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Video Game Showcases: Expectations v Reality

I am normally a pretty calm and composed person and I have always tried to remain as optimistic as I can about upcoming game announcements while trying to keep faith in developers and publishers but the past 12 months have tested me with the likes of misfires like Avengers and Cyberpunk, and with the Nintendo Direct last week and Sony’s State of Play last night it really pushed me to my limit. After I watched the State of Play I was getting all hot and going off on one on discord before I tuckered myself out like a baby. I will put the videos below so you can see the announcements and then I will get into why they were so disappointing.

This year should be a big year for gamers with Q4 of 2021 expected to see the likes of God of War 2, Horizon; Forbidden West and new Pokémon games arriving to soak up any spare money we have so when Sony announce a State of Play like this you expect to see news on the first two games mentioned. I was alone in expecting this either; this was a sentiment shared by my friendship group and the YouTube chat… but if you watched it you will know that these games weren’t mentioned and instead most, if not all of the games, were just deeper dives into games that had already been announced or expansions/upgrades that were in the pipeline (looking at you FF7). I want to state here, as much as some of the games in the showcase looked good, I am unlikely to play most of them with Kena and Deathloop being the exceptions, but that aside I still think it was a bad showcase because of how people came out of it feeling.

Fans build up an expectation of what is to come and given this is the first showcase since the PS5 launch people were expecting a sort of 12 month road map of when the PS5 will really be utilised but their expectations were shattered when they get to the end to realise the games they wanted updates on weren’t there which subsequently left them feeling dissatisfied and annoyed. As a result, this makes the fans look poorly on the showcase itself, calling it out for being crap etc which in turn does a disservice to the games shown. The games shown weren’t crap, they just weren’t what we expected, but because they didn’t get what they wanted these games get dragged through the dirt when emotions are high. These expectations and the hype that develops is all part of the marketing and excitement for a game but it needs to be managed properly and that needs to come from the publishers/marketeers. If you speak to most people they will talk about how the showcase was crap and that not great games were shown when in fact Kena Bridge of Spirits looks incredibly beautiful and a lot of fun and Deathloop looks like Dishonoured and James Bond had a baby and I am all in for both. But the perception is that the State of Play was bad because it didn’t surpass the fan’s lofty and potentially unrealistic expectations. It could be argued that we, as fans, should always temper our expectations but generally fans get excited for logical reasons so it is in the benefit of the publishers/developers to manage that fine line between teasing and managing expectations. To me, if fans start to get disillusioned with these showcases and expect them to be crap, then fans stop getting excited for what’s to come and when fans stop getting excited the buzz within the industry itself will suffer and then ultimately no-one wins.

The thing that gets me though is that Sony know that people want to see updates on these AAA games but they also know they aren’t showcasing it here and yet, the way they present the showcase is ambiguous enough to make people believe God of War could be there which in turn causes people to tune in and watch until the end. And they do this knowing that people will likely be annoyed afterwards. I just don’t understand how they could position it like this from a marketing/PR approach because they also receive the backlash and now have to deal with the fact that they presented a poorly received showcase. If there had been a clearer narrative around what was being shown then the response would be much more restrained but instead expectations were allowed to run rampant resulting in plenty of disappointed fans. The YouTube description reads as follows:

This Thursday, State of Play will serve up new updates and deep dives for 10 games coming to PS4 and PS5. The show is clocking it at 30 minutes or so, give or take. Get ready for new game announcements and updates on some of the third-party and indie titles you last saw in June’s PS5 showcase.

Reading that, I would say it is relatively ambiguous because it doesn’t really give too much a way (which you would expect) but from reading it you probably could expect no God of War for example as it isn’t third party and it isn’t an Indie game but I hadn’t seen this description until after the video when I went back to get the link. The likelihood is is that people saw the tweet announcing the State of Play and then clicked on the stream when it was live. They wouldn’t have looked at the YouTube description for example. And below are both tweet announcing and reminding us about the showcase, neither of which address the idea of third-party games or indie titles meaning that, for most, they would have gone in expecting big things. This is what gets me because it feels intentionally misleading because they know what people want to see and they aren’t addressing it. There is a responsibility, in my opinion, on social media to make sure that these things convey the right message.

Announcing the State of Play…
Reminding us about the State of Play…

To me, everyone loses here and it is down to ambiguous messaging and poor positioning on Sony’s behalf. As a result of the vague announcement of the State of Play, fans got incredibly excited and their expectations skyrocketed only to come crashing down to Earth upon realising it wasn’t discussed meaning that fans lose because they feel unhappy after the experience, they feel like they wasted their time and that Sony haven’t taken it seriously. The games and their developers lose because they get dragged through the mud for no real fault of their own and for basically being not God of War or Horizon. The audience weren’t primed for their announcements and frankly didn’t go in with open minds because they weren’t necessarily prepared for what to expect but as a result the perception of these games will be negative because they will be held against the tentpole releases of 2021. And finally, through Sony’s doing, Sony lose because they lose the confidence and respect of the fans and have to deal with the fallout of a negatively received showcase meaning they will need to address this in subsequent State of Plays.

I have gone in hard on Sony largely because I am still reeling from it last night, however Nintendo pulled a similar stunt last week. With the likes of Pokémon and Zelda expected this year, a lot of people went into the Nintendo Direct expecting big things and actually came out pretty deflated. The good news for Pokémon fans is that today (26th February) we will see a Pokemon Presents but given the current run of announcements my faith and optimism has been shattered. And retrospectively, I have respect for Nintendo who came out and put in that there is no Zelda news – at the time I felt like it was a blow and a shame but now having sat through the Sony one where there was no acknowledgement at all, I feel like a bit of nod that information is coming just not in the presentation goes a long way.

After re-reading, I don’t know if I have been too harsh or not, so it would be great to know what you guys think! The thing for me is that this really demonstrates the impact that uncontrolled hype and expectation can have on a brand and its perception and why there is a need, especially on social media, for clear communication and community management. Yes, hype is needed for these things to gain traction, but simultaneously it can be more damaging to leave it unchecked.

Let me know below what you think about the Nintendo and Sony showcases! Were you happy with what you saw or were you expecting something more? And have I been too harsh in judging these guys? Also, I hope Pokémon is good today otherwise my faith in these companies abilities to manage hype and expectation may fade away like Spider-Man did at the end of Infinity War (spoilers).

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