On Thursday May 7th 2020, Xbox finally showed some third-party Series X games in action (in-engine demonstrations of Halo Infinite, Everwild and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II had been shown prior to this event), and needless to say the response was not the most positive. While the individual reveals barring Assassin’s Creed Valhalla were received rather positively, the presentation as a whole, in particular compared to what was promoted, was viewed as a letdown. As my co-workers will attest, I felt the same way as many of you did: disappointed. While I liked many of the games that were shown, I was expecting more. However, as I permeated these thoughts over the next 24 hours, it began to dawn on me that I may have gone into the event with unfair expectations, and I expect the same was the case for many. However, it is particularly worth noting that these expectations were not unjustified.
Going into the event, I was personally expecting to see Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs Legion, Cyberpunk 2077, Outriders, Marvel’s Avengers and the all but confirmed Batman: Court of Owls game. So, needless to say, when only one of these predictions came to fruition, and even then what was shown was a far cry (no pun intended) from the “gameplay” promised, I was incredibly let down. What is worse is many of the games shown, such as The Medium from Bloober Team, are right up my alley. But my first reaction during the trailer for The Medium wasn’t “oh my God, this looks cool”, it was “holy s**t! That guy looks like Jim Gordon! Batman! Batman! Batm… oh.”, which frankly did a massive disservice to a game that otherwise looks incredible.
So, why did I have these expectations going into the event, why did many of you have similar ones, and what can we do to prevent such a letdown in future? Well, to put it bluntly, it is a two-way street. Solely blaming Microsoft or Sony or Nintendo or whoever the heck disappoints us goes nowhere and skirts around the same issue. By the same token, sitting back and saying “you guys were just too hyped! It wasn’t X company’s fault they didn’t show what you wanted!” can be incredibly disingenuous if the way these were marketed overhyped the events.
I suppose I will begin with us. It seems fitting after all. Getting hyped is a completely natural reaction, especially when a brand new generation of gaming hardware lies on the horizon – but we also have to be realistic. For example, many of the games shown did not really push the graphical boundaries of the new hardware, but as I have covered in an article defending Microsoft’s cross-gen approach to upcoming games, it is unlikely that they will any time soon. I mean, just compare how Call of Duty: Ghosts looked to the recently released Modern Warfare. The differences are frankly night and day. Beyond this, however, it is especially important to note the global circumstances we are living in. Make no mistake, Xbox’s 20/20 strategy was not the original plan. Up until a few months ago, they were working on an E3 show to end all E3 shows, and then in one fell swoop the rug was pulled underneath them. So, to expect that any one of these individual events will live up to the calibre of an E3 event might be unrealistic.
However, many of our expectations were incredibly valid, and Microsoft themselves fanned the flames. By promoting an event with phrases like “Tomorrow changes the game… or rather the games do the changing!” and “See tons of brand new Xbox Series X gameplay” can be incredibly misleading, and paints a picture of the event that is not fair to the fans or the developers of these games. Much has already been said by frankly everyone and their mother (off the top of my head: Jim Sterling, Geoff Keighley, Jez Corden, the list goes on), about how promoting in-engine footage as “gameplay” can be misleading and sets unfair expectations. Similarly, hyping these games up as game-changing leaps when many of them are AA/”Triple I” titles is not only selling the capabilities of your own system short, it is also placing lofty expectations on the shoulders of these developers. Take, for example, The Medium. What we saw of the game looked very impressive, especially in comparison to Bloober Team’s other offerings such as >Observer_, Layers of Fear and Blair Witch. However, when put toe-to-toe with games such as Forza Horizon 4 or Ghost of Tsushima, it doesn’t look as good. It’s also a game being made on a fraction of a budget with a fraction of the talent of those games, but promoting it as the next step puts a lofty weight on an otherwise great looking game’s shoulders.
So, how can we go about preventing a backlash like this in the future? Beginning with us, it is especially important that we set realistic expectations of what is to come. I have no doubts that the upcoming PS5 reveal and Series X July Showcase are going to have tons of great games, but to expect Uncharted 5: Drake’s Golden Years, God of War 2: The Fifth One, Spider-Man 2: Maximum Carnage, Ratchet and Clank: Gizmo Mania, Killzone Returns, Resistance 4, Modnation Racers Re-tuned and The Last of Us Part III from the former, and Fable Rebirth, Perfect Dark Declassified, Gears 6: Kait’s Revenge, KOTOR 3, Wasteland Online, Shadowrun Reborn, Brütal Legend 2: Back in Black, Age of Empires V, Forza Horizon 5 and State of Decay 3: Online is just not realistic. That’s not to say that we won’t see some of those games, as well as some cool surprises, but if you expect them to lay all their cards on the table you will likely be disappointed.
The same also applies to the organizers of these events. Microsoft, for the most part, has done a great job with transparency, laying out next-gen details far more frequently and effectively than Sony. However, they also need to learn the value of keeping a good poker face. If you manage expectations and deliver a grand slam, the response will be that much sweeter. By the same token, if you act like you are about to hit a home run, and end up hitting a ground rule double or, god forbid, a foul, then the disappointment is only going to be that much worse. For what it’s worth, VP of Xbox Marketing Aaron Greenberg has apologized for overhyping the event and has promised to take feedback into account.
Ultimately, there is nothing wrong about getting hyped, or hyping up your offerings, but if you do it too much it will ultimately lead to disappointment. Also, as a final aside, I’d like to remind everyone not to hyperbolize. This was ultimately a misstep for Microsoft, but don’t let it kill your excitement or worry too much about what it means. They didn’t act as if Series X was a TV box first and a game system secondly. They didn’t set an outrageously high price point and tell their fans to work two jobs. They didn’t promote the Series X in a way that made it look like an Xbox One peripheral. All three of the major platform holders have survived far worse. Hell, I’d go as far as to say that the “Road to PS5” presentation with Mark Cerny was a bigger miss than this but that doesn’t mean I and millions of others aren’t planning on picking up a PS5. So, don’t sweat the small stuff and go play some games (I’m currently on a Forza Horizon 3 and Bleeding Edge binge!). Take it easy and stay safe.