With the year's big video game conventions now past and the big holiday releases almost upon us, I would like to take some time and write about what may not necessarily be a unique issue of the gaming industry and culture, but still an important one nonetheless; hype.
A quick anecdote to put what I am trying to say in perspective. In 2012, Ubisoft showed off a short trailer, a couple of images and a promise of a new top-tier franchise, Watch Dogs. With nothing else, the internet exploded. How cool is the idea of controlling a vigilante hacking wizard in the streets of Chicago? Follow up with the next E3, with the first new information in a year. More hype, more buzzwords. Sandbox action. GTA killer. The buzz around this game was tangible. Follow up with a disappointing, but ultimately understandable announcement; the game has been delayed, but only by 6 months. Then, shortly before release, we see early reviews coming in. Bugs, downplayed graphics, a simplified story lacking in content, etc. The stress builds. By the time of release, expectations are tempered at best. Watch Dogs, at the time of this article, holds a very respectable 80 on Metacritic. Respectable? With the hype that surrounded this game, anything less than 90 is terrible, and less than 100 is a disappointment.
Ubisoft has a large portion of blame to shoulder here. Many of the things they promised, they did not deliver on; there are plenty of videos out there that show you the blatant differences from the playable demos at conventions and the final product. At the same time, however, those who cannot manage their own expectations are part to blame too. Did we really think that a new IP, from the developers/publishers of Assassin's Creed and Tom Clancy games, better than GTA, a series that wasn't anything special until its third iteration? If you thought that, I am very sorry that you set yourself up for disappointment, but that is your own fault.
I am not just picking on Watch Dogs either. Destiny, ironic though it is, has a worse overall score than Watch Dogs, yet is more successful commercially, with a much larger and loyal fan-base, though many initial players have since left or are not necessarily active. I'd make the argument that Destiny was a bigger let down than Watch Dogs, with minimal and frankly lousy single player content, half baked DLC, and serious RNG issues, not to mention the pre-release hype that yet again did not pan out in favor of us, the gamers. While some of those issues have been addressed with the latest expansion, The Taken King, the first year for Destiny was rough to say the least.
Another great example of mismanaged expectations, due largely in part of the developer and publisher, is The Order 1886, released earlier this year. I would definitely say that Santa Monica Studios and Ready at Dawn tried to stifle any pre-release negativity, especially based around the game's length. I would also mention that this is the same group of people that brought us God of War, a game that has a trophy for beating it in under 5 hours, which is easily achievable, has quick-time event bosses, and has little to no replay value, but is considered on of the best exclusive series on consoles. The Order 1886 has, in my opinion, a better lore, more interesting and sustainable universe suitable for a franchise, and is easily one of the best graphical games out there, on any console or PC.
This is not a post just on the negative aspects of hype though. I am one of many JRPG fans ecstatic for the upcoming release of Persona 5, and do not even get me started on the Final Fantasy VII remake, or the new Nier project. That very excitement drives discussion about a game or series, which can have a real and tangible effect on the product. It is not uncommon for developers to send out surveys to fans who have subscribed to newsletters or to stake out forums for ideas, feedback, and get a general idea what their fans and targeted audience wants and thinks. While not everything we want can always be what we get, we can have an impact on those that create the things that we love so much. So don't be afraid to get excited for a game, but do what you can to keep your expectations realistic, and try to keep a dialogue going between yourself and other fans, because even if you know you wont get it, wouldn't it be so awesome if Pokémon had an age option included in character creation? What if you could be a Quarian or a Drell in Mass Effect Andromeda? Could Naoto be a party member, social link, or even a cameo in Persona 5? Taking part in forums and other public platforms for positive discussion, debate and speculation can and should be a positive thing about the video game community.
To the game developers and publishers, honesty on your part is important, and I realize that video games are a tricky business, you wouldn't want to say to gamers or investors that you are making a bad, mediocre or even just an okay game, because no-one wants that. However, when you show off your product, it should be with clear understanding that what you are showing is indicative of the product itself, and not a specially rendered and well thought out demo that is better than the game. I would say to developers, make the game you want, not what you think your "target audience" wants, or get the feedback from your fans, if anyone can be honest about what they think of a product, its gamers.
To the gamers, you can have realistic expectations without being jaded or cynical. For example, will Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 change everything about the series, revitalizing it in a way that has not happened since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare? Again, not likely, Activision and Treyarch have found a formula that works for them, in addition to the last two games under-performing in part because of the changes almost guarantees that this will play more like previous Black Ops titles. However, we do know that it does have some changes, and the futuristic technology and map design do appear to be more in line with Advance Warfare, but if you are worried about that, you will always have Zombies, with over-the-top action and fun. Those are realistic and reasonable examples, and if those basic expectations were betrayed, you would have every right to complain.
Hype is very real, and like many things in life, is best in moderation. Regardless if you are someone that can get carried away, or if you are underwhelmed and jaded, the best thing you can do is talk to your fellow fans and gamers; get their perspective, their take on the subject. Just so long as the developers and publishers do their part, disappointments like those that we have seen recently can easily become a rarer occurrence, and not an expectation.