Pretty much all gamers have an example of it in their own lives. Try to picture this—you buy a game that looks really cool on the shelf, go home, and realize that it’s actually not as awesome as you initially thought. When I was younger, this usually meant getting an N64 or GameCube game based on recognizing a character or knowing a license (THQ!), and I was burned a few times on some games I expected to be a lot better than they turned out to be.
The best personal example I can give of this is Dragon Ball Z: Sagas. The game was advertised as the first action-adventure title in Dragon Ball Z history, and as this was my favorite TV show for many years, I was chomping at the bit for a chance to play it. After all, Dragon Ball Z games on the Game Boy Advance like Supersonic Warriors and Buu’s Fury were kick-ass interpretations of some classic moments from the series, so a console game with the same blueprint should have worked well.
Instead, what I got was a poorly designed, lifeless beat-em’-up that I completed in an afternoon. Invisible walls were everywhere, the voice acting was awful (even though they used many of the real voices from the show) and it had some of the worst controls I’ve ever experienced. However, I also remember enjoying the game quite a bit, and I never regretted the purchase I made until I played it again more recently.
With the hype for upcoming games being pushed now more than ever, this reaction to below-average titles fairly common. Take Duke Nukem Forever, for instance. The game was almost universally panned, but if Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford is to be believed, the average fan was pleased with the end product. Aside from the awful graphics, extremely offensive storyline and bad voice acting, most critics seemed to agree that it just wasn’t a very enjoyable game. So why did those with the most interest in seeing a great game actually see a great game? It’s all about the lenses they were wearing.
Just like my experience with Dragon Ball Z: Sagas, the old-school Duke Nukem fans remembered what they had in the past, and because the game checked off a nice list of all the features required in a Duke Nukem title (boobs, swearing, poop, one-liners), they were willing to ignore the fact that as its own entity, it wasn’t up to par with the other titles being released in this day and age. Those fans wanted to love the game, and they were able to by forcing themselves to think that the end result was what they hoped for.
Looking at this from one side, it can be seen as a positive thing. Games are meant to be played and enjoyed, after all, and finding the fun in everything you buy can help curb any disappointment. When Medal of Honor: Warfighter was released last year, I saw several videos on Youtube of people explaining all the reasons why they loved the game. I got really excited, especially since the game promised to do be “authentic”, something gamers hadn’t really seen in the Call of Duty series. It looked like it could fill a nice niche in the genre.
The game wasn’t just a letdown; it was a colossal failure for what was once the biggest name in first-person shooters, and even though I received the game as a gift, I felt insulted by the end product. The story was filled with more tropes than I could count, there were tons of bugs, and it held my hand so much that it was almost impossible to have fun with it. So, how could its creator justify this game? It actually couldn’t, as EA eventually announced that they would be (at least temporarily) retiring the Medal of Honor franchise, but the game’s defenders will still say that it’s worthy of your money.
This brings us to what was just released recently: Aliens: Colonial Marines. After an extremely long development cycle and quite a few big promises from Gearbox Software (who also rescued Duke Nukem from development hell), the title was released to extremely low scores. Gearbox has even been accused of intentionally misleading the public with an E3 demo that was quite different from what was in the final game. However, just like with the other games mentioned, a group of happy customers took to the internet to show their support for the studio and express satisfaction with the title. Even as developers went on Reddit to explain why the game turned out so poorly, this group of gamers chose to attack the reviewers, claiming some sort of conspiracy to tear apart their favorite titles.
Why does it matter if consumers defend horrible games? Can’t we all find the fun in everything we buy? Of course, but even though some people may find pleasure in titles like Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Aliens: Colonial Marines, the quality of games will never improve if we don’t let the developers know what is necessary to warrant a purchase. As sad as it may seem, the troubled sales these games see at retail may actually be a step in the right direction for the industry. The gamers still hold the power, and by rewarding high-quality titles like XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dishonored, we have shown that we can still show support for the best products while punishing the worst. With the profit margin shrinking substantially for publishers, this is the only way to make sure we can receive the best content possible. By all means, go out and give that mediocre-looking title a try, but remember that you owe nothing to its creators if you don’t like it.