Video games are much more time-consuming than other types of visual media. While films typically run for two hours and television episodes last around 20–50 minutes each, video games often occupy players for anywhere between 5 and 40 hours for the main narrative, with multiple games running over 100 hours to attain completion. For this reason, consumers understandably take several precautions before deciding to purchase a game: watching trailers, checking out gameplay videos, and reading reviews. When a game receives a negative initial response, gamers are quick to denounce and dismiss the title based on popular opinion, often leaving a permanent mark on a developer or franchise. This response begs the question: do gamers judge titles too harshly based on first impressions?
Ready at Dawn’s first original IP, The Order: 1886, received a significant marketing campaign—including a gameplay trailer during Sony’s E3 press conference—which created high anticipation and expectations for the title. However, in the week before launch, reports spread regarding the game’s five-hour length, and concerns were raised about the value of the product. Even OnlySP’s James Schumacher—who praised the narrative, graphics, sound, and gameplay—felt that the short length left him wanting more. Critical response to the game was middling, with an average Metacritic score of 63 out of 100.
The Order: 1886 was developed with a series in mind, set to be a long-term investment for Sony, but the lukewarm reception led to the apparent abandonment of the IP, and the developer has since moved on to other products. However, despite the negative first impressions the game has performed well over time. Creative director Ru Weerasuriya described sales as “steady” and noted that the game continues to maintain “a constant group of people playing.” Interest in a sequel grew following a discussion with Weerasuriya last week, showing a change of heart from the initial responses at launch. Nonetheless, first impressions destroyed the game’s reputation in 2015, and now a sequel may never be seen.
Similarly, No Man’s Sky was one of the most highly anticipated titles of the last decade. The promise of exploring procedurally generated planets alongside friends seemed too good to be true—and it was, as players discovered on launch day. The game had no multiplayer (a feature that had been promised for years), and game-breaking bugs littered players’ experiences. Within a week, concurrent Steam players dropped 89% (from 212,000 to 23,000), and the game has never fully recovered—for the first year, concurrent players rarely surpassed 1,000. Even after the recent release of No Man’s Sky NEXT—a major update that addresses most of the issues with the original game, including the addition of a full multiplayer experience—the game failed to exceed 100,000 players.
Initial impressions of No Man’s Sky in 2016 created a reputation that was unrecoverable for developer Hello Games; the title, and by extension the developer, will always be associated with the negative reaction and marketing failure. A common term in recent video game marketing is that of a “post-No Man’s Sky world”: a world where marketing material accurately matches the final product. The first impressions of No Man’s Sky left a legacy, but probably not the legacy the developer intended.
Another example of the impact of a negative initial reception is Watch Dogs, publisher Ubisoft’s most pre-ordered new IP. The game’s presence was the most anticipated at each Ubisoft conference in the lead-up to release, with praise consistently directed towards the impressive graphics and innovative gameplay. With over 50 awards and nominations at E3 2013, the expectations for Watch Dogs’s success could not have been higher. However, prior to the game’s 2014 release, video comparisons demonstrated a significant graphical downgrade between the original trailers and final gameplay footage. Despite successful sales, the game was criticised for its plot and ridiculed for its downgrade. When Watch Dogs 2 launched in November 2016, sales saw an 80% decrease from the original. The game was lauded for its improvements in narrative and gameplay, but players’ impressions of the first game meant that the sequel never stood a chance.
Gamers often judge quite harshly based on first impressions, but this trait is not necessarily a bad thing. Ready at Dawn has the chance to take the criticisms towards The Order: 1886 and potentially develop a spin-off or sequel with more detailed gameplay and an extended narrative, and the marketing mistakes of both Hello Games and Ubisoft have demonstrated to other publishers what not to do during promotional campaigns. The studios redeemed themselves in the years to follow, but to little attention—the initial damage had been done. Perhaps gamers should be more willing to forgive and forget in the name of an enjoyable future for all gaming.