The problem with getting your hopes up about anything is that you’re almost guaranteed to be disappointed. But when almost every big new game IP is a lackluster title, even from familiar AAA developers, you have to wonder what exactly is going wrong.
Watch Dogs, Destiny, and The Order: 1886 are some of the most hyped new game IPs of the last year. And it’s not that any of them are necessarily bad games—plenty of players love the engaging gameplay of Destiny and the beautiful settings of The Order: 1886—but with mediocre reviews, they’re hardly the iconic new games of the future.
It’s a marketing team’s job to get us pumped up for a new game, but what we see isn’t always what we get. Think back to the first appearance of BioShock: Infinite. In the first gameplay demo—which, to be fair, is more of a proof of concept than a trailer for what we can expect from the new game—Columbia looks to be a bit more open world, and Elizabeth is contributing far more to the gameplay experience than opening tears and tossing Booker the occasional item. When the game came out, it was a success for its story and solid mechanics, but gamers couldn’t help comparing the final product to the gameplay we’d seen in 2011.
Similarly, the graphical downgrade in Watch Dogs was a source of major disappointment for many gamers. While the new game was fun for many players, the frustration of seeing one thing presented at E3 and another when they actually played the game overhung the enjoyment they were getting from a solid game with a slightly bland revenge story. The game wasn’t bad, but the E3 press hype left gamers with an entirely different expectation.
Unfortunately, that puts some of the blame on us. As much as we want to believe that new game IPs from major developers are going to blow us out of the water, we’re seeing time and time again that new game IPs are rarely as cool as their first press appearance looks. That’s to be expected. Marketing teams want to hook gamers early, hoping they’ll make a pre-order or pick up the game based purely on hype.
Putting our faith in AAA game developers isn’t necessarily a mistake—these developers and publishers are big because they have put out good games in the past—but we also have a problem with comparing games to our expectations and hopes rather than taking them on their own merit. Take Mass Effect 3, for example. It certainly wasn’t a perfect game and the endings left a lot to be desired after so much investment, but as an incredibly beloved game series. What ending could possibly have suited all of Commander Shepard’s many variations? The frustrating end to Shepard’s story felt underdeveloped and watered down, but the likelihood of finding an ending that suited Shepard’s many variations and felt satisfying without relying on fan service or a too-happy conclusion to a pretty dark story was never going to be likely.
And that’s what it really comes down to—we want one thing and publishers and developers want another. Gamers want innovation rather than different versions of the same game, and big-name publishers want games that are destined to sell. Hence the constant stream of sequels and remakes, and hence games like The Order: 1886, which earns points in story and atmosphere but lacks innovation in the gameplay department. Again, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad, only that it’s standard for the genre, and big publishers like Sony Computer Entertainment have enough resources to allow them to take risks in both story and gameplay.
Not getting your hopes up for an exciting new title is nearly impossible. While it would be nice to see the final versions of new game IPs matching our hopes, we have to keep in mind that early gameplay footage is a proof of concept—more like the game the developers want to make—rather than a concrete idea of what the finished product will be like. It’s hard to weigh games as a purely finished product when conventions and progress updates lets us see games as they evolve, and combining that with the tendency of devs to play it safe can make new game IP launches a real disappointment.