[GW2] Managing expectations. And see you there!

While speakers don’t realize it anymore in everyday language, the German word for “disappointed” has a rather intriguing, literal meaning: it’s to be “un-deceived”. If we feel disappointment, it is generally because we were let down on our expectations – our hopes, dreams, illusions maybe. In any case, there was a deception of some kind involved and quite often it’s a self-created one as much as the other way around.

With GW2 finally at our doorstep and me still shocked that official launch time is set more in favor of EU folks than US (amagad I get to log on to GW2 for breakfast!) for a change, it’s sensible to take a moment and consider personal expectations. I spend a lot of time dissecting and criticizing single features and aspects of MMOs on this blog, so it’s probably hard to believe that I’m also quite the big picture person. I know exactly what I want from GW2 and my personal hopes for this game have already been half fulfilled in the betas. Lucky for me, GW2 offers a lot to explorers and lovers of the shiny!

Powerful expectations

For a while now I’ve had the feeling that player expectation towards upcoming titles has increased in significance compared to the olden days. Expectations have a tremendous power over individual perception and reception; more than that, they also have the potential to spread side-effects, for better or worse.

When The Secret World launched its free 1-month anniversary weekend two weeks ago, I ended up having a look at Funcom’s latest progeny quite unintentionally. I suspected that TSW would not appeal to me personally, for reasons of theme already, but I like a first-hand look at any game especially when there’s nothing to lose. Alas, rather quickly TSW confirmed my misgivings; I would never get even close to a well-rounded and fair overall judgement after such short a playtime, suffice to say though that I can only marvel at Funcom for their chosen business model, considering TSW serves a niche inside a niche and all past AoC baggage. I also didn’t like combat one bit and then there’s the looks of the game….and while you can disagree with me on style, no MMO launched in 2012 and coming with a key, sub and item shop is allowed to look like a Sims game! Complete and utter no-go in my world (I got a new rig for a reason!). If SWTOR got a beating for looking dated, it’s only fair that TSW should get one too!

That wasn’t the big insight I took from TSW though. Much rather, there was something very interesting going on in terms of player reception in this particular case – a case of a more niche and quite low profile MMO launch. Just to give one example of many similar echoes I’ve come across during the free TSW weekend, here’s an excerpt of a recent twitter conversation with two of my fellow bloggers, Belghast and Heather:

Tip: read from bottom to top ;)

What I’m not implying with this is that either of them isn’t genuinely enjoying TSW, by now probably for many reasons. Assuming they are still playing, they most certainly have found enough reasons to retain them. However, these are two examples of what I suspect is quite a substantial group of players who ended up taking to a new MMO they had not followed much at all pre-launch, and who did not only find enjoyment despite that but maybe even because of it? Naturally, expectations (or the lack thereof) will not decide over the longterm choice to stay or leave a game, yet it’s intriguing they would have the power to influence initial impression so heavily. We all know how pivotal a time launch and also individual “entry stage” are for new MMOs.

Now, “pleasantly surprised” or “better than expected” aren’t exactly labels new MMOs usually thrive for but I still need to ask myself what is the conclusion of all this? And what does this potentially mean for game developers and publishers? That maybe it’s beneficial to hold back on too much exposure and heavy marketing pre-launch? That a low profile is preferable in some cases? Should developers start and spread their own false or obscure rumors about their game just so it reaches intangible cult status, luring a potentially bigger audience out of sheer curiosity? No really, I’m quite serious!

If we consider the last few weeks of the GW2 waiting rush, it’s probably safe to say that there is such a thing as too much exposure and for some players I am told, there’s such a thing as detrimental hype – to a point where omni-present talk of the same game becomes so overbearing it may even turn somebody off from buying the game at all. I don’t know how frequently that occurs, and personally I wouldn’t want to attribute a vocal minority of forum trolls that much power over my own game choices, but if a potential customer refrains from buying GW2 because of overbearing hype that can’t be in ANet’s interest. That’s not to say that they have any direct responsibility or means to change anything. It does shed some light on the power of expectations though.

I will also officially bet on this here blog that GW2 is never going to get the soft and benign player treatment for its no-doubt yet undiscovered flaws and failures, the way more low profile MMOs like TSW usually do. GW2 will be hacked into pieces mercilessly and with every conceivable double standard, simply for having been praised and expected so long and publicly beforehand. No doubt there are already some people lying in wait for that moment of grand punishment…like the resented, vengeful twin waiting for his one-minute monologue. I won’t comment on that but yeah, it does show us another shade of potential effects of expectations…

Finding one’s own enjoyment

I mentioned feeling lucky before because GW2 could be an entirely different game, not catering to any of my very personal selling points. There is a beautiful world to explore in the fashion I endorse, there are undeniably wonderful graphics and music, quest and combat mechanics I consider fresh at the very least, plenty of cosmetic items….safe bets all of them. I look forward to enjoy this at my own pace and hopefully with the freedom to group up with any of my friends. Most of the aspects that are currently criticized or eyed with worry don’t interest me that much: I don’t worry about the guild system, dungeon loot, “endgame” or even PvP should it turn out to be lacking. I’m also not one to fret over bugs or imbalances so early – there’s time. Furthermore I consider the current bashing of the community very over the top; WoW was never a good place to go for forums nor general chat. That didn’t mean there weren’t cool people to be found on servers. Community is always also what you are contributing.

I’m going to play GW2 for my own reasons that may seem trivial to somebody else. Much of that enjoyment will be up to myself too which is what managing expectations is all about. I look forward to meet up with some of my old WoW mates so much it’s silly and for that already I thank GW2, for that long awaited opportunity!

How long will it all last us? I don’t know and frankly don’t care. GW2 doesn’t have to fascinate me for 5 years straight, I am no longer that gamer. Neither did I ever consider this the big, all-changing MMO revolution but as The Cynical Brit rightfully points out towards the end of his final beta conclusion, “a next evolutionary step”. A very important step at that – one that may impact on much to come. I care for this genre, I care for GW2 to be a solid success which I’m confident it will be. Mid-or longterm? I will probably get bored for lack of things to do and fluctuate more again between several games. So what? Even if I only got the famous 3 months of amagad-shiny-awesome-noob-time out of all this (which I doubt), it will be a hell lot more fun than I’ve had in a long time!

…With that I am off to the long awaited weekend and my Saturday morning launch. I wish you all the grandest GW2 head-start weekend and that you can enjoy this new MMO simply for what it is, unaffected and untouched by the backlash of other people’s expectations. I’ll see you and all your Asura Engineers on the other side! ^^

18 comments

  1. Amen! (this is starting to become a trend!)

    It is always interesting to see how people react (good and badly) to so much hype. Or how going with so much low expectations can make people enjoy a game more than they usually would. In both cases, I think the second might be the more healthy one as it just makes it easier to accept the game for what it is. Something that would be much harder if people set their expectations too high.

    While with getting into the hype it is so easy to get disappointed by it and then losing faith in the company even if subsequent products are actually quite good. That is probably why there is also so much backlash when something is hyped too much, people who previously believed in hype (be it from the same company or from another) just becomes too cynical, too distrustful towards any and all hype. That is certainly my case as I made that mistake with Oblivion and since then I have been wary of any hype. Although at least in the interwebs I try to be civil about it and keep my thoughts to myself. My friends however aren’t so lucky.

    As for Guild Wars 2, I am in the same boat as you. Everything people are worried about are not the things that bother me or that I am particularly interested into. Not to say that their concerns aren’t valid it is just that sometimes I think they are making a storm inside a tea cup.

    As for me, Guild Wars 2 so far has fulfilled everything I expected from it and more. Now my only hope is that my friends will find just as much enjoyment from it as I did during the beta weekends. Some of them have been burned out of other MMORPGs too and it would be nice to finally have a game we all agree that it is awesome!

    1. “Now my only hope is that my friends will find just as much enjoyment from it as I did”

      So do I! it would be sad if they don’t, I really hope we will be in for a longer run all together like in the good old days…that said, we’ve all come a way since WoW, people have different schedules these days (I am usually tired from work in the evenings…sigh), so I’m under no illusion that it will be as intense as it used to be. but I will simply cherish every moment together. :)

      I wish you an amazing launch!!!

  2. Short things not meant to be engineer! Tall thing engineer! Short thing can’t hold big brain to do hard engineer stuff! Down with short thing! But they already down. We win already!

  3. For all our back and forth on the subject over the last few months, I hope you have a wonderful time playing Guild Wars 2 now and for as long as you want to. Have a great headstart! :)

  4. I think there’s something deep in geek psychology where we are so used to being unpopular, and everything we like being deemed unpopular and uncool, that we become very suspicious of anything that DOES become popular. Geek culture has a built-in backlash against anything that looks too successful :)

    I’m judging GW2 on two criteria. The first is personal – am I entertained? It’s loked very good for me so far, but that’s been in three weekends and a handful of stress tests. If I’m still having fun after a few months of playing this as my main game then in my book it’s a good game. The second criteria is whether the game is a business success – and for that I’m using NCSoft’s judgement, not the ravings of internet pundits. If the games business news over the next few months includes headlines like “NCSoft in profits warning” or “Shock NCSoft figures attributed to poor Guild Wars 2 sales” then we have a business failure on our hands. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter if they don’t match WoW’s numbers in the first three months or whatever – as long as the money men behind the game reckon they’ve made a god investment, that’s good news for ArenaNet and for anyone who wants to follow in their footsteps by breaking out of the current MMO mould.

    1. Heh, I had not considered that at all. :D I think you’re on to something concerning geek culture there…maybe it’s because while I do identify as geek, I don’t identify myself exclusively as that. I’ve also never actually counted myself to an ‘unpopular’ group of people and I’ve never been marginalized for being a gamer. for other things surely, but being a gamer has always been something I felt good about and that I’ll readily proclaim in public (if prompted to, anyway).

      and indeed, luckily the success of this game will be determined by more objective factors than hype or bashing. I do not actually expect GW2 to get close to WoW’s (often obscure) sub numbers, but if I had to make assumptions I’d expect it to be up there well above Rift, at 2+ million purchases at least. in any case that would be a success.

  5. It is a double edged sword, this hype and expectations. On the one hand, you need enough hype to generate excitement and interest in your game. Take TSW. If there had perhaps been a little more hype and a little more excitement pre-launch, then perhaps it wouldn’t be “the best little game that no one seems to be playing”.

    Then take a game like SWTOR. I new it would “fail”. Not because I had any expectations that the game would be bad. But because the hype leading up to that game was so great, I didn’t think it could ever live up to such lofty expectations.

    We can always argue what “fail” means in MMO terms, but that’s another topic. :)

    I really don’t care if there are ten million people playing a game. Just as long as I am having fun and there are enough people playing on my server to give me a good sense of community and to not make it feel like a wasteland.

    1. Amen to that :) I guess the only reason I DO care for number of players is on behalf of the game company – because they need to reach their business plans and pay their investors in order for us all to keep enjoying their game. other than that though? it’s my individual enjoyment and that of my friends which counts. i’m even all for smaller server communities but of course with WvW and all, GW2 has a more massive concept.

      I hope you’ll find that home you’re looking for in GW2!

  6. I had no plans at all to play The Secret World and I didn’t even sign up for beta initially. Given that I sign up for MMO betas almost daily that really says something about how uninterested I was.

    Then after the first day of the first no-NDA beta weekend I read quite a few comments, all saying “hey, this is better than I thought it would be”. I still wasn’t swung, but it was enough to make me mention it to Mrs Bhagpuss, who said she wanted to take a look at it so I got us both beta keys (took about 30 seconds of googling) and in we went.

    I loved it (still do). Mrs Bhagpuss, not so much. I went in with no expectation of enjoying it at all and found it to be, in some ways, the best MMO I’ve played since Vanguard. And in other ways very much not, it has to be said. Underpromise and overdeliver is my personal work motto. Nice to see it being put into practice.

    Oh, and I don’t understand your comments on the “looks” of TSW. I’ve played a gazillion MMOs and I would put TSW in the top three most visually gorgeous I have ever seen. In terms of art direction I’d rank it first. The level of detail is astounding and the whole world is so beautiful I spend more time taking screenshots than actually playing some days.

    1. “Underpromise and overdeliver is my personal work motto”

      lol :D

      I admit I am a horrible snob when it comes to graphics; I can play Minecraft because there it’s not about that, but MMOs need to dazzle me.
      maybe I also should’ve elaborated more what I meant with a ‘sims game’; a lot of it goes back to style. to me TSW is reminiscent of many modern PC games such as GTA or Saints Row, even if they obviously lack TSW’s polish. but they share that ‘reduced authenticism’ with a hint of cartoon and personally I’ve never been able to immerse myself in such games. as far as quality goes, yeah you can polish that style and add tons of details, but there’s a hard line rather soon after which you cannot go much further.

      I think TSW is a lot more about the atmosphere while playing; the theme and creepiness added to the scenery and the music is also quite great. to feel all of that come together though you’d have to play it longer than I did (and I am not looking for the creepy zombie gothic thang).

      I loved the guns though. if only they didn’t auto-fire and auto-aim from a 90° degree angle away. ^^

  7. I really enjoy TSW personally. I think it’s settling in as one of my top five MMOs of all time. However, I think the setting of TSW pretty much makes or breaks it. If the idea of a horror themed modern day MMO doesn’t float your boat hard, you aren’t going to make if very far. The combat feels clunky at first since you don’t start with enough abilities for any combos (and heaven forbid you choose a starting weapon that has no low level AoE attacks), it’s not at all obvious how you should be building your character (do I need penetration or hit?), and even basic stuff like setting up a hotbar (small bag actually) to drink potions is not explained.

    The game certainly could have used a bit more hype, but I don’t really think there’s a huge audience for a classless non-fantasy MMO with slow paced combat and lots of puzzles.

  8. I had no idea about the literal German meaning for disappointed… smart people Germans.

    Hype is definitely a double edged sword, but I don’t think TSW is suffering from a lack of hype at least not on the player side of things. Horror/survival/modern/Cthulhu this were all things that said niche to me. I was pretty amazed when Funcom said they’d expected it to do as well initially as Conan. I see this game following more of an EVE curve: no initial massive bump but steady growth and retention instead. It’s a slower way to go but healthier in my opinion. I was impressed with a lot of elements of the game, but I’m not a fan of the genre so I’m not subscribing.

    1. Maybe it was just lack of hype for me. :) I knew next to nothing about it as I am one of those people who *never* play horror/survival type games. I only picked it up during some beta weekends because I had a friend who had been following it for a long time.

      I am amazed I’ve liked it as much as I have. The only zombies I’ve ever been into before was in the form of Plants Vs Zombies. That was as much of the walking dead as I ever wanted to see!

  9. I caught a whiff of TSW from a friend during his beta and got curious. Sadly, I could not try it out during the free weekend so I bought a copy of the game.

    Now I wish I handn’t. I had low expectations but still got disappointed. In part because of feminist issues – I think the female outfits are ridiculous (who would want to run around in a string bikini top and hotpants in the real world?), I think it’s rather silly that some girl I have to escort for a quest purrs and wants me to flex my muscles, and so on. In part because I don’t want to have to learn how to distribute skill points galore from day one, I am more of an ambling along and accidentally discover things type of person. And so on.

    Not going to subscribe to it once my free month runs out.

    The little I have seen of Guild Wars 2 seems interesting (although that “2” makes it sound like a sequel and thus destined to be not as good as the first :)).

    I guess my problem when it comes to games is that I know what I want – that shiny new freshness and wide-eyed wonder of something entirely unexpected and unexplored. Like WoW was for me six (seven?) years ago. I don’t think any game can live up to those expectations :)

    Btw like the look of your blog (have been reading it in a reader for ages and not seen the new layout until today).

    /Hugs

    1. Tessyyyy!! I am always so happy to hear you still frequent this little blog of mine – hope you are well! :)

      Like I said, I didn’t play TSW long by any standards (but certainly long enough to know I hate the style and looks), but I already disliked the female character creation. it’s interesting what you mention about sexist undercurrents – don’t think I’ve read any blog post about this aspect in TSW yet, a detailed review on how women are represented in quests and overall narrative would certainly be interesting.

      About GW2: you really need to think of GW(2) as an entirely different game that stands for itself, rather than a sequel. it is in any way that actually matters. ANet created a wide-appeal MMO here the way GW never was. other than that, heh I would never dare tell you GW2 can live up to your WoW nostalgia, I don’t think it can for most players, but reading this –

      “…that shiny new freshness and wide-eyed wonder of something entirely unexpected and unexplored”

      …and also knowing you a little from our merry old healing channel chats, THIS IS why you wanna play GW2! if nothing else, freshness and wonderful exploration with many stories to experience, is a reason to give this game a chance. :) let me know if you ever do!

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