When you browse some big game related news websites over the world such as IGN, Game Spot, you notice that players are always looking for the next big game seeking it like a miner is desperately looking for gold or diamonds. I asked myself why such behavior seems to spread and I’m sharing here some of my humble conclusions.
Too many expectations?
From a publisher point of view, the goal is to create as much hype around the game as possible targeting hardcore players 3 to 6 months before release so the buzz starts functioning supported by continuous screenshots, videos and exclusive interviews in the specialized press. Look at the recent Star Wars Battlefront II controversy, are loot boxes now what we can expect?
Within the last couple of years, we saw a set of web applications all based on the same concept: social networks such as Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. These social networks are considered great marketing tools because, in theory, they allow campaign messages to reach a wider audience at no additional cost through viral marketing. The sole drawback is that the message is not under control and it generally ends with players changing the original message to something even better than originally said and therefore putting high expectations and hopes in the game.
That could actually be one of the reasons why players are always looking for a new game: they keep being disappointed about games that may be good but do not meet their expectations.
No man’s sky
The game was hyped and the features (like multiplayer) promised blatantly a lie. In this case, it’s hard to blame the fans for overhyping the game. Although No Man’s Sky now finally has multiplayer, the damage is probably irreversible. The game ended up being a repetitive grind-fest and within a week many players abandoned the game.
Other games like Destiny or Mass Effect Andromeda are good examples of expectations vs reality. Although Destiny had a huge marketing hype train budget I can’t help to think the Mass Effect community overhyped the game a little too much.
The developers who were so vocal about how ground-breaking their game would go silent amidst the criticism, and quietly released DLC content to try to mend fences. No Man’s Sky, if given an honest assessment, may not have been the failure that it was. The hype surrounding it made it fail, and there’s no one other than the developers to blame for any of it.
Biased reviews, and gaming ‘journalism’
Gaming journalism has taken a step back and many big gaming sites are biased when reviewing games. These game outlets often depend on advertising income from big publishers, in all honesty, it’s hard to blame them. A game reviewers job isn’t as easy as it used to be, there is lots of competition out there and they can’t spend much time playing a game. You need to get it out fast to beat the competition.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad, there are some great articles pushed out now and then.
The world has changed and even if the game industry is a young industry, this industry has been stuck into the same issues than the movie industry. The game industry represents so much money nowadays that publishers are all very scared of taking risks and trying something new. Therefore, there are less and less professional game development studios that are asked to put some new concepts in their games because publishers prefer betting in a 2nd, 3rd, 4th… 10th sequel of their license from which they know they’ll make good sales for sure only based on the name.
But it wasn’t counting with players becoming more and more experts and not being fooled more than once. Some players now totally reject some sequels because the sequel to the game wasn’t as good as the first one or didn’t bring anything else than the first game gave them.
For years, publishers and some game development studios lost the trust they got from their audience. The sad thing is, we gamers can’t really do anything about it. Many stopped buying games from publishers like E.A. but they still dominate the market.
Trust is the basis of relationships between people. I personally think that publishers and game development studios have to get in a closer relationship with their customers. Not to sell them their games even more but rather showing them they do not live in an Ivory Tower and they are just like them: game fans and players. That’s probably utopia, business is business and investors push for release dates even if the games aren’t finished. Don’t get me started on DLC’s.
Bringing some humanity into the relationship is a difficult thing but it’s not something impossible to do. I’ll take the example of Open Source projects. The developers behind these projects are sometimes managing indirectly thousands of contributors and users and the way they communicate with their audience should be taken as an example. They built a close enough relationship so that anyone can share their feedback and they are committed to taking it into consideration! Not like an anonymous poll but rather through a constant presence on the community forums and answering their questions even if they are hard to answer.
Communication is essential
I don’t consider myself an expert in the game industry but by analyzing all the recent game releases and how players reacted, I think we can all take some good lessons and try to build a better future for our industry. Just listen to them, talk to them regularly and simply respect them and we should get into a Win/Win position: players get good games and the industry wins more money to reinvest in newer concepts and ideas by, for instance, investing in some very interesting projects born in independent games.