I remember a time when games received almost no pre-release promotion. Just walking into a store, you’d see new stuff on the shelves or highlighted in magazines like Nintendo Power or GamePro. As technology advanced and social media exploded into the mainstream, trailers, events, and other pre-release hype have become the norm as companies try to one-up each other by announcing new content faster and sooner than in previous years.
But is this a good thing? Are we reaching a point where pre-release materials are creating unrealistic expectations for the end product?
Before I get going, I want to stop to take a moment to point you guys over to an article I read on Kotaku which served as the inspiration to what I’m about to discuss. The article takes a look at Anthem and how everything we saw 2+ years ago has changed over the course of development and the game’s eventual launch. For example, in the first trailer, Fort Tarsis is alive with NPCs walking and living their lives. Compare that to what we have now and it looks night and day.
Now, this article isn’t me just ripping on Anthem. In fact, I find the game to be pretty fun even with all of its flaws. I just found it fascinating when you compare what we were shown and what we ended up with. Granted, the game could still get there over time but what the announcement did was to create this, what we know now, false set of expectations.
BioWare is hardly the first company to do something like this, but it seems to be happening more and more often with major titles. It’s kind of caused me to reevaluate how I want games to be announced.
For fun, let’s analyze the current trend of game announcements.
So outside of Anthem, we’ve seen a host of other major games follow similar routes to release. I’m not going to discuss every single one, but here are a few that come to mind:
- After it was announced back in 2014, Crackdown 3 showed off the power of cloud technology by showing off dynamic and destructible environments. Following multiple delays, developers leaving the project, and studios getting shuffled around, Crackdown 3 ultimately lost the destruction elements from the single player, and even the graphics didn’t appear as detailed as they were first shown.
- Fallout 76..I mean, what can you really say here. It launched and since then most of the things I’ve heard about it have been negative. Whether coming from the community, bugs, bad PR, or whatever else, Fallout 76 is a game that didn’t turn out anywhere near expectations and I can’t help but wonder if it can be recovered at this point.
- Let me go on record and say that I loved The Division from day one, you can’t deny that it had issues at the start and a lack of end game content. However, Ubisoft managed to completely evolve the experience over the lifespan of that game and even managed to bring players back to the game who may have jumped ship.
- Same with Sea of Thieves, which is enjoying a similar revival one year later thanks to updates, and more from Rare. In this case, I feel it was seeing the developer’s name attached to the game which raised expectations through the roof. Rare a studio that has an amazing legacy, so naturally, anything they announce is going to get fans excited. Unfortunately, living the pirate lifestyle wasn’t as appealing as trailers made it seem on day 1 due to a lack of content and issues that would later be fixed.
- The poster child for announcement hype and end product disappointment for many would be No Man’s Sky. Expectations for that game ballooned out of control which caused all sorts of chaos, heartbreak, and outrage when the game launched. In my opinion, No Man’s Sky suffered from a lack of communication, leading many to believe the game was this or that when ultimately it wasn’t. To their credit, Hello Games continued to plug away on the game following the launch fiasco, keeping their head down to release a huge update that essentially served as a new starting point for the game. A lot of love has been put into it since and while the game is in a better spot than it was, some may say too little, too late.
- Destiny (and by extension Destiny 2) is another game that had all sorts of promise when it was first revealed. The debut gameplay showed players flying in to join friends in a mission, trailers showed off this extensive story, and added hype came from Bungie’s pedigree with Halo. Thanks to development trouble, what players got on day 1 wasn’t even close to those initial promises made by trailers and gameplay. It’s stuff I’ve covered before and while a lot of that content never ultimately came around, the franchise is in a much better spot now than it was thanks to consistent updates and content expansions.
So those are just a handful of situations where the marketing and hype got the better of the actual game. While pre-release hype is a major component for the big companies, some are attempting to change the narrative.
On the other hand, you have Respawn Entertainment, a company well known for first breaking out of Infinity Ward, then putting together two stellar Titanfall games. While most people expected a Titanfall 3 announcement, the company instead both announced and then immediately released a new game called Apex Legends. You’d think this would be a horrible idea without first building attention and hype through marketing trailers, but instead, the battle royale shooter quickly went on to prominence and is shattering all sorts of player count records. It’s doing so well that it’s even outpacing stats put up by the king of battle royales, Fortnite.
I know they’re not in the best of light at the current moment (see above), but I also think Bethesda is on to something with how they announce games. Well, I should clarify that they kind of broke the trend I’m referencing by revealing/teasing Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI super early which effectively hurts my argument. Prior to that, however, they would announce a game at E3 (like Fallout 3 and Fallout 4) and then reveal a release date a few months later in November. While not as sudden as Apex Legends, Bethesda didn’t give fans too much time to sit and develop a long list of expectations before getting their hands on the final product.
For the longest time, I found myself at odds with how Nintendo chose to handle game announcements because I was more interested in seeing what they were cooking up behind the scenes. Some E3’s would be very predictable or boring because you’d expect something from them and their legendary stable of IPs, only to find out the company didn’t think ‘Game X/Y/Z’ was ready to be shown. I wanted them to be more like Sony or Microsoft and get the crowd hype with future teases instead of only focusing on games that were launching within the year.
With how some high profile games released in the past half year, I’m starting to see the value in what Nintendo does in terms of game announcements.
Yes, they had a rare moment where they messed up by announcing something way too early (Metroid Prime 4) and then paid for it after it was delayed due to development being reset and moved to Retro Studios. Still, maybe Nintendo knows best. Perhaps waiting to announce games, giving them a shorter window in the spotlight is the way to go. We’re starting to see trends where this method not only works, but it helps to keep expectations in check once the game gets into players hands.
What do you think? Would you prefer the Apex Legends route or do you not mind long term announcements with the potential for the final product to downgrade or change?