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A Picture is Worth A Thousand Lies

August 20th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 7 Comments · Industry

Tom Ohle has written a nice explanation of the “bullshot” process – the hows and whys about screenshots that do not accurately reflect what a game will actually look like.

Ultimately, he says, it’s all of our fault.

If I see a screenshot, I expect it to look cool, or else I’ll probably lose interest in that game. So let’s say a publisher takes the honest route and releases a screenshot of an in-development game without doctoring it. Imagine the outcry with me. NeoGAF would explode with cries of, “hahah, what a piece of shit!” Other hardcore fans would laugh at the lack of anti-aliasing. Yet others would ridicule the terrible facial expressions. Or the missing texture on the floor. You get the picture.

He also blames the long cycle of announcements, previews and production information for the procedure. Dragon Age, he notes, was announced five years ago and people were starved for content about it for a long time.

This is why, I think, it doesn’t do a lot of good to put blame on gamers or game forum dwellers. After all, as fussy and obnoxious as they/we can be, they/we aren’t the ones who decided that the best way to gin up sales for a game was to promote it as a major media experience for years. Gamers are certainly a part of the hype machine that generates bullshots, but they aren’t the ones who plugged it in.

We in the games media are certainly part of the problem. I’ve written before about how the games media has perpetuated a culture that thrives on the next big thing – previews and predictions – with even the recent past being largely ignored. Exclusive Previews are big eyeball generators and fueled the print arm of the industry for a long time. This means you get screenshots of things that can never happen in a game, or use art or info that will be tossed six months before release.

Link to your favorite bullshot in the comments.


7 Comments so far ↓

  • Tom Ohle

    Yeah, I agree that it’s probably not fair to point the blame at gamers — as you say, they’re just taking what’s given to them. I think that players would be just as happy — nay, much happier — if publishers announced a game with a trailer, a big batch of screenshots and a note of, “oh yeah, this game will be out next month.”

    I’m fairly sure that sales would end up being comparable to what we see now with the long product cycles… you’d assume that media would be saturated with news about the “just announced and almost available” products. PS3 Slim may be a good example of that.

  • baxterpunch

    There was a pretty good article on Joystiq recently that hinted at, without coming straight out and saying, these screens were bullshots.

    Modern Warfare for the Wii:

    Article: http://www.joystiq.com/2009/08/19/wiis-call-of-duty-modern-warfare-screens-cant-be-helped/

    Offending Screens: http://www.joystiq.com/photos/call-of-duty-modern-warfare-wii/2218976/full/

    And here: http://www.joystiq.com/photos/call-of-duty-modern-warfare-wii/2218996/full/

  • Ginger Yellow

    I find it hard to imagine a print magazine without screenshots, but I pretty much ignore them on the web. The only typical preview content I pay any attention to – beyond the writers’ impressions and what the developers have to say for themselves, of course – is gameplay footage.

    But there’s no reason why developers/publishers couldn’t be more creative with their preview material early in the process while staying honest. What about concept art? Or level meshes? The hardcore would find that sort of stuff fascinating. Publishers in particular seem to think that opening that sort of material up to the public will somehow shatter the illusion of the perfectly formed end product, but that’s nonsense. I’m sure they’re also a bit concerned about other developers nicking their stuff, but again, that’s something they can protect against with a bit of effort.

  • Sarkus

    The funny thing is that the “bullshot” idea applies to the retail side of gaming as well. When I worked for GameStop for several years as a manager it was always about the next big thing with congratulations about the last big thing being few and far in between. The three day annual managers conference was always almost completely focused on the expected big titles for the holidays, but then when we went back the next year there’d be just a few awards handed out for a seemingly random selection of titles, most being in the time since the holiday.

  • Alan Au

    Do trailers and cutscenes count? One of the pitfalls is that prerendered cutscenes take some time to assemble, and they’re sometimes created before the in-game details have been finalized.

  • George Geczy

    A while back we actually used to release screenshots of our development cycle, identified as such, but then two things happened – first, we got a lot of the “that’s pretty ugly” comments, and secondly, some of the screenshots stuck around like an unwanted guest – lazy web sites looking for shots to fill their list after we released would often find these old shots and just post them, resulting in our 2005 release being accompanied by 2001-era alpha build screens :)

    For games that are not very photogenic like ours, media screenshots are a necessary evil, but I refuse to create ‘doctored’ versions at any point. We are what we are.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Is the bullshot any different from the packaging on a frozen dinner that ends up barely resembling the box shot? Or the cover girl who’s flaws and imperfections are airbrushed out? Or the live album experience which is tweaked with ProTools? And on and on and on…

    We live in a consumer culture of fantasies and expectations, it’s no surprise the bullshot exists. Although I dare you to find a single indie title that uses bullshots!