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News flash: Game of the years awards are
rigged. Another news flash: Empire Earth
is NOT a great game.
I’m in the middle of writing my latest
book, Games That Sell. Unlike the
tens of other gaming “how-to” books on the market –many of which are very good
reads—Games That Sell doesn’t explain
how to make a great game, but rather making a game that sells well. Sometimes
the two are one and the same, sometimes they’re not. Case in point, Empire Earth.
As Yoda would say, get me not wrong. This is
a good game. A good game, but nothing more. Empire
Earth is conventional real-time strategy built on an unconventional premise
–i.e. modeling war from cavemen to the future. Sierra’s public relation’s team took
it from there.
The public relations people mounted a
massive ad campaign. The game was prominently displayed at E3, and made the
cover of several game magazines. The PR folks pounded two angles: The game covers
lancers to lasers and it’s designed by the same guy (Rick Goodman) who created Age of Empires. Hence when the game
released, its name was more common than pasty skin at a game convention.
Create that level of buzz and all you need
is a solid game to back it up. Empire
Earth is solid, and the awards flocked in. The game was everyone’s
everything. Several game sites and magazines either named it game of the year,
strategy game of the year, or gave it runner up status in those categories.
But no one has played it. I’ve talked with
editors at several sites and a handful of prominent game journalists that never
took the wrapping off. No doubt somebody’s moused it around, but my informal
poll also leaves little doubt that Empire
Earth’s end of the year accolades had as much do with the huge buzz created
by Sierra’s PR department as it did with the actual quality of the game.
In one hand that’s okay. Good on Sierra
public relations. By promoting their product well, putting its name on
everyone’s lips, they “rigged” the end of year awards. And good on Rick
Goodman, Stainless Steel Studios, and the solid product that they turned out.
Without a good game Sierra’s PR efforts would have been for naught. On the
other hand, shame on all us journalists for getting duped into issuing end of
the year awards at all. Who cares if a game is the best, as long as it’s good? And
who’s to judge if it’s good if they haven’t even played it? Like I said, the
end of the year awards are rigged. Want to know what games are good? Ask a
© Mark H. Walker, LLC 2001
H. Walker is a veteran interactive entertainment journalist who has written
over 40 books including his recently released Medal of Honor and Wizardry 8
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