The Waiting is the Hardest Part
Before this week there was a lot of anticipation around the Stronghold about Titanfall and Dark Souls II. It got me thinking about the importance of anticipation itself. It's been said that the waiting is the hardest part, but I'd like to make the assertion that the waiting is a really important part. We live in an age where technology is catching up with the idea of near-instant access to whatever media you may want to consume.This supposes that you're living in one a center of and tech that is lucky enough to have quick access to broadband internet. The point though, is that just generally speaking we're not often subjected to the wait that we were mere years ago. Within recent memory was a lot more waiting, and a lot more mystery for new games.
Speaking of waiting, when's the next installment of "The Postman" coming out?
For fun, let's list off a ton of things people probably don't do much any more: Wait for Nextflix to mail them DVD's. Go to a Blockbuster Video, or really any brick and mortar video store. Have no idea what a major game is going to play like before release.
The entire attitude toward the way that the consumer interacts with games has changed drastically. The first time I remember feeling beta jealousy was when World of Warcraft went into Beta. Two of my best friends got into the initial beta, and I didn't. As with a lot of Blizzard titles, when they entered the "Beta" phase, the game already had a level of polish you'd expect from a launch title, so in reality they were just adding that last level of polish and putting their servers through their paces. I obviously got to toy about a bit with the WoW beta after prodigious begging, but I was frothing at the mouth for Blizzard to finally release it. I hadn't pre-ordered it, and to be honest I don't even remember if that was an option that long ago. I had to go to something like 4 stores to finally find a copy, and then run home like a madman to join my friends. Since I was the last one to join I ended up playing a Night Elf Druid, as that seemed like it would round out our group. Ha.
There's a lot to be said for how accessible games are before their official launch. It's great to see developers doing mid-development streams of gameplay. They can use community feedback to possibly improve the game. Ostensibly that's what betas are meant for too, though that's become so obscured these days with things like Early access games. Kickstarter is also having a huge effect on what used to be a much more closed development cycle. With so many people handing money over to a company for a game that isn't complete, or even possibly started, we've seen a much more open dialog with the users as the development progresses. There are a lot of good things to be said for seeking out the input of players, but my fear is that an idea that may be innovative may lose it's teeth before release because vote by committee often turns a spicy idea into comfortable vanilla pudding in an attempt to please the highest number of people.
It's almost assumed these days that a game, at least a major game, is going to be playable early access, or in beta, or in some form before the official release. Not too long ago (i.e. I remember it.) it wasn't uncommon to have NO IDEA what a game was like before you sat down in front of it with a controller or keyboard. Writing has always been a very poor medium for describing gameplay to the unfamiliar, so you could read Nintendo Power all you wanted, but you still wouldn't be ready for the first time you booted up F-Zero, or played through Secret of Mana. (Comix said Super Metroid was his jam.) I'm not wistfully arguing for an old way of doing things, but there is a different experience afforded to gamers today than there used to be. Obviously there's no point getting nostalgic for a time where you didn't know ahead of time how bummed out you were going to be after getting E.T. for Atari, but the change is real and probably irreversible.
I guess it's just a sign of the times, and to be accepted as the state of things. This is just like every other period in a developing industry, temporary. The most exciting thing has yet to be discovered or announced, and I am sure that future development will melt puny human faces like staring deep into arc of the covenant. I'm sure you won't have to wait too long, I'm sure someone is finishing development on "Future Game Beta Simulator 2014", I'm sure you can play the beta before it releases.