Believe the Hype: Expectation vs Reality in Games

Watch Dogs

If you are anything like me, you remember exactly where you were when the demo P.T. snuck into the Playstation Store.  I remember sitting in a giant chair with my leg hanging off the arm, bored and tapping away on my phone.  I found an article talking about the release of a mysterious “Playable Teaser” and immediately hopped on my Playstation 4 to find it.  This, of course, ended up being a ninja-reveal of Konami’s Silent Hills”  What followed was three days of obsessive playing and research.  Trying to get that ending.  Trying to figure out how to trigger the third laugh.

Reading theories online, some of them incredibly clever and out of the box.  Hype had reached an absolute fever pitch for this game.  Everyone speculated what a Silent Hill title helmed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro could possibly look like.  We were teased with a further concept demo that suggested some seriously surreal psychological horror.  Being a survival horror fan, I can’t express how happy I was that something this out-of-the-box was happening.

…then it was cancelled.

Like many, I was shocked, heartbroken and pretty angry.  It felt different from a normal cancellation.  More personal.  I mean, we played the game.  We already became immersed in the lore, which raised so many questions:  Who was Lisa?  What was the deal with the talking fetus in the sink, the weird-stilts-guy in the hallway, etc.  Now, we will never know because, well, that’s it.  P.T. became the beginning and end of that journey.  Even the demo itself was wiped from the store and now all we are left with is fond memories of hyping a game that never existed.  There were even petitions pleading for the projects revival, to no avail.  All that excitement for nothing.  It was really frustrating.

P.T.P.T. Image Source

Which left me to wonder about the use of hype in the video game industryWhether it’s hyping a game way too far in advance ala No Man’s Sky, or showing deceptive footage of an upcoming release to generate hype, as was the case with Watch Dogs. Kickstarter has also served to generate hype only to ultimately let consumers down.  Games that are over hyped often disappoint, especially when they end up being a different experience entirely, or simply never see the light of day.

Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs Graphics Comparison. Image Source.

This begs the question: how much hype is healthy?  At what point is it too much, or becomes a detriment?  Hype, of course, can be a good thing.  Studios and publishers build plenty of hype prior to a launch through marketing and trade-shows in order to promote their products and garner excitement.  That is positive, provided the products actually live up to the hype, but often they do not.  When publishers and developers build hype for their games so far in advance, that hype can snowball.  Getting bigger and bigger, and more distorted.  The internet certainly doesn’t help with this.  Consumers can use sites like Reddit to group together and speculate, dissect and develop various expectations.  When a game finally releases and it didn’t live up to expectation, it can be really frustrating for all involved.  Even if the game itself really isn’t that bad.  Remember the controversy surrounding Fable?

FableFable. Image Source.

Peter Molyneux, developer of Fable, oozed confidence during development of the 2004 title, making all sorts of promises to fans, and reportedly said Fable will be the “best game ever”.  Those are tall words for any developer, but it was pretty easy to be swayed by a pre-2004 Peter Molyneux.  This was, of course, before he became synonymous with false promises.  You really wanted to believe him and his promises of a character that evolves significantly throughout the game.  One that affects the world around him through his choices.  One who can carve his name in a tree, and see it grow throughout the game.  It was so ambitious.  That was our expectation, and his promise.  The reality?  It was an enjoyable adventure game with light RPG elements.  However, the reality didn’t matter anymore, because this game paled in comparison to the game in our heads.  That life-altering game that was hyped prior to release.  In the end, it hurt the public’s view of the game, which to this day remains a pretty solid, if somewhat flawed, title.

It’s hard to get angry at a developer for simply being enthusiastic about his product, but it may be prudent for developers to consider how much power their promises hold.  In the past few years, it seems easier than ever for developers to hop on Kickstarter to build hype and make endless promises.  Since developers using Kickstarter are actively seeking funding, projects are typically in very early stages with little physical progress.  This leads to continual disappointment because, for every successful Kickstarter, there are an equal number of failures.  Projects are cancelled for many reasons.  Lack of additional funding due to “feature creep”, lack of ambition or ability to finish the project, and downright theft are all known to occur.

A recent example of this issue is Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No .9.  In 2013, Inafune announced the game, which was billed as a spiritual successor to Capcom’s Mega Man (whom Inafune created).  Fans were overjoyed; it’s been long thought that Capcom had been wasting the Mega Man franchise for some time.  It was a bold move, and concept art looked amazing.  The game reached it’s 900,000 dollar funding goal in a single day.  From that point, Comcept Inc. (Inafune’s start-up) began to add more and more funding goals.  If you look on the project’s Kickstarter page, it’s almost startling how many features seem to be added after initial funding was reached.  As a result, the game was delayed several times, finally releasing in June 2016.  Reviews were pretty abysmal, many calling it a lifeless clone.

Mighty No. 9

Mighty No. 9. Image Source.

Reviewers criticized the game’s bland art style and uninspired enemies.  It was such a far-cry from what was originally promised.  The concept and artwork promised something so much different.  Currently the comments on it’s Kickstarter page are at 385,435 comments.  It’s interesting and pretty sobering to see the comments at the start of the project, full of enthusiasm transition to hopelessness mid-production, and the solemn disappointment upon release.  It displays the entire arc of a botched production.  A game that was hyped to the stratosphere, pulled gamers in with grandiose claims and proceeded to let them down pretty hard.  This is pretty common on Kickstarter, and it happens with more than just games.

The amount of broken promises, cancelled titles, and unrealistic expectations have given fans plenty of reasons to be on their guard these days.  Recently, Resident Evil 7  was announced with an accompanying “Playable Teaser”. The demo feels an awful lot like P.T. in look and feel, and has a similar community of gaming sleuths trying to unlock it’s secrets.  It looks really promising.  However, I have already heard claims that the teaser isn’t indicative of the final product.  Should that worry us?  Is this another case of a developer misleading consumers?  Will the game turn out vastly different than the one we are already creating in our heads?

Honestly, there is no way to be sure.  The gaming industry is full of visionaries, and it seems inevitable that the very optimism that allows them to make great games, is also the same quality that causes them to exceed their reach, make grandiose claims, and occasionally break our hearts.  Expectation is certainly the root of all disappointment, and that is no truer than in the game industry.  Given all of the examples above, and the hype-laden nature of the gaming industry today, it would be wise to question what we see, and believe nothing at face value.

Jordan is an actor, singer, educator and writer who has a deep love for Shakespeare, classic rock, coffee, old dogs, batman, fantasy novels and video games. He is a Performing Arts major from the University of Connecticut and has lived all over the place—most recently, Beijing. In his free time, he can be found in pretentious coffee shops, reading a giant fantasy book, in nature, on stage, traveling, gaming, singing with his friends band or using his dogs as a pillow.

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