Do games developers and players understand each other?

(Diablo Immortal / Blizzard)

10 or 20 years ago, companies such as Activision, Sony, Nintendo, Epic or Sega (to give just a few examples) revealed their news at events such as E3 or through specialist magazines. Since then, things have changed significantly, and studios and publishers face the major challenge of communicating their ideas to players who follow the news about our favourite developments. Now the internet, YouTube and social media mean that everything has been boosted and zoomed in on, with the information being shared all around the world from the minute it is known and it seems that this is causing problems for some.

When Blizzard took to the stage of the last Blizzcon 2018 to present Diablo Immortal they didn't expect the reception it was going to have among the public, both in person at the event and those who saw it on streaming online. For months it had been rumored that Diablo 4 was in development, job offers had been published that pointed out that they were assembling a team to work on the next franchise delivery and everyone was all waiting for Blizzcon to confirm the theory. But what wasn’t expected was to hear the two words that no-one ever wanted to hear when talking about a franchise like Diablo: mobile devices. 

Blizzard, the same company that in that same Blizzcon announced the remake of Warcraft 3 or the World of Warcraft: Classic, had made a rookie mistake when announcing that the next instalment of Diablo would be for mobile without announcing a new edition for PC. They themselves realised the severity of their mistake during the presentation, seeing how the public froze, did not react and how during the question and answer session, they were asked “is this an April Fool’s day joke?”. It was later rumoured that Diablo 4 was going to be presented, but there was a change of plans as it was not fully finished, so no-one will ever know if Blizzard were doing damage limitation or really didn’t have a plan.

Whatever it was, the damage was already done, with more than 300,000 dislikes on the presentation trailer on YouTube and online media publishing videos mocking the faces of the event's presenters.

(Overwatch / Blizzard)

All this clashes with the good decisions they make with another of their star games, Overwatch. Every time they have to present a new character, they give us a trailer which even Pixar would be proud of, they let us test the new character in test servers, they show development videos and build excitement to have fans on the edge of their seats until launch.

A few weeks before, during Paris Games Week 2018, Electronic Arts / Bioware published a video of Anthem showing us a mission that took place overnight and the internet reacted rapidly. There was a brutal change in the graphics of the game, not only in the modelling and textures with respect to their E3 2018 presentation trailer, but also in the animations and lighting. Some claimed to see a pixelated Destiny 2, rather than the graphic in its launch presentation. The official answer to this was that the streaming had been done with the settings in low detail and a new video was published, with a daytime mission that effectively showed better graphics, but it again bore little resemblance to what was shown in E3 2018. It proved to be a foolish mistake to broadcast a video as it provoked hundreds of thousands of online messages questioning the quality of the product and making people remember again the dreaded word, downgrade.

Even more recently, there was a case that perhaps wasn't just bad communication, but outright deception. The game Atlas, a survival MMO with a pirate theme, direct rival of Sea of Thieves (from the developer Instinct Games) showed a trailer in which it seemed that the game would be far superior to the rival mentioned, with spectacular graphics, battles in boats with other players or epic dungeons. What was eventually published after countless delays was a game that was not a game, it was an ARK MOD (we can even access the ARK menu thanks to a bug), with laughable graphics and thousands of bugs.

Big companies’ mistakes

But not only video game studios have failures when communicating the new features oftheir products or understanding the needs of their users, as there are also cases from the companies that manufacture the hardware on which we play. Sony has had a couple of highlights over the last few years that have caused controversy even with loyal fans.

On December 3, the Playstation Classic was released, a reduced version of the classic PSX with plenty of controversy included. From the very large catalogue that you can enjoy with PSX, 20 games do not do justice to their predecessors of almost 20 years ago. It’s true that there are real gems like Metal Gear Solid, Tekken 3 or FF VII, but it’s hard to understand how some titles have been left off the list, such as Gran Turismo 2, Medievil or WipeOut, games that did not even require negotiations with any publisher because they were made by Sony first.

The second major headline from Sony was that it will not attend E3 in 2019, the first time it misses the event in 25 years. The only official explanation is that they are looking for new ways of announcing and communicating their news, because in a digital world it doesn’t make sense to have a single big event in which everything is announced when day by day the public can be informed thanks to new technologies. Considering that E3 would again show the remaining heavyweights for the final sprint of the generation (Last Of Us 2, Ghost of tsushima, Days Gone ...) and with almost no news of PS5, it seems right to avoid calling a conference just to try to fill it with minor news. The last thing fans want is two hours of conference in which Sony return to teach their users the same as other years and have received criticism for.

(Event in Fortnite / Epic Games)

But there are positive examples of relationships with users, as the people at Epic Games seem to have found the key in the relationship they maintain with their followers: Fortnite and its themes manage to keep people always aware of what's new. Although the best, undoubtedly, are the unique events, which occur only once in the history of the game and only for people connected at that time. This creates a sense of exclusivity, to be part of something that will not happen again, for example: the creation of dimensional cracks, the cube falling into Balsa Botin, the explosion that showed a kind of dimension or alternative universe...

In these times, advertising and marketing departments of the big studios should perhaps start to notice how many Indian developers establish communities and relationships with their followers, because bad decisions can kill a product without it even reaching the market.

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