Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I am sick of anticipation...

...and it's not for Christmas eve. Don't be silly, I live in the Netherlands. I had my Christmas gifts on the 5th of December. Did David Sedaris never tell you anything?

Anticipation is like this baby: you think everything will be perfect,
but then they start crying... Wait, where was I going with this?
Anyhoo, with my Internet claim to fame spamming my blog, there hasn't been enough attention for games recently, so let's talk about something I really hate about my hobby: anticipation. To those whose English is not very developed (like mine), I'm talking about 'knowing about a game and be very happy that it will be released someday.' The idea is that you then buy the game and be exalted (very happy) with the game play and all the pretty things and whatnot you will encounter whilst playing it. It's that last aspect that got me sick and not just because it usually isn't true.

The way triple-A gaming advertises itself nowadays is by making an announcement about a game almost a year in advance of its release. Usually this trailer shows us no game play, but it hints on that you will have fun by the time you will finally pop the disc in and/or finished the required download. The developer will tell about some features that will be in the game and that is about all you will know about it. If the game only vaguely sparks your interest, you won't be able to help it, but you will get this feeling inside that keeps tingling until you researched everything about it on the net. Ofcourse, this doesn't count for everyone, but you are reading this on this blog, so you'll probably fall into that demographic.

Just look how happy he is with
all that money...
This act should be legal, because it is a great way to generate buzz around a product and the triple-A developer needs momentum to sell his game. Through the months between announcement and release you will be shown a couple of new parts of the game, some new features, maybe even an early play of the game. This is to keep that tingle in your stomach fueled. If  for some reason the game is delayed, they'll ensure that it's necessary to make the game even better. This fuels that tingle even more. You don't care, because "It will be fun, the developer said so, so it must be true!" For months on end you will have this tingle forcing you to save up money to buy this ungodly expensive, but awesome game.

And then comes the moment when you'll actually shell out money to buy the game. It might be in pre-order, it might be on release or maybe a few days later, but you'll shell out that high price for that one game you've anticipated, because you want that cool game and you want to support developers who make good games. The moment you put that money down, all bets are off. The publisher has the money and neither the developer or the publisher has to do anything anymore, because they legally earned your money. The game you take home doesn't have to be any good, because you already gave them the money. This is the part that makes me sick to infinity and beyond.

Yes, you might return it, but the game doesn't have to be good in order for the player to keep it until after its latest return date. First you'll start checking your anticipation list. Are all features there? Are the graphics pretty? By then you won't have noticed that the game is designed as a skinner box and you are doing nothing but jumping through hoops when the game tells you to. Check my previous true post on how fun can be not fun.

In summary, what you'll need to know from the two links above is this: games can be rigged to make you work instead of having fun. They do this by giving you a reward for actions they wants to see from you, like killing people or winning a race, and punishing you when you do undesirable actions, like getting killed or losing the race. When you've learned that you get a reward, like an unlockable car or a skill level, they start to give you less rewards over time, so you'll work harder for the reward. The danger with this is that winning and losing and its derived rewards and punishments are an important part of the game, so it is hard to distinguish between the game's fun and addiction.

Portal 2; Great game, but was it worth the
What happens is that when you finally get the game and start to play it, your mind is rigged to "I have waited so long for this game, I'm gonna have fun, even if it kills me!" Nine out of ten games will engage you through addiction until you can't return the game anymore, if you can return or sell it at all. By the time it dawns on you the game sucks, it's too late. Your good review is online, your friends are on their way to the store to get that recommended game and the publisher is raking in the money.

And that's why I'm sick of anticipation. I'm sick of the whole scene of making people look forward to something that doesn't have to be good and will probably make you jump through hoops saying "later on it will be better, because you'll have this!" I'm sick of discussions on forums by people who like or dislike a game and trying to defend it, all the while forgetting that the game and its marketing rigged them to do so. But most of all I'm sick of reviewers creating more anticipation by giving a perfect score to a game that is clearly a skinner box.

As I try with most of my posts, I won't end on a sour note. What can we do to break this anticipation spiral? One answer would be piracy. Play the game first, then pay later. Unfortunately, this is illegal, but there are some good alternatives. First of all, you can play demo's. Second, there are services that can let you play the full game for free temporarily, like Onlive. When playing the game, check for any of the symptoms mentioned in this video of Extra Credits: the skinner box and if they are not too prevalent, the game might just not suck.

Also, Fall of Cybertron? Please don't suck, please don't suck, please don't suck!