If you don’t remember the 90’s, you don’t know the meaning of hype

Hype is an absolutely amazing and wonderful thing that is sure to play into your future nostalgia in a very significant way.  While sometimes it can lead to unfounded excitement once you’ve got your shiny new game home, usually it is enough to build an incredibly strong memory of playing a game that will last you well into the future.

The onset of the internet and the constant bombardment of information has made it easier than ever before for publishers and developers to build hype for their games.  Advertisements, interviews, screenshots – information is drip-fed directly into our brains, slowly but surely building excitement and giving products positive momentum and consumer sentiment leading up to release.

But unless you were around in the 90’s you don’t know the meaning of hype.  A new intellectual property these days is met with an inherent excitement based purely around potential.  But in the 80’s and 90’s – a time ruled by the arcades – we were excited about very different game releases.  It wasn’t the new game teased on websites, or announced at E3 the previous year that we were running down to our local bricks and mortar store to preorder.  No,  we were excited about games we had played before, many of us routinely or obsessively for years.  Games we had probably paid the price of twice over in quarters.  Games we had been talking turkey with friends about in the schoolyard for the last two years. And games that we couldn’t believe we were getting to play in the comfort of our own homes.

We were excited about arcade game conversions.

Ryu

And what a time it was to be playing games, as these technical tour de forces were adorning screens across the neighbourhood.  There was no room for smoke and mirrors or broken promises.  The hype wasn’t something created and curated, but something organic that came from the genuine excitement of bringing your favourite arcade game home.  We knew exactly what we were getting when we took Street Fighter II home for the first time on the Super Nintendo, but it didn’t make it any less exciting.  It was a time when the console market boomed in Australia on the back of home ports of arcade games, as people clambered to get their hands on their favourite arcade game, and console manufacturers invented the (largely baseless) term “arcade perfect” to get an edge of their competitors.  There was a very tangible excitement lingering in the air of retailers that I haven’t seen since, and in all likelihood, will never seen again.  We weren’t excited  about a promise or potential, we were excited about an already established love and adoration.  In a way we had built our own hype, and all the marketing teams were doing was giving us a little nudge.  But it was this organic hype that made it so memorable because there was no big come down once we actually got our hands on the game.

Of course hype is still big business and key to filling the wallets of games industry shareholders and CEOs across the world.  But the equation is not the simple one it used to be, and preorders aside,  it is often the metacritic score that does the talking, as games more than ever rely on the big green light from critics.  Hype is important, but its no longer crucial with the onset of the 24 hour news cycle.  While there is a part of me that is glad consumers are more empowered than they perhaps have been in the past, I still feel profound sense of nostalgia (and sadness) for the good old days, where posters advertising upcoming games had kids begging their parents for advances on their pocket money, and kids flicked through catalogues planning their birthday and christmas lists based purely on box art.  But it was a different world where we weren’t betting on an unknown horse, but on a surefire winner. It was a time where there was a tangible excitement about something new, about the future, about video games.  Sure it may have been hype, but it is that bombastic attitude toward selling products that I remember the most fondly about video games in the 90’s.  And like many artefacts I’ve held onto since childhood, this poster advertising the release of Super Street Fighter II’s release on the SEGA Mega Drive, is a reminder of that time.  I will always remember that Super Street Fighter II was a 40MB cartridge, but I have no idea how big the modern blockbuster is.  Hyper isn’t just a fleeting feeling, it is a key component of my nostalgia.  And I’m eternally grateful to those marketers for that.

Have a favourite arcade port, or memory of the hype leading up to the home release of an arcade blockbuster?  Let us know in the comments.

SSF2 Mega Drive

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “If you don’t remember the 90’s, you don’t know the meaning of hype

  1. Ken

    When I started going to arcades and actually paid attention to arcades, all I saw were fighting games, so seeing Mortal Kombat and all the hype surrounding that going to someone’s homethrough commercials was exhilarating. There was no internet, chat room, user names, avatars, message board. Seeing a game with our own eyes was its own word of mouth. The Mortal Kombat II sizzle reel is still the most effective piece of hype ever and there hasn’t been games that can come close to its reach.

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    • It’s true, I could watch those things over and over again, and never get bored. I can remember poring over a ‘sizzle’ poster for Mortal Kombat II’s fatalities every day at lunch at school with friends, for probably a month. It was absolute excitement. And then, even though we’d been playing it in the arcades for probably more than a year, we were STILL excited when it made its way to home consoles. I have never seen hype anywhere nearing what went on in those days.

      People say the golden age of the arcade was the 80’s, but as you say, walking into an arcade and seeing row after row of fighting games – all with line ups at them – is one of my fondest memories.

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