitement. If Brandon Sanderson fans and I am hyped up about the new Mistborn book, it’s kind of weird for you to go out of your way to say that you’re not excited about it. Just let us be excited without impediment.

This is in stark contrast to saying something is “overrated,” which is what I think people often mean to say when they talk about hype. “Overrated” is a quantitative statement of judgment–you’re saying that something you’ve personally experienced is not as good as others say it is. Again, I think it’s a weird for someone to go out of their way on social media to say something sucks (why not spend your time and energy on the stuff you love instead of the stuff you hate), but that’s up to you.

One of the unfortunate things about hype is that it has the power to repel instead of compel. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s no good reason for this. I guess it’s just in our nature to take sides, even when we’re talking about something as insubstantial as excitement.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_StoneI remember all the “hype” about the first few Harry Potter books, and it was because of that hype that I originally stayed away from them. A book about a young wizard? What’s the big deal?

But then I realized that just because people are excited about something doesn’t make it bad—it just means that a lot of people like it! So I started reading the books, and I loved them.

Looking back, I really regret not giving the first few Harry Potter books a chance as they were released, because I missed out on all the great discussions that might have happened if I had read them at the same time as everyone else. I let this nebulous idea of “hype” get in the way of something awesome.

That’s the really great thing about hype–it’s an opportunity to share excitement with other people. How cool is that? Rather than rejecting it, I should have embraced that opportunity.

Companies don’t control excitement–people do.

This is an addendum to follow a thought-provoking comment to the post. Eric postulated that “over-hyping is bad marketing,” which is an interesting statement with which I disagree. It seems to indicate that hype is controlled by companies, but hype isn’t in the hands of companies. There is no Excitement Button we can press to generate hype.

I don’t control Scythe’s hype. I control the information we put out there about it, but the excitement is completely generated by individual people, not me. I’m glad you said that, though, because I think a lot of people use “hype” in that way, as if companies control hype.

Companies control content, not hype. Hype is in your hands.

Every time you see a new crowdfunding project, you have the opportunity to be a part of the collective experience of shared excitement.

I know this is kind of an odd topic to broach on my crowdfunding blog, but Kickstarter is all about shared excitement. If a project is hyped and doing really well, don’t put it down just because you’re not intrigued by it. If you’re genuinely curious about why people are excited about a project that you’re not into, ask the question with genuine curiosity, not judgment.

If you’d like to listen to some of the positive benefits of a collective mass of people being excited about a board game project, check out a recent podcast I recorded with Charlie and Raf at Ding & Dent.

25 Comments on “Some Thoughts on Hype, Scythe, and Harry Potter

    1. Thanks! I’m still finishing the third book, but I was excited to see my Kindle receive the new book last night. Do I need to read the spinoff 4th book before this one, or should I jump right to this one?

      1. Honestly, I haven’t had the time to start reading it either yet. Based on what I’ve seen you probably could just jump to the new book, but since it has the same characters as the spinoff, and takes place after that story, I’d recommend reading that one first.

        Also, it’s a great book and I’d recommend it anyways, regardless of whether you read it first or not.

          1. Whenever anyone asks me for my advice regarding which Brandon Sanderson book to read my answer is usually: ALL OF THEM!!! STARTING RIGHT NOW!!!! AND DO NOT STOP UNTIL YOU HAVE FINISHED THEM ALL!!!

  1. FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE! … I’ll read Harry Potter!

    JK. (That stands for “Just Kidding”, not Mrs. Rawlings obligatory first initials as an english writer. : P )

    I do appreciate your distinguishing the 2 concepts though. What’s amazing to me is that as young as Stonemaier Games is that it’s got the POWER to generate such Hype. It’s the type of “new big guy power” that usually pushes me exactly away like hype does. I’m feeling that even now. – Like I do about the new star wars movies. – What a neat experience. – Well, then I choose to realize that and deal with it with my will instead instead of my emotions. : )

    John

    1. John: Interesting point. It does seem to be true that certain companies and people tend to have more power to generate excitement than others (there are many that are way more powerful than Stonemaier too). But you’re right, there is something about the “new guy big power” that can end up repelling people for some reason.

  2. I may be being a pedant, but I have to respectfully disagree with your conclusion that objects cannot be “over” (or following your logic “under”) hyped. Your definition of hype as the degree that someone is excited about an object is a good one. However, when someone refers to something as “over-hyped” it is not that they are stating that they are “more excited”. Instead, they are making a judgment regarding the quantity of excitement an object is eliciting relative to the overall quality of that object. Basically, it is saying that an object is getting more attention than that the object truly “deserves”.

    I think this also explains why people are wary of highly-hyped objects. Highly-hyped objects have higher expectations and are likely not to completely deliver on those expectations. Although the product still may be better than the average, if it undershoots expectations consumers will experience dissatisfaction. (Which could lead one to run to social media and report on how over-hyped the item is). To put it simply, over-hyping is bad marketing.

    On a personal note, this is why I was so emotionally scarred by Star Wars Episode 1. After being raised on the first trilogy and having the loftiest expectations, it was bound to disappoint. Episodes 1-3 may not be the worst movies ever made, but I found them dreadful and they have killed the series for me (stupid hype). Thankfully, I have had no expectations when reading the Mistborn trilogy and am enjoying it immensely!

    1. Eric: Thanks for your thoughts! This is well said: “Basically, it is saying that an object is getting more attention than that the object truly “deserves”.”

      I think it’s that last point that gets under my skin when someone calls something “overhype”–who are we to decide what others “deserve” to get excited about? Again, it’s distinctly different than saying it’s “overrated,” which speaks to the actual quality of the thing.

      It does make sense, as you say, that if people are really excited about something, their expectations are bound to be higher too. Though that seems like something for them to worry about, not the people who aren’t excited about the thing.

      I disagree that over-hyping is bad marketing, because it seems to indicate that hype is controlled by companies. I don’t control Scythe’s hype. I control the information we put out there about it, but the excitement is completely generated by individual people, not me. I’m glad you said that, though, because I think a lot of people use “hype” in that way, as if companies control hype. Companies control content, not hype. Hype is in your hands. :)

      1. Jamey: Well put. In a time of social media and viral messages consumers are often responsible for a large chunk of the hype that may pervade the marketplace. However, to assume that companies do not try to produce and often succeed at producing hype is naive. Creating and increasing hype (which companies often refer to as “buzz”) is part of almost every marketing media strategy these days. Companies control more than the information that they release into the marketplace. They often also control the how, when, what, where, and how much of the information they put out there. These are the levers they can pull to attempt to either create or control the quantity of hype surrounding their product. Strategies are numerous ranging from as simple as media blitzes to pre-release advertising to utilizing scarcity and letting product information slowly “leak out” to the public. But who has a hand in creating hype isn’t where we probably have our philosophical differences.

        We also probably both agree that individuals can each have their own equally valid opinion regarding the quality of experience an object delivers. Where we appear to differ is whether individuals can (or should) make value judgments based upon those experiences. I believe that individuals should make judgments based on these experiences and that they should use the general consensus of the marketplace as a reference point for their judgments. This allows for a clear distinction between “overhyped” and “overrated”. If their personal judgment a product is less than the general judgment of the product, then they should refer to it as “overrated”. If their personal excitement (or their personal judgment) for a product is less than the general excitement for a product, then they should refer to it as “overhyped”. These are individual judgments of market valuations and can be very valuable and meaningful in the correct context.

        Finally, we do appear to agree with what they should do with their judgments. I agree that there doesn’t seem to be much reason to go out and troll the world when you find something overhyped or overrated. I understand why one may do that (we do prefer to spread negative WOM and people generally find negative WOM more diagnostic), but I can’t say I condone shouting negative generalities from rooftops.

        Thanks for listening. I’ll let it drop now!

        1. Eric: Absolutely, I agree that companies TRY to create hype through content they release. Releasing content to generate excitement is distinctly different than controlling the level of that excitement, though.

          I think this is very well said: “I agree that there doesn’t seem to be much reason to go out and troll the world when you find something overhyped or overrated.” I wholeheartedly agree! :)

  3. ‘Overhyped’ I think means something slightly different to ‘hype’ in the sense you’re thinking. I quite agree that hype in the sense of excitement is great. When I’ve seen the term overhyped used, however, I’ve always interpreted it as meaning ‘over-saturated marketing’ (Which while I do not agree applies to Scythe, I don’t think that ‘overrated’ would imply that at all… And the idea that a board game in the hobby industry could have over-saturated marketing seems a little amusing. Even big boardgames don’t tend to do much in the way of advertising aside the occasional podcast sponsorship and sending out review copies – I think a couple of companies have started doing product placement deals, but… I wouldn’t say that copies of Dominion appearing in warehouses in tv shows is on the same level of saturation as, say, the video game Destiny. It isn’t even at the same level as the board game Atmosphere [You’re more likely to know it as Nightmare] was back when I was a kid.)

    The hype surrounding Scythe? As far as I can tell is entirely organic – a theme that captured a lot of people’s imaginations, captured in the announcement image of the box cover, that grabbed a lot of people’s attention, a description that blew a lot of people’s minds (“Agricola meets Kemit” is quite the elevator pitch to a consumer…), and then most everything else has been interview driven and what playtester’s have mentioned about the game, plus the steady drip feeding of art and components that I expect from a major release for a publisher that’s just preparing for launch, be it on Kickstarter or into the market.

  4. The notion that you cannot control hype is really, imo, disingenuous. Of course you can. It’s almost exactly defined as that in marketing. No release materials = no hype. Release of amateurish materials = bad hype. Release of fascinating paintings without game mechanics = hype. Release of great game after fantastic materials = orgasm.

    Why are you, usually so much to the point, and so very non-defensive in 99% of your writings, adopting a defensive posture over something that is almost guaranteed to be a financial success for you? What is your personal gripe that you have sort of addressed in this article but not truly tasked yourself with sorting out and getting to your own inner truth and then writing about?

    Jamey, this article really comes across as your public reaction to unusually high popularity of one of your unreleased games. You’re in new territory. Enjoy the sights.

    And of course you aren’t misleading or using hype to publish drek- we all know this about you. But this game is more talked about at an earlier stage than any of your other games, and well above average the typical boardgame across the spectrum. Don’t let your own nerves fail you into becoming publicly defensive now.

    And btw, your definition of hype is flawed. It has two distinct meanings, the push and the receiving end. Hype is to push the marketing of something, the transitive form of the verb. The other, “hyped” is usually used as a state of being (or as a passive construct- hyped BY): “I am hyped about…” means closer to what you state as the only definition.

    The resentment comes over the first definition- the clever marketing push some people get sick of. Think star wars. Popular, but also over hyped. It doesn’t need to be pushed so darned hard to be successful, and yet it invades so many areas of our lives that those of us who don’t want to know about it HAVE to know about it. Ugh.

    As usual thanks for the discussion.

    1. Katelyn: Thanks for your thoughts! I think maybe you’re misinterpreting the post–I’m really not being defensive at all about the way a few random people have said Scythe is “overhyped.” Rather, I’m trying to use my platform to do something good. The good I’m trying to do is to help people not get in the way of other people’s excitement. That’s a good thing, yes?

  5. I totally agree with your points Jamey! Personally, I usually find that many people will be excited about something and not necessarily jump online to say anything about it, while a couple of people who dislike it (for whatever reason), will be far more vocal.
    Congrats on an incredible project by the way. I just backed Scythe, and I’m impressed by the low costs and high quality – gotta love Ideaspatcher!

  6. My thoughts as I read this was the affects of propaganda. Ie…. Distinguishing between hype as defined, the result of excitement and passion versus one artificially inflated. Which I think is because of propaganda. You’ll have ebbs and flows with hype, but will you actually have to continue to sink much time and effort into the overall growth? I don’t think so… Because it takes a life of its own. I don’t think you’ll get the same results from a marketing machine.

    Ps. Thanks for the heads up on mistborn. I can’t believe I missed that….

    1. I agree with Katherine. To me, hype denotes excitement that is grown artificially (rather than organically).

      The excitement I have observed about Scythe is of the organic variety. It’s a new game from SMG, a company that has earned a reputation for game design, for delivering KS rewards, for communication, and for community.

      The Scythe project is immensely ambitious, in terms of design and of components. If it was the first game or KS from a new publisher, it would be hard to establish credibility.

      The excitement about Scythe arises, I think, from the blending of two vital ingredients: the reputation of SMG; and the ambition of the Scythe project. The reputation makes many of us confident that the ambition will be realized.

  7. I don’t think it’s right to say that saying something is ‘overhyped’ is merely saying you;re not excited by it. I think that hype is the degree of excitement in the community (whichever community that may be) and that someone declaring something to be overhyped is them saying that the level of excitement in the community exceeds the expected level.

    If you expect 50 messages on BGG stating their excitement about the project and there are 500, that could potentially be seen as being overhyped, even if the person themselves is excited by the project.

    I think the difficulty with hype is being able to live up to the excitement generated in the community and the higher that gets the harder it is to meet those expectations because, at a certain point, they tend to build higher and higher, no matter what you do to try to temper them.

    And when hype reaches a certain point there’s always backlash.

    So there you go, that backlash, the overhyped statements, are people just being a little cynical that the project can match the excitement levels in the community at large.

    That’s how I’d read it anyway

  8. Personally I think that excitement is fine and wonderful, but there does come a point where its wearing to be repeatedly confronted with someone else’s excitement over something you happen not to be interested in. A few times it feels good, you’re happy for them, you might look into the thing yourself. In specific places it makes sense. But when people are shouting about something that you don’t feel anything for everywhere you go I think its actually legitimate to ask them to reign that excitement in a little bit, and sometimes that takes the form of complaining about the fact that you’re hearing it everywhere. Personally I think that most people are being reasonable most of the time, and I don’t think that people who complain about what they see as over-hype are necessarily ‘trolls’.

    Is it possible to be over-excited about things? Is that over-excitement possibly bad? If you’ve ever spent time around small children I think that answer is obvious. Often hype exists before a product, its based upon a few pieces of art and a description. At that point, what people will actually get could be anything and controlling that expectation to avoid a backlash when some people who were very excited indeed don’t get what they wanted is part of a company’s advertising and promotion campaign. Failing to do so is legitimate to be considered bad marketing I think.

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