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Expectation management and hype: This Week in Videogames Blogging

This week, our partnership with games blogging curation site Critical Distance brings us picks from their Senior Curator Zoyander Street on the institutional structures that lead to disappointment and frustration.

Critical Distance, Blogger

September 8, 2016

4 Min Read

These articles from the past two weeks in videogames blogging all address the effects of frustrated expectations on game development itself, as well as on games' marketing and reception. Putting them side by side here suggests a bigger pattern of issues around how devs relate to publishers and hardware companies, and how players and critics relate to everyone else. 

Some morsel of meaning

The first thoughts on expectation management come here with reference to the game development process itself, and how the overwhelming expectations of others can cause the creative process to spiral out of control.

  • In the Army Now: The Making of 'Full Spectrum Warrior' | VICE
    Ed Smith's piece on game development as military research is interesting from a few different angles, raising issues about the balance between fun and realism and the forces that can cause a project to balloon beyond realistic expectations.

  • Life Support At 75 Per Cent | Corey Milne
    Corey Milne's core argument on No Man's Sky is one that has by now become familiar. However, he adds to it an intriguing parallel between the narrative prop of "life support" and the notion of numerical balance as the lifeblood of game design.

"It needs crafting. It needs mining. Or else what is there to do? What would be the point of ochre sunsets and emerald bluffs, if there were no systems to encourage play? To grant some morsel of meaning to the infinity they have struck a vein of the most common mineral in the gaming ecosystem. The dopamine shitting, habit forming, repetitve gameplay feedback loop. "

No Man's Sky

Moving on from Corey Milne's piece above, these three articles on the discover-em-up deal with the mismatched expectations that come from differing experiences with other texts in other media.

"Procedural generation has a vocabulary that you'll most likely be familiar with. It uses words like discover, unique, endless, forever, replayable. It talks in numbers and powers of ten, and bigger is always better. These words are not necessarily used falsely (although I'm sure they are in some instances, but I'm not here to cast aspersions), but intentionally or not they do mislead people, because they are very easily interpreted in a lot of different ways. 'Every Planet Unique' might mean that each planet has a complex sci-fi backstory rich enough to fill a two-part Star Trek episode. It might also mean that, mathematically speaking, there's a rock somewhere on the planet that doesn't look like any other rock in the universe. Uniqueness almost always is used in the weakest, most technically correct way possible. As Kate Compton quipped in her amazing post about procedural generators, every bowl of oatmeal is unique."

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

The latest Deus Ex arguably overpromised in a different way, using the weight of its narrative themes to put the game in a bigger context but not quite stepping up to those issues in a responsible way. These two articles examine how and why this happened, with broader lessons about game development and marketing.

"I'm agnostic about what causes this. Maybe no single human being intends it – maybe the intention plays out on the level of the group mind, in the friction of machinery against machinery. But serious themes do usually end up functioning as a kind of inoculation, a protective device, which shields the power fantasy from criticism by conferring on it even the slightest trace of importance and artistic worth. This isn't just a third-person shooter; it's a third-person shooter which questions what it means to be human!"

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