I experienced a most unusual moment last week: reading angry comments online about a newly unveiled trailer, while the people behind the trailer looked over my shoulder.
How can something that thrills a developer so anger a gamer?
On Wednesday evening last week, I sat on the sidelines of the Game Developers Choice Awards in the cavernous ceremony hall in the Moscone Convention center as word spread that development studio Infinity Ward would debut a trailer for "Modern Warfare 2" at the end of the show.
I was sitting on the floor next to Geoff Keighley, the host of Game Trailers TV and the reporter being both credited and blamed for teasing on his Twitter feed hours earlier about an announcement that was leading to this trailer debut.
I witnessed simultaneously both the rancor of a dissatisfied gaming Internet and the thrill of the people who make money trying to entertain such people.
Earlier in the day he had written: "Big surprise is multi-platform. And it goes down in about 6 or 7 hours." That pointed people to the Awards show. The big surprise was coming.
By the time the Awards began,a popular Internet message board was turning on Keighley already. Members had guessed that the game to be revealed was going to be "Modern Warfare 2," and not everyone was happy. It wasn't a surprise to members of NeoGAF that "Modern Warfare 2" existed. Some members of the board had been speculating grander ideas, like the leap of "Metal Gear Solid 4" to the Xbox 360 or a new "Contra." Maybe the return of the Dreamcast?
By the time the "Modern Warfare 2" trailer played to the packed audience, I had my nose in my laptop, filing a short post about it. I looked up and saw Geoff talking to people on the "Modern Warfare 2" publicity and development team.
They looked happy over there, proud of the trailer they'd just revealed.
Soon, I was standing with them. Apparently, developers are exhilarated after the airing of the first trailer for their next game, the first visual expression that the game they've been working on exists and is coming soon. The "Modern Warfare 2" guys seemed happy and energized -- even more-so when Hideo Kojima walked by and exchanged pleasantries.
Geoff suggested we check the instant reaction online, so I re-opened my laptop and logged onto GameTrailers.com with the "Modern Warfare 2" guys standing by. That's where we saw the trailer getting hammered. A first handful of comments under the trailer showed excitement: "YESSS!!!" and "omfg!!!!" The next batch was loaded with disdain. "That was crap. Nobody saw this coming!" was followed with "that was stupid" and "I'm looking forward to the game but the teaser didn't do much for me."
The fans had wanted gameplay. They wanted a surprise. The developers gave them a tease that few of the fans woke up that morning expecting.
Since I was holding the laptop, I was the one reading the comments aloud. It began to feel awkward. The instant reaction, negative as it was, didn't seem to bring the mood down. I couldn't tell you if the words stung the "Infinity Ward" guys, if they rolled off their back, or even if, for some reason, they agreed with them.
But what I can say is that, for the first time, I witnessed simultaneously both the rancor of a dissatisfied gaming Internet and the thrill of the people who make money trying to entertain such people.
It will be a hard image to shake the next time I see a trailer go live on the Internet and the vocal online community tears it up. I'll recall that somewhere out there, there may be a developer smiling, who thought he or she was doing good.
I'll think of the happy people, and I'll think of the angry people. I'll think of the challenge of getting those two groups to connect. And I'll wonder: what do these guys want from each other?