New IPs (Intellectual Properties) come and go in any media. Movies have their John Carter of Mars and Vampire Academy. TV has their unpopular spinoffs like The Lone Gunman , Trust Me, and Rubicon. They try to capitalize on a franchise or build up a new one, they are either over-ambitious and over-optimistic to the point where they just can’t live up to what they were trying to bring to the audience, or they are overly simplified and uncreative, bringing nothing new to the table and not creating enough substance to keep an audience entertained long enough to last even a half season.
Games aren’t any different than more traditional entertainment. There’s a build up of all of this news and press about how the game looks great and plays well but once it’s time for the game to be released, all of that buzz evaporates into a white noise of simply going unnoticed over the wash of other games that get released or older games that people go back to. Although, some games do tend to keep up with the perpetual hype distortion field that it generates for itself and they continue to at least pump out something every so often to the combined purchase power of a few million or so fans.
Keeping Promises and Managing Expectations
The most recent disappointments were The Order: 1886 and Watchdogs.
The Order came as a late advertised game during E3 2013 and it made a slight splash with the gaming press and other attendees of the Expo. The retconned-historics lead to an entirely different look that the could set it apart from many other space-marine blaster-cannon games that have been looking more and more alike since the Battlefield/Call of Duty war of the past decade or the Gears of War look that has yet to be a passe style when pulling in the young Males market.
The game touted a monster mayhem shooter set in a post-industrial, pre-modern Victorian era which is already setting itself apart from the three major eras to pull from World War II and Nazis, Cold War and Russians, or Modern Era and most of the civilized world. They even already set the realism dial to implausible by making it a story about fighting monster half-breeds so they could pull from any pre-modern monster Lore that they wanted to spice the game up however they chose. The game had so many avenues available to it and yet it couldn’t capitalize on it. What we got was a got was a pretty uninspiring over-the-shoulder shooter and a slight depression that a game with so much promise was such a let-down. It looked great, but the story was piecemeal and a bore to sit through and the game was repetitive at best. The game didn’t set themselves up for failure, but they had so many ways to be creative and use the source material that they’ve developed for themselves in a better way that would keep people excited to play the game.
Watchdogs was the game that set themselves up with several impossible to meet expectations.
Remember this trailer? The first one that got the gaming populace talking about how amazing it would be to have a GTA-style Mayhem engine with the ability to play super-spy and dick around with everyone in the gamespace and the manipulate the environment itself? I bought into the hype when this trailer came out at E3 2012 because I just had the perfect image of what I would want to be able to do within the game. The trailer was perfect in that it allowed me to imagine how I would want to interact with the game. To be able to orchestrate the perfect getaway with the rhythmic change of the traffic lights and the raising of the barricades, all of the 21st century enhancements that GTA doesn’t want to move towards, yet.
The problem with letting my imagination run wild is that you never set an imaginative ceiling for me to reach. Not only that, once you start taking away the open-ended parts of the game that let my imagination run wild in the first place, you ultimately leave me with a different game entirely. Watchdogs set such high expectations for themselves that leaving out any feature that they showcased at premiere was going to hurt how we view the game. Something about keeping promises would be a good thing to mention here.
Delivering a vision
Assassin’s Creed may have gone down the toilet in some of its more recent iterations, which would be a great explorative discussion for another time, but when the game was first debuted in 2007 it had me eager to get my hands on the game. The game was repetitive at times, with missions and objectives being too similar across the game that the side-missions quickly devolved to a chore-like drone, but the game delivered exactly what it had promised us in its debut trailer. A century in the past, hand to hand combat with an emphasis on stealth and cunning, and most importantly showcased the ability to interact vertically with the environment as you wished. Scaling up a few dozen stories of a monestary to gaze at the historic Jerusalem, Damascus, and so on, only to plummet at breakneck speeds into a cart of hay at the city streets only to start the exploration once again.
The vision that Assassin’s Creed brought the player and the vision that the game was able to deliver was almost identical so that even the lowlights weren’t being focused on so much because the anticipation was focused on the vertical free-roaming free-running ability of the game.
Little Big Planet also debuted at E3 2007, promising us the Create, Play, Share model that many other games have adopted since. Creating whatever creatures you wanted within the game or task yourself with creating a challenging platforming level within the game, being able to playtest those levels directly within the game so keep the flow of creation from being disrupted, and sharing those level with anyone else on PSN and watch as others play with what your imagination and effort have spawned.
The tools were easy to use and intuitive to understand, the standalone game was fun and offered a lot of creative uses of its tools to help spark the creative instincts, and the community was active in its development offering many levels focusing on either a single mechanic to playtest, a new creation to share or an amalgamation of each to a challenging super-level that was hot stuff for the next few weeks.
The game built its hype around the features that were the most important parts of the game and those that were being tested the most. Much like how Assassin’s Creed focused its hype around the free-running, we were enthusiastic about the creation aspects of LBP and constantly reminded about it. The Order didn’t really have any in game mechanic for the audience to focus on, other than the timeperiod. Watchdogs had its phonington hackathon 9000 as a big focus, but it also had the manipulability of the environment as a big focus as well, both of which were overhyped and underdelivered.
The guess the lesson is, if you’re gonna keep promising your audience it’s best to put most of your development into those areas.
The Uncharted trailer for the PS3 definitely didn’t showcase much of what people wanted from the game, but it also didn’t promise us anything other than a jungle treasure-hunting adventure. It didn’t leave us expecting much from the game, it didn’t overpromise anything that it couldn’t deliver. Actually, it didn’t promise us anything. So when it delivered such a summer-blockbuster story with (at the time) fun gameplay, and context sensitive ass-scratching, everyone was surprised by how good it was. You don’t need to overpromise us a gimmick to play the game if it looks like it’ll be a good time. It’s one way to mitigate expectations I suppose, aside from the accolades of coming from Naughty Dog, I mean.