First we hear about a game, really any media release, and you get that little tinge of “this might be good.” Fast forward to that moment about a week before the game releases when now you think it’s certainly going to be good. What happened?
So in our lives we move back and forth between being more and less in tune with what’s actually happening. A couple about to get married, hopefully, have pretty positive expectations about their relationship and where that’s going while in reality they have the same chances as anyone else.
We might have these biases to help mental health. What matters is that there exists this situation where we minimize our faults, think of ourselves as being above average, and generally do this to some small extent. Too much and we’re again in an unhealthy zone but this selective look at our own abilities and how situations might resolve helps us live our lives. I mean one of the pieces of advice I give young people is to be positive. I’m not lying to them in that I really think it’s helpful to not worry about the odds and to try for things. As an adult I know they might not make it but if they don’t try they won’t get anywhere.
Optimism versus Realism
What’s weird is seeing this relate to our modern media hype machine. If I tell a kid to be positive about the future that’s an entirely different proposition than a media department saying the next super hero movie is going to be good. We all think of ourselves as being impervious to marketing, we suffer through so much of it ever day we’re blind to it right? But before Deadpool was out I was thinking about it and I really wanted it to be good.
I wanted a movie that challenged what people thought super hero movies could be. I wanted a good flick with this character. I wanted to just have an actual good movie to watch. Deadpool totally delivered but what if it hadn’t.
This happens so many times a year, you get yourself up to the point the game is about to come out and you really hope it’s good. I think this comes down to the process of being shown a game.
For the vast majority of the stuff we see of a game before release it’s incredibly controlled, from the images and behind the scenes style content, to the actual ad campaign. From the traditional stuff like the ad campaign to the more modern material like twitter, well, whatever they do on twitter. Pictures maybe? Sorry twitter is just the worst it’s like a terrible mailing list.
Anyways I’d argue that due to how this stuff all works people can’t really tell too well a good game from a poor one before release. Movies have all these tell-tale signs that let you know what you’re getting from how the review screenings went up to the rating of the film itself and talent involved.
Games have this weird situation where people always want to look past the warning signs. People always bring up axioms about delays being good for a game when games get delayed, but really delays also hint at problems. What’s worse is a game like Destiny where for some reason people didn’t even know what they were getting on board for before the game released.
They just had that hope, the optimism about the game being good. Bungie masterfully kept players hoping the game would be good even after it was released. Amazing work.
In more recent years we saw more RPG mechanics get into action games in part because it ties players even more to their character. When we look at game roll-outs now it’s also all about tying players into the game with a sense of ownership.
Creating a Sense of Ownership
Remember when the Final Fantasy 7 Remake was announced? They created a moment that a lot of us have as an actual memory now. They had a stage and used it well. Cut to a games forums and we see people taking an experience and turning it into a part of their lives as players check in daily to see if Cool Game X is ready to relese more news. This leads into the other part of making players care about games which is minimizing the problems. The game industry is actually a kind of terrible place to work but we don’t see those stories constantly. Cool, happy people make games for us to be more cool and happy ourselves. We know they’re cool and happy in part because the people involved only show us that part.
The most insane thing in recent years has to be Kickstarter though, where people get to feel like they really cast the deciding vote in whether a project gets off the ground. Now people are getting rewards and updates and whatever else. Even without Kickstarter lots of indie developers have moved to Patreon and fan streams and fan chats and whatever else connects everyone. If you’re making a game at the indie level this is how it works now as you have an expectation to leverage this feeling of ownership to build something from.
What it all really goes to is simply building this sense of ownership that leads to our sense of optimism kicking in. It’s why people might pick up DLC from a game they don’t really love: it’s cheaper than getting into a new game and might finally get this game where you want it to be.
Look at this process, when you see a game being sold to you, and look for the ways they attempt to give you a sense of ownership or connection with the media. “What you got into the closed beta? No way that’s so neat. Did you like the game? Not really? Then why are you pre-ordering it now?”
But look at this stuff and try to divorce yourself from it. Also gaming publications need to stop covering betas so much since it just helps the marketing departments of these games and doesn’t actually relate to the quality of the final game. Nevertheless you as the reader, the consumer, are the one that has to appreciate this stuff if you want to pull yourself out of these attitudes.
It’s not that you can’t want something to be good that’s bad, it’s ignoring all the info you have. Cool Game X might be looking pretty good, I mean I-IX really did the ground work, but if it’s looking like it’s going to be similar to V and you didn’t like V don’t pick the game up. You’re just ignoring the evidence so that you can keep feeling hyped and interested in the game. When you finally get into the meat of Cool Game X and it’s super similar to Cool Game V you won’t be happy.
I’d argue we had about a 70% clear idea of what Destiny was before release. Bungie might of helped keep people optimistic about what the game would actually be like but the positives and negatives were pretty clearly present before release. You, as a person and a consumer, have an irrationally optimistic side and the people selling you things constantly use this to their advantage-buy the 1000 calorie burger and don’t worry about weight since you’re the one person who isn’t affected by calories.
The closer you can hold to being a realist about all this stuff the better your experience will be. You’re not going to have more fun playing a game when everyone is talking about it than later if it’s a good game. Virtually everything you see about a piece of media before release is carefully controlled to keep you hopeful about the release. The way we connect is also designed for this and people choose the routes they choose in selling you this stuff because it gives them the connection to the audience they need. In the end though you as a consumer choose how you interact with this system and whether you want to give control of your emotions over to these outside interests.