You could cut the tension with a knife on Mass Effect 3‘s launch night. As anxious gamers impatiently waited on the cold streets outside GameStop, we reminisced about the past adventures of our beloved Commander Shepard and hypothesized what awaited us. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on what was supposed to be one of 2012′s best games. Ironically, we couldn’t give two shits about what actually was one of 2012′s best games, because if you asked anyone if they were anticipating Far Cry 3 before reviews and positive word of mouth started to come out last December, chances are they’d say no.
When you look at the critical reception for both titles, an interesting story is told. Both managed to hover around the lower 90% mark on Metacritic, and both made appearances in “Best of 2012″ lists. Heck, both won “Game of the Year” awards from various publications, though Far Cry 3‘s December release kept a lot of publications from noticing it in time.
Yet this is where the similarities between both titles stop. Other than the fact that, you know, both have the number 3 in their title. You see, both games had vastly different consumer reactions. While Mass Effect 3 was, and at times still is, blasted for it’s poor ending and generally disappointing manner of wrapping up a deep and enjoyable trilogy, Far Cry 3 was the bee’s knees, regardless of its questionable ending.
So what’s the difference? We can probably agree on the fact that both games are unquestionably amazing 95% of the way through, correct? Far Cry 3 is an thrilling experience despite the ending. And regardless of how much you hate the damn Star Child, Mass Effect 3 is fucking awesome until his dreaded appearance. So if we cut out the last 5% of both games, we’re left with two equally awesome titles. So why did the public hate one and love the other? The answer is simple: hype.
What is hype, you might ask? Let’s ask Merriam-Webster:
a narcotics addict
Wait, that can’t be the right definition…
Let’s try this again:
promotional publicity of an extravagant or contrived kind;
to promote or publicize extravagantly
Anyone who says that Mass Effect 3 wasn’t hyped to epic proportions has completely lost touch with reality. I mean, just look at the pre-release marketing campaign. Emotional TV ads? Check. Launch trailer filled with emotional music and one-liners? Check. Two games worth of story and choices to expand on and wrap-up? Check. Goosebumps as I re-watch that launch trailer? Yep. Hell, even IGN debuted a new review layout with the game.
“This is it… isn’t it?” Yes it is, Liara. Mass Effect 3 was it.
Now let’s watch the Far Cry 3 launch trailer, just for comparison’s sake. You’ll have to excuse me a second, because I actually haven’t even watched it before.
Eh, that kinda feels a bit generic, actually. Ironically, that goes against every other pre-release trailer we saw at various conventions; the E3 trailer and gameplay video was absolutely over-the-top. The fact that I hadn’t even seen the thing before goes to show you how little I honestly cared about the game. I’m not even alone in this regard, either. I’ve had colleagues echo my thoughts on how we kind of just ignored it back at E3. Of course, we greatly regret this in hindsight.
So what does all of this have to do with making or breaking a game? It’s simple. Hype leads to expectations. When expectations are astronomical, it’s harder and harder for fans to be pleased. When we don’t have any at all, it’s easier to be blown away. As I type this article up, I’m now exactly 41 minutes removed from watching the season three premiere of Game of Thrones. Did I enjoy it? Sure did, once the damn thing got going in the episode’s final five minutes. Did it match up my winter long excitement? Eh, not quite. But let’s say I hadn’t been counting down the days since September. I probably would have enjoyed it more.
Hype is a problem with a lot of games, movies, TV shows, even sporting events. A recently football game between Alabama and LSU was dubbed “Game of the Century.” The result was an incredibly defensive struggle that left many unimpressed. A rematch for the National Championship which, again, had people excited, was not only a worse game, but it was also completely lopsided. The Dark Knight Rises was an incredibly enjoyable movie, but the public put some pretty impossibly expectations on it, so people didn’t view it as positively.
That’s exactly why hype can be so detrimental or beneficial to a game. Gamers are human, emotions are involved in their decision-making and reactions. When we get our hopes up and have them dashed, we’re pretty upset about it. At the same time, when we’re taken by surprise, we like to make it known that this awesomeness that came out of nowhere needs to experienced by one and all. But what if we take hype out of the equation? What if we removed all expectations?
In the case of Far Cry 3 and Mass Effect 3, we felt let down by the game we were waiting for and amazed by a game we weren’t expecting to ever play. For all the imperfections a game like Mass Effect 3 had, you can easily say the amount of hype helped lead to it’s downfall in the public eye, whereas the lack of any hype for Far Cry 3 helped its critical success.