The Price of Hype – Looking at a few “Failures” in the Gaming Industry

“Failure” is a strong word. In the gaming world, a failure is when a game fails to meet consumer expectations, either failing to sell well, getting bad reviews, and sometimes both. There are many reasons why a game would fail, perhaps it was too rushed, or it was too ambitious, or maybe the audience expected too much and got too little in return. Either way, the game just did not quite hit the mark for people. The gaming industry has had its fair share of duds in the past few years, games that shot for the stars and missed, all with their own stories of mismanagement and confusion. Hopefully, by looking at these games, people can understand just where and why these titles broke down.

A City to Burn: Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 had a lot going for it before release. Developers CD Projekt were darlings of the industryWhile their previous title The Witcher 3 also released with its own set of bugs and issues, after patches and polish, mainstream audiences began to realize that the game was a masterpiece. Even its expansions won awards, as their 2016 expansion Blood and Wine won Best RPG at The Game Awards. So, Cyberpunk 2077 had a lot of hype behind it. People were expecting a game on par with The Witcher 3, or one that surpassed it. Gameplay previews showed a world and experience that was nothing short of breathtaking. A living, breathing city that looked so vibrant and that it was nearly unbelievable.

CyberPunk streetDid you buy into the hype? Because I certainly did.
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Unfortunately, it was unbelievable. On launch, Cyberpunk 2077 was very quickly criticized for a multitude of problems and issues. On launch day, many found themselves suffering from a load of technical issues and bugs ranging from full on crashes to graphical issues. While some did not have problems and those with higher-end PCs experiencing a world that was as beautiful as advertised, the greatest issue came with those on last-gen consoles. Players who used the Xbox One or PS4 found that their performance was so bad it was unacceptable. Crashing, low frame rates, and textures so bad that they looked like they were placed on a PS2 game, the user experience was so bad that the PS4 Version was removed from stores (I believe this has only been done once before), and Microsoft warned all potential customers about potential performance issues on the Xbox One.

A user on Reddit (SpikeCraft) compiled a list of promised features that were cut, and it was disheartening to see. A lack of interaction with the NPC’s that populated Night City, missing gameplay interactions, a lack of innovation regarding the artificial intelligence, the list went on and on. However, part of this rage might have come from the sheer hype surrounding Cyberpunk. People began to expect way too much of the game, believing that it would be the best of every genre. The storytelling of Witcher, the driving and AI of GTAthe hacking of Watchdogs, the stealth of Hitman. The scale of which people believed Cyberpunk would attain is far beyond anything that it could ever attain.

What went wrong? A huge reason was that internal developers were not given enough agency on when the game should be released. An interview from Bloomberg revealed that when an original release date of April 16th, 2020 was announced, some thought it was a joke. People estimated the game would only be ready in 2022, and when management said delaying was not an option due to the need for “double dipping” on both current-gen and next-gen consoles, employees were forced into an insane crunch. The global pandemic made development even harder, and bleary-eyed programmers were crunching even after management on Twitter announced the game had “gone gold”. The game was never going to be done in time, and CD Projekt paid the price.

CyberPunk SwordWhat do you mean I cannot literally do everything in this game? (I kid, I kid)
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While Cyberpunk 2077 was not a failure financially, it illustrates that hype has consequences. Audiences were chomping at the bit for the next Witcher 3, and Cd Projekt promised that and more. As they realized they could not meet expectations, rather than temper expectationsthey threw gasoline with promises of features and experiences that were never going to be met.

The CEO of Cd Projekt came forward with a public apology and vowed to do whatever it took to repair their Cyberpunk and their relationship with players. While developers continue to work at the game, and there are plenty of players who are happy with the way Cyberpunk has turned out, Cd Projekt has a long way to go before their reputation amongst the gaming world is restored.

Ironman SuitsIronman suits, a beautiful world, and a story headed by the legends behind Mass Effect and Dragon Age, what could go wrong?
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The end of BioWare Magic

Before Cyberpunk became the game, everyone loved to hate on, there was AnthemEA’s attempt to create their own looter-shooter to compete with the likes of Destiny, Borderlands, and The DivisionAnthem looked fantastic when a demo was shown in E3 2017. Ironman suits in an open world seemed like a slam dunk. Furthermore, the studio behind Anthem was BioWare, the developers behind legendary series’ like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. These two titles had universal acclaim behind them for excellent characters, world-building, and player-agency. While they had a recent stumble with Mass Effect: Andromeda, expectations were high, and audiences were excited to whet their teeth on a new looter-shooter.

As Anthem approached release, grumblings about bugs and content grew, and a demo for the game right before release gave players more concerns than hype. On launch, Anthem’s flaws and issues were shown to the worldThe game was panned as repetitive, shallow, and uninspired despite some praise for combat and the flying. Players found a multitude of strange issues on launch, including the fact that the best gun in the game was a level 1 rifle, and the fact that unequipping all gear save one max level one would give you a power as if you had the highest level. The team that once came up with the grandiose stories of Mass Effect and Dragon Age missed the mark with Anthem’s story, with many finding it lackluster at best.

Anthem E3Seeing what happend from the E3 trailer is depressing. There’s a lot of beauty in Anthem’s world

The experience was bad enough that in less than a year, the development team was forced to change their plans for post-launch content, instead looking to improve core issues within Anthem By February 2020, a year on from Anthem’s launch, BioWare announced that they were looking to completely reboot the game itself, akin to the 2013 revision of Final Fantasy XIV. In 2021 however, it seems as though Anthem may be cancelled completely. EA met mid-February 2021 to decide on what to do with their looter-shooter, and the silence afterward has led many to believe that Anthem is dead in the water.

What went wrong? Was it the same issue with Cyberpunk, where hype built the game to a point that BioWare could never have met? Was the game simply not ready on launch? Unfortunately, it seems like more of the same. Development on Anthem was chaotic, constantly changing to acclimate developers leaving and ideas changingWith directors Casey Hudson and other lead employees for Anthem leaving the project or BioWare completely, large decisions were often left to teams of people, which led to a lot of indecision. No one had a strong singular vision to guide the team, and an employee even stated that some small decisions would take over a year because people simply could not make a call. As launch day neared, the teams still could not see a collective vision, constantly scrapping and redesigning core gameplay systems. With that sort of confusion, there was no hope that Anthem could launch coherently, let alone be the game that fans and developers wanted it to be.

With Anthem’s future currently in flux, BioWare is no longer a titan of the games industry, with many of its original leaders having left the studio. The studio has recently announced a new Mass Effect game, as well as a remaster of the original trilogy to positive reception, but the Anthem’s fallout will stain their reputation for the foreseeable future.

Comeback Story

No Man's SkyNice to get some positivity in this article after 2 sad situations

Both games previously shown have a long way to go, but there is still hope that they can turn it around. The last game covered, No Man’s Sky is living proof that if a team works hard enough, and truly puts its heads down to bring what they promised to players, a game can be turned around. Like both Anthem and Cyberpunk, there was a lot of hype surrounding No Man’s Sky (there is starting to be a pattern around here)Developers Hello Games wanted to create a game that exemplified space exploration, drawing inspiration from famous Sci-Fi authors like Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein. Players are thrown into the wild frontier of an uncharted universe, and are then encouraged to explore, survive, fight, and do whatever strikes their fancy in the game world.  What made No Man’s Sky different was the usage of procedural generation for nearly everything in the game universe, allowing players to have completely unique experiences.

Over the course of development, No Man’s Sky was widely promoted across the internet, with many being drawn to the small team with a large scope taking on triple-A studiosCreator Sean Murray was extremely passionate about No Man’s Sky, and his interviews gave many gamers extremely high expectations leading to launch. Murray seems to have realized that his excitement may have led to sugar-coating just how expansive the game would be and tried his best to caution players before launch. However, his train had gotten off the rails, and hundreds of thousands of fans were now locked into a game that gave them the ability to explore the near-infinite universe, with all the dangerous and beautiful bells and whistles to come with it.

On launch, Hello Games underestimated the number of players that would be playing on launch, completely overwhelming survey capacity. Players who did get in were disappointed at poor graphics and a lack of features that were stated would be in the game at launch. The light multiplayer experience was promised was also cut, as the team found it was both too difficult to implement and would be a rare occurrence. The Hello Games Twitter went silent, and some believed that the developers were in hiding, simply waiting for the hype, and their mistake to die down.

However, the team was hard at work, pushing to give the players and themselves the game that was promised at launch. They learned from their mistakes pre-launch and did not share anything about their work until only days before the launch of their first update, “Foundation”. The update was warmly received, and it the right step for No Man’s Sky. Continued updates over the years culminated in No Man’s Sky Nextgiving players a multiplayer experience with up to 4 players. Hello Games believed that that this was what they wanted to release in 2016 and vowed to communicate more directly with the community now that they had realized their vision.

Since then, No Man’s Sky has released many updates ranging from expanded multiplayer features, Virtual Reality support, and cross-platform (see also ‘Best Cross Platform Games‘) support for all platformsReception has also turned from negative to positive, with players finding that the game no longer looks the same as it did at launch. No Man’s Sky has finally brought fruit with awards and accolades handed to Hello Games for its support and continued development.

Hello Games worked very hard to reclaim their reputation, and their work on No Man’s Sky deserves a lot of credit. Sean Murray and the team behind No Man’s Sky knew that they had made mistakes and worked hard to realize their vision. Unlike Cyberpunk and Anthem, it does seem like Hello Games had a clearer path to success. The team had a vision, and certainly had the means and passion to accomplish it. Their only mistake was being too excited and sharing their hopes and dreams of No Man’s Sky rather than concrete details.

Keanu Reeves CD ProjektOne wonders how much money CD Projekt spent on Keanu Reeves…

Hype Thrusters at Maximum

All three games mentioned had extreme hype behind them. Audiences either saw or were provided with exaggerated claims of what the game was supposed to be, and that information was then taken as gospel. Management sees the hype, and wants the game to capitalize, setting unrealistic deadlines, forcing developers to cut corner and content, creating a bad situation all around. The game launches buggy and unfinished, and while launch sales are great, general audiences quickly catch on, and sales and reputation is tainted for the foreseeable future.

Hype can be a double-edged swordBefore launch, hype can be fantastic for gaining attention, and does wonders for pre-launch sales. That same hype can cause audience expectations to skyrocket into unrealistic levels. With how fast news can travel these days, teams in charge of communication or PR need to be doubly careful with the information shared with audiences or journalists. There needs to be work on both sides to ensure that everyone knows what they are getting.

What do you think? Were all these games consequences of hype? Can Cyberpunk and Anthem be “saved?” Anything you found particularly interesting with this article? Please let me know in the comments below.

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