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CAUTION: Experience May Differ from Expectation

Trent Seely

Perception is a tricky thing. Many gamers tend to seek as much information on highly anticipated titles as possible before digging into their pockets for cash. Screenshots are examined like crime scenes, teaser trailers are deconstructed frame-by-frame, and the Twitter accounts of creative directors are watched like hawks for any scrap of information that can fit into a 140 character box. That said, not all developers are completely frontal at all times and not all gamers take the time to do their homework. In the few cases where gamers implicitly trust developers or franchises, they may not anticipate oncoming radical changes or franchise alterations that will ultimately lend frustration to what is otherwise a decent experience. It is because of these pre-release expectations that so many gamers experience buyer's remorse, but how much of the blame for this phenomenon falls on the shoulders of the developers/publishers versus you?

One of the more recent examples of supposed "developer misrepresentation" was Deep Silver's Dead Island. Though originally announced at E3 2006, Dead Island had flown under most people's radar until a tremendously striking cinematic trailer hit the internet in February of 2011. This heart-wrenching teaser depicted a family's fight for survival against a bloodthirsty zombie horde. It played out in a reverse-linear style and featured the emotionally traumatic and extremely graphic transformation of a little girl corrupted by the zombie contagion. While this cinematic teaser was technically impressive, the three minute video lacked any distinguishable gameplay elements. In fact, it wasn't even produced by Deep Silver (it was outsourced to UK animation studio Axis Productions). Yet, many gamers took this promotional flick to be a representation of what the finished game would be like. Of course, the final product bore little resemblance to the teaser and the negative reaction post-release was pretty staggering. Many upset gamers felt betrayed and tricked into something completely unlike the teaser, but was this negative response really warranted? Sure, a trailer released pre-launch can sometimes be a good indicator of what a finished title will look like, but this situation was a little different as a slew of gameplay screenshots and press announcements had already created a more accurate picture of Dead Island before the title's official release. It was never going to be a non-linear, emotionally driven, and narrative heavy title, as it was designed to be an extremely gory, quest-based FPS akin to Borderlands meets George A. Romero. Despite the numerous fingers that were pointed at Deep Silver, I don't honestly think they did anything wrong. That teaser was created to give the game some hype, which it did in spades, but any attentive gamer would have seen a more accurate portrayal of the game in the slew of information that the developer released immediately after the teaser's release. Despite arguments to the contrary, the blame for any buyer's remorse coupled with the purchase of Dead Island rests squarely on the shoulders of the individuals shelling out their cash.

Another example of expectations ruining experience, which appears to be fairly common in the RPGaming community, is Square Enix's critically acclaimed Chrono Cross. It would appear that many RPGamers have played the classic Super NES title Chrono Trigger, and retain extremely fond memories of the experience. So fond that many of them implicitly expected Square Enix to produce a sequel that was essentially the same. Such was not the case, as Chrono Cross featured dimensional shifts over time travel, focused on a new cast of 45 party members, exchanged ATB for traditional turn based battles, and emphasized customizable "element" grids over conventional magic systems. Was it a solid game? Absolutely. Was it what fans of the series expected? Apparently not. The way many RPGamers approach this surprisingly polarizing title appears to range between "It wasnít what I wanted, but was still a pretty great game" to "It was a horrible Chrono game." Are either of these receptions really warranted, though? Chrono Cross wasn't the black sheep entry of a long-running franchise, nor was it a direct sequel so much as a successor. The series, as it were, had no established rules of design outside of involving the theme of timelines in its narrative. Chrono Trigger involved a time travel plot and brisk battle system, Radical Dreamers was a slow moving, text-based adventure, and Chrono Cross was centered on parallel dimensions and traditional JRPG combat. Given that context, itís hard to take the complaint that Chrono Cross didnít live up to the "standards of the series" seriously. To that same effect, I'd venture that if Square Enix had simply released a rehash of Chrono Trigger with a palette swap and some new characters, that game wouldn't necessarily be good — despite meeting the expectations of some fans.

Perception can sometimes make it seem difficult to be a dedicated gamer and intelligent shopper, but both of these games bore no real surprises. While there are no shortage of gaming disappointments out there, the raw details of what a game is going to be like upon release are usually floating around before launch. It's very rare, especially today, that a game's PR will only kick into gear once the title has hit shelves. That said, these errors of perception are typically the fault of the gamer. Video game publishers can and will do whatever they need to in order to sell an upcoming game, and it's the onus of the gamer to discern fact from fiction. Instead of estimating the quality based on what is spoon fed to us, we should be doing our research and possibly waiting until reviews are made available to get a better idea of what these highly anticipated titles are actually like. There is no reason why anyone should be afforded sympathy for a bad purchase when they had opportunity to understand a game pre-release and opted not to take it.

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