There have been more than a few disappointments out this year haven’t there? Game after game released to tremendous hype only to fall short of our collected expectations. It happened with Lightning Returns, it happened with Alien: Isolation, and especially so with Destiny. They are all good games in their own rights, but none were quite what many of us expected them to be. It’s made me wonder though, does everything I play need to be great? Can a game that’s just good be good enough?
Someone pointed out to me recently that it must really be hard to be a game developer these days. Not only do they have to contend with producing the incredible productions values demanded by modern gaming, but also our expectations for them to “hit it out of the park” and the insane marketing telling us that a home run is exactly what we’re going to get if we buy it. That’s a tall order for anyone to live up to, so it’s no wonder that so few games actually manage to live up to it: Skyrim, and GTA:V for example. Not everything can be a Skyrim or a GTA though, and really I don’t think everything should be.
The problem is that Skyrim and GTA were each massive steps forward. Each was was absolutely bursting with new features and gameplay content. They were games that didn’t settle for doing one thing well or introducing just one new feature; they aimed high and did in fact knock it out of the park. The issue lies in that very fact: these were home-runs, special. We cannot and should not expect every game we’re looking forward to be on that level, it’s just not going to happen. There have certainly been enough disappointments released in the past few years to make that clear.
What I can’t help but wonder though is whether or not they should have been disappointments. I’m not saying gamers should lower our standards, not at all. I’m just thinking that perhaps we’ve all become too susceptible to the marketing hype, and then become too reactionary and prone to hyperbole when our games don’t live up to the inflated expectations.
Take Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII for instance. It’s marketing made it out to be so much more than it actually is. Is it a competent Final Fantasy game? (if you like Final Fantasy XIII it is), does it reinvent the FFXIII wheel? No, all it does is simplify it. Looking back on it now, I’ve come to think of it as a good game. It strips out all the extra junk from the battle systems in the previous games and boils it all down to the essentials of what the Paradigm system is. That’s the game’s greatest strength. It doesn’t make the word any more interesting, it doesn’t make the characters any more likeable, it’s just a little better than what came before in my opinion. The game is good enough that I’m glad to have added it to my library. That’s not what I thought when it first came out though.
When the game was first released earlier this year, I had somehow gotten it into my head that the game was going to completely turn the FFXIII trilogy on its head and be something great. It was going to make sense of the story, it was going to fix the characters, it was going to feel like a completely new experience. It of course did none of these things, so I came away from it disappointed that I had bought the game in the first place. My fault for being taken in I suppose but I can’t help but think my experience with it would have been better had I not gone into the game with such high expectations.
Game marketing is always going to trying to make everything coming out sound like the best thing ever, and indeed many of us have trained ourselves to ignore the majority of it. Still, one way or another it still manages to influence to some degree and I think that’s becoming dangerous to players’ ability to enjoy the games they buy. Of course many, perhaps even most, won’t be like me and get taken in by it, though I wonder if the best way to start a new game is to come into it with no expectations at all.
Is a good game good enough to you? Have you ever suspected that your expectations going into a game might have been too high?