what is a reverse improvement

Ugly Ducklings & Beautiful Swans: Expectations vs Reality


It's a funny thing, expectations.

Disappointment. Frustration. Shock. Surprise. Anger. Annoyance. All words that a great many of us have uttered and/or felt at some point because of them. In the case of video games, expectations have most certainly been known to bite us in our asses now and again. I might even say more often than not. 

They're a hard thing to temper. When something clicks for you, when something excites you, even when you *know* you've been burned in the past, there may still be a slight twinge of hope. And sometimes, it pays off. But sometimes, it just doesn't.

And therein lies the conundrum. After having been burned in the past, more than once, how (or why) do we continue to allow ourselves the risk of being burned once again by building up our expectations? Perhaps it's because games are our passion, they're a major part of our lives, they're a way for us to be social, to experience things we may not otherwise be able to. Video games allow us to escape into fully realized worlds where the center of it all is *you* and when expectations are built up for one of these worlds only to have the air not just let out but having the balloon completely stomped on, the feelings become all too real.


"At what point did the developers just stop caring?"

I've probably asked myself this question more times than I care to admit. The thing is, I don't know that I've ever really *believed* that this question has any true validity. I have a hard time imagining developers, regardless of the situation, just tanking a game (or at least their piece of it) on purpose. It seems ludicrous. But there have been times as I played through a game where my expectations got the best of me and the reality came crashing down in a waterfall of disappointment and frustration.

"Why did I spend my money on this?"
"How did I not see this coming?"
"I should have known better!"

Common phrases. I know that I feed the expectation monster because I WANT to be excited by a game. I want to be surprised. And as trailers get shown, gameplay becomes more defined, information starts making it's way across publications, there are times I just have to be excited. My expectations jump and I'm ready to consume.

But I've been burned. Oh, how I've been burned.

Aliens: Colonial Marines burned. Remember that demo? 

Aliens: Colonial Marines E3 Demo - courtesy Gamespot

Everything looked great. Gearbox was building what was to be THE Aliens game! The visuals were gorgeous, the gameplay looked spot on and with a trusted developer working on the game, this was a can't miss.

Right? Right? 

Unfortunately, the answer was a pretty resounding "No!"

If you were to head over to YouTube and search for Aliens: Colonial Marines you would find a TON of videos with titles like "Aliens: Colonial Marines: What the Hell Happened?" and "Aliens: Colonial Marines: How it SHOULD have looked". 

This is just one example from an industry filled with them. Games like Daikatana, Too Human, Assassin's Creed 3, Duke Nukem Forever, Watch_Dogs, and even Destiny on some level were built up, talked about, hyped so they could slowly build our expectations to such a level that we couldn't help but want to pre-order and learn every little thing about the game before we even got our grubby little paws on it!

Of course, not every game goes down this path. Sometimes, expectations pay off in a big way. 

Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor is one of my favorite recent examples. When I initially heard about Shadows of Mordor, it sounded neat but it also sounded like a re-skinned Assassin's Creed/Batman: Arkham City clone until I saw how the Nemesis system fit into the game. Then I was hooked.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Nemesis System Trailer - courtesy Gamespot

I had a very hard time tempering my expectations. The more I saw of the game, the more I was invested in it. When PAX Prime 2014 rolled around, it was one of the only games I absolutely *had* to play and I'm glad I did. The game played exactly as I wanted it to, it looked just like all the trailers and videos I had seen and I was thrilled.

But that wasn't all. 

I was *relieved*. What an odd feeling to have over a simple video game but after having been disappointed or dissatisfied by many other games, it was truly a relief to feel that my excitement and my hope had not been misplaced.

Bloodborne, GTA V, The Last of Us, Batman: Arkham City, Mortal Kombat X, and Sunset Overdrive are all excellent games where my I was not only surprised but was relieved that they all lived up to or surpassed them.


Of course, we have to understand that building up these games and hyping them is part of the job. We expect game companies to create the most beautiful, engaging trailers and demos they possibly can. It's marketing 101, right? Get the target demographic engaged and frothing for your product so you can make as much profit as possible. But when the final product doesn't live up the expectations and hype that has been both artificially and organically built up, where does that leave us?

Angered. Frustrated. Annoyed. Disappointed. Shocked. 

With social media, YouTube, game forums and countless other places where direct communication with the developers is possible, we're able to ask why things went the way they did. We're given a clear direction on where to spew our collective venom, getting it all out to ease the pain of what we perceive as a waste of time and money. There is some catharsis in using the internet to "get it out" but we often forget that the people actually creating these games are...well, just that. They're people. 

They have expectations and assumptions just like us. They believe in the work they're doing and when their games finally hit shelves and get into the hands of consumers, I can only imagine how devastated they can be when the thing they worked days, months, years on, the thing they spent time away from their family for and put their lifeblood into, ends up disappointing. 


Expectation vs. reality is always going to a point of contention. We can't help it. A big part of this is what we're given and what we're shown. The trailers, the screenshots, all that stuff. But it's on us to look at each piece of information through a lens of skepticism which is so much harder than it sounds because we *want* to be excited. We *want* to believe.

There will be games that I will be overly excited for and will inevitably be let down by. And maybe that's not such a bad thing. Maybe we need some of those major letdowns to bring us back to down to earth, to remind us that in our disappointments and failures there is still something positive to reflect upon. That we gain something worthwhile. 

Maybe we need to have games which fall below our expectations so when those which do meet or beat them are just that much sweeter.