No comment. – Gabe Newell
Expectations can be very cruel, especially in an industry that thrives on the anticipation of their releases. When Destiny launched, it spear-headed a relentless marketing campaign that led many to believe it to be the next great IP of our time.
The end result was subjectively less than the sum of its parts, but it worked in getting people into retail stores around the globe. A more recent example would be the highly anticipated No Man’s Sky, which promised an abundance of limitless universal exploration, but fell short of the mark when it turned out to be the Galactic Survival Guide for Dummies.
Nonetheless, it was a refreshingly entertaining, albeit repetitious, experience that made me consider how the expectations of gamers can either spell satisfaction or disaster for themselves. With The Last Guardian finally hitting stores in October, after almost a decade of anticipation and hype, the time is right to address the glaring issue that’s becoming more prominent in modern gaming.
I can’t deny that having certain expectations for a video game you’re excited about is unavoidable. I’ve been guilty of this countless times; where the end product, while mostly delivering on its hype, has fell flat to me in aspects that I expected more from. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is probably the biggest culprit I can recall. While it's by no means a terrible game, the story and characters took many different directions that left me puzzled at what exactly I expected from it.
So when The Last Guardian, the kinda/sorta/maybe sequel to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus (my favorite game of all time), finally landed a release date after years of anticipation, I tried my best to control expectations. While my excitement for the game is still at astronomical levels, the odd question crosses my mind once in a while regarding what exactly we should expect.
With the game already shrouded in plenty of mystery, it seems like a few developers have adopted the J.J. Abrams method of marketing: show as little as possible so the end result lands with an impact, kind of like a magic trick. Abrams certainly wasn’t the first to play the mystery magician card in his films’ promotional material, but he always managed to hold back the punches. Unfortunately, this can also mean death by hype. Without much to work with, interested fans will take it upon themselves to fill in the blanks and thus create some degree of expectation in their speculations.
The Last Guardian fell into this space since its initial tease in 2007, and left a pretty wide gap leading up to its release for curious gamers to satisfy their imagination. Many even speculated that the game entered development hell, and would either live up to its enormous hype or buckle under it like Duke Nukem Forever. The argument is a two-sided coin, however.
I believe this is also the root of the most interesting discussions surrounding upcoming games, as it unites fans of a particular game with a few like-minded ideas of the final product. Generally, it also gives us writers something worth discussing with others besides our seven cats, hence this article. When this is taken a step too far, the expectations tend to outweigh reality, and the results can only be described as the Half-Life 3 dilemma.
Contrary to popular internet meme belief, Half-Life 3 has not been confirmed, and for a very good reason. The anticipation surrounding the third installment of the innovative first-person action series has somehow evolved into an internet legend over the decade, with developer Valve fully embracing the joke while giving less attention to the actual game itself.
At Valve, employees are given the freedom to work on whatever project they please, and this has built a pretty solid theory around the prolonging of a third Half-Life. The truth is nobody wants to work on it due to the immense expectations already created by the gaming community, sometimes even for satirical reasons (see Honest Game Trailers).
With a whirlwind of hype and expectation for a game that should already ascend the stairs of heaven, there’s simply no fathomable way an employee will accept the pressure of such an enormous task.
I can’t speak on behalf of Valve, who may actually have a devoted team working on the game as we speak, but the longer Half-Life 3 is “in production”, the more weight is placed on its shoulders to match or exceed expectations, which is possibly the hardest task in game development since, well, The Last Guardian.
Expectations continue to grow on the foundations of anticipation, which boasts certain advantages to uniting fans under common discussions, but also invites great expectations that may tend to crumble the merits of what a game is versus what we want it to be.