Shank’s Spiel: Gamer Expectation
If the recent release of Watch Dogs has taught us anything, it’s that people expect incredible things from major game releases. Whether it be the new Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, or new IPs like Titanfall and Watch Dogs, gamers expect big things.
Over the last two years, I’ve noticed a general disappointment and downright anger when games aren’t exactly what they’re hyped up to be. Phrases like “revolutionary” and “genre defining” are used so liberally to describe these titles leading up to their release, and gamers get angry when those games aren’t, in fact, “revolutionary” nor “genre defining.”
Now, that’s not to say that those games aren’t fun. Quite the contrary. They are fun games, in my all-encompassing and always correct opinion, but they aren’t as fun as gamers expected them to be. They aren’t as big and grandiose as they hoped.
It is this disappointment from gamers that makes me so thoroughly angry so as to make my blood reach a boiling pitch of outright fury. And so, clearly, this merits a Spiel.
You may think this is ironic, considering I discuss gamers’ expectations in Episode 7. However, there’s a big difference. Episode 7 discussed our right to be upset about woefully broken games at launch. Today’s Spiel is all about managing expectations of said games prior to launch. There’s a big difference.
So, what’s going on here? Why are gamers so frequently disappointed? Gather close, my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of…ahem.
I think the problem is multifaceted. I don’t believe the blame can be entirely placed on one side or the other, as the mainstream industry outlets love to do so often. This issue is more complex than it seems on the surface.
Perhaps most obviously, publishers are partially to blame for hyping their product beyond recognition and promising the Moon. Yes, it is their job to sell their product and ensure returns, but I mean come on. You have to draw the line somewhere.
A perfect example of this is Watch Dogs. This game has five(!!) collector’s editions, each one providing content the other doesn’t have. This only serves to divide consumers and simultaneously artificially drive up interest. Which version are you going to get? Do you want these extra missions, or do you want Aiden’s iconic cap?
Similarly, they use words like “revolutionary” and “genre defining” to describe their product. I’m sorry. No game will be truly “revolutionary” for as long as publishers sit in their conservative circles, too damn scared to take a giant leap forward and experiment with new gameplay mechanics, tech, and methods of story telling.
These games aren’t giant leaps. They’re small steps forward, and in some cases, no movement at all, resulting in titles that have absolutely no right to call themselves “revolutionary.”
Secondly, part of the blame lies with these mainstream industry outlets. With sites like IGN telling you to “believe the hype“, they only prove my point that these outlets and “journalists” simply can’t take pragmatic views on anything these days.
You have to remember that as someone who lives, breathes, and genuinely loves this industry, I know what information to trust and parse out by now. As soon as anyone says “revolutionary” or “believe the hype”, I will immediately tune out. At this point, I know better than to blindly listen to what the likes of IGN has to say.
However, for the more casual gamer who enjoys games but isn’t so engrossed in the industry, it is only natural to listen to and believe whatever the industry media says. After all, these outlets have played the game, right? So clearly, they know what they’re talking about. It would make sense for you to trust these “experts.”
And here is where the industry outlets rear their ignorant heads. It is their job and duty to advise the consumer with rational, well-thought-out information so that the consumer can make an intelligent buying decision. I understand that these journalists are gamers too, but come on. As a professional, it is your duty to divorce your own subjective reactions from the objective information that is required of you.
To tell your readers to “believe the hype” only serves to demonstrate your utter inadequacy to provide rational, objective, well-thought-out information to your reader. It just degrades your reputation and integrity and only serves to show how easily you buy into publishers’ hyperbole.
Finally, we come to the point in this piece which I’m sure will divide many of you and have you scream expletives at me. Ready?
The final piece of the blame lies with the gamer. Yes. The gamer, the paying consumer. There is a logic here. The gamer is only exposed to information put out by the media, who in turn is exposed to information put out by the publishers. See the natural flow of information?
Again, I am pretty used to the ridiculous hype attached to the release of every AAA game today, but your more casual gamer isn’t. He may look at game footage, listen to the on-stage marketing from the developer, and immediately become excited, having taken the bait. When he gets the final game, he’ll realize that the game doesn’t turn out to be that “revolutionary” experience. And so, he gets upset. This is a never ending cycle I’ve noticed over the last two years.
This is a problem. Gamers need to learn to parse out hyperbole from what may be actually possible. As a consumer who is willing to hand over actual money for a product and service, you owe it to yourself to take a far more pragmatic approach. Constantly question the developer and publisher.
Specifically, how is this game “revolutionary”? How are you going to provide me specific experiences that I couldn’t get before? What exactly makes this game “genre defining”? Can I really control an entire city?
These aren’t unrealistic questions. Yet so often, gamers simply forgo this step and immediately believe whatever the publisher says. This only sets up gamers up for inevitable disappointment. It’s not healthy for the industry. More importantly, it’s not healthy for the gamer.
By taking a pragmatic, not pessimistic, approach, by asking grounded questions, gamers can temper their expectations. Rather than expecting the publisher to literally deliver the moon, gamers will instead have far more grounded and plausible expectations.
And guess what? This will only allow you, the gamer, to enjoy the game that much more. You will be able to appreciate the experience you were looking forward to all because your expectations remained realistic throughout.
I know this, because I learned my harsh lesson with Rage. That game was utter crap because I expected megatexture to solve every problem known to man. I believed the hype. I was horribly wrong. From then on, I’ve learned to temper my expectations and take a far more pragmatic approach to games, especially for AAA titles hyped into the ground.
This what needs to change in the industry. Publishers need to stop promising the moon. Media outlets need to stop letting their own bias seep into objective information. Gamers need to stop blindly believing everything publishers and media outlets say.
By changing this cadence, by ridding ourselves of this endless cycle of entirely preventable toxic disappointment, will we actually enjoy the one thing we love doing most: playing games.