As the calendar turns from January to February we are crawling ever closer to release, and Zenimax has celebrated by blessing us with their new trailer, The Arrival.
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I would like to preface the bulk of this article by saying that Arrival is a gorgeous Daedra-and-magic-filled stabfest, and that I loved every second of it. Unfortunately, just like with people, the love that this video creates also creates something that could make or break my entire relationship with TESO: expectations.
Unlike other narrative media such as movies, television, or books, video games allow consumers not to just experience the narrative but become a part of it; the players are necessary to the experience.
This is doubly true for an MMO still in beta like TESO, in which the developer is receiving—and reacting to—feedback from hundreds of thousands of testers. These interactions that gamers have with a product mean that, when it comes to pre-release cinematics, the video game genre is wholly unique in the expectations it can create.
This brings me to my major point; when The High Elf popped that giant spherical shield and then started using greenish whips of magic to chuck enemies into the air and each other like Scryer from Psy-Ops, I didn’t just think “damn, that’s cool.” I thought “damn, I want to do that.”
Our ability to be an active part of both the story and mechanical development means that, for better or worse, we sometimes feel entitled to things like greenish whips of tossy magic. This could work for the developers, because they do have the ability to react to what excites us, but it can also lead to post-purchase disappointment. When I look at the class skill trees, the only thing I see there that even resembles The High Elf’s ability set is a hybrid Dark Magic / Storm Calling Sorcerer (which I will be making,) but it’s nothing like what I saw in the video. If I took this advertisement for TESO as an advertisement for TESO’s content, I would be crushed.
It’s easy for someone on a forum to bring up the point that these cinematics are not advertised as being examples of gameplay—they are purely for publicity and necessary plot exposition. As true as this may be, the average 21st century gamer’s new relationship with developers means that we can ask things of them and, sometimes, have them actually give those things to us. Consider the reaction months ago when Zenimax was planning on launching TESO without visible hands in the first-person view. Thousands of gamers who could not imagine an Elder Scrolls game without this iconic perspective (myself included) took to the forums and now, at conventions, Zenimax proudly points out their fully functional first-person view as a major selling point.
It is also easy to say that the degree to which we have these expectations should depend on the game and the company making it, and this is also true. But—and this is where I’d like to give the microphone to you, the reader—how do we manage those expectations?
When watching things like Arrival, reading over the same forums that the developers read, and listening to indie podcasts like TESOcast (which TESO advertises on their own website,) what factors affect how much we think we’re getting? More importantly, what factors affect what we think we can get? It’s a huge question, which is why I believe we need a lot of voices to answer it. More than ever, gamers are a part of the conversations that enact change upon future games, and that means we need to take our role seriously by thinking about how we think.