It seems like more and more often today developers promise things for announced games and then ultimately don’t deliver. Probably the most notable example in modern gaming history is No Man’s Sky. It was only this month that Hello Games finally released a major update that delivered on some of the promises that were originally made and then broken. But I don’t necessarily believe that No Man’s Sky is an example of a developer blatantly lying to consumers. For me, that particular game is an example of indie developers reaching above their means and getting punished for it. But what about when a larger developer, such as DICE or Blizzard, blatantly lies to the public and fails to deliver what they promised?
Earlier this month, Ninja Theory released a game called Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Now personally I consider Ninja Theory to be a reputable developer of fairly decent size. They publish their own games with multi-platform releases. They’ve created great works over the years that everyone has heard of and most higher echelon gamers have played. I think it’s fair to hold them to a higher standard of game development and management expectations. So for me I think it’s a topic worth discussing when a developer like Ninja Theory lies about a key component of one of their games as part of its launch marketing.
I have not yet gotten to play Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. But I know I eventually will once the price drops. In fact I was sold by the opening sentence on the game’s Steam page. “From the makers of Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and DmC: Devil May Cry, comes a warrior’s brutal journey into myth and madness.” That sentence and the genre listing (action, adventure) is all they needed to sell an old schooler like me. Action adventure is my bread and butter and I loved each of the games listed in that sentence. So whether or not I was going to buy Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was never in question. The only real question is when? But one thing that turned me off of the game, but ultimately did not change my mind about eventually buying it, which I haven’t yet, was this rumor about permadeath.
I don’t like permadeath. I grew up in the NES/Arcade era and there are still tons of games that I’ve never finished simply because I wasn’t good enough to beat them without continues. Today, gamers have even less patience and time than they did when I was a kid. That’s both gamers my age and older who have been gaming since that era, and new gamers just starting out today. No one has time to put several hours into a game only to have all your progress lost. I don’t discourage developers from putting permadeath as an option in their games today. But like most unconventional mechanics, I believe that it should be optional. We have the technology today to allow gamers of all types to tailor their gaming experiences to their own wants, needs, and preferences. I play games for the story. I don’t like replaying things. Permadeath is a no go for me. Some play games for the challenge. They don’t care about the story. They like permadeath. Neither of us is more or less of a gamer. And neither of us should have to suffer through an experience we don’t like in a game we’re interested in just so the other person can have maximum enjoyment. The technology exists today where a developer can grant us both maximum enjoyment. They need only add a trophy to differentiate the permadeath player from the continues player. Anyone who doesn’t think that’s fair probably voted for Trump and thinks they have a right to dictate the lives of other people.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice had a huge rumor attached to it during the initial release window that if you died too many times your save would be deleted. This was a huge point of controversy all over the internet. Many forums, blogs, and gaming sites posted and debated this issue quite a bit. Ultimately though it was discovered that this was actually a lie. Ninja Theory put this out to the public and even has it stated in the game as a gimmick. The protagonist in the game suffers from delusions and the story is that she imagined the permadeath thing because her brain was playing tricks on her. Now first let me say kudos to Ninja Theory for connecting a mechanic, or at least the rumor of one, to the actual plot of a game. I love when developers make the story and gameplay work together as equally important parts of a whole. That’s how all games should be made and that belief is why I don’t play games like Overwatch. Also kudos again to Ninja Theory for being able to put out a rumor and keep it a secret until after launch. Even today, I’m sure some people still think the game has permadeath. But ultimately it doesn’t.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice does not actually have a permadeath feature. No not even in the hardest difficulty. Now personally I’m fine with that, which I already expressed earlier in this post. But what I’m not fine with is a developer blatantly lying to the public. Especially not as a way to hype their game. That’s basically false advertising. While it’s certainly not the kind of advertising that increases sales noticeably. In fact, I think it might lower them. It’s still a blatant lie to consumers. No it’s not the same as Hello Games promising multiplayer and then there not being any multiplayer. But it’s still a betrayal of consumer trust. If even one person bought the game specifically because of the permadeath feature, that’s a huge problem.
Developers should not lie to consumers. Especially not as part of launch marketing. This last week BioWare announced that there would be no more single player DLC for Mass Effect Andromeda. That’s a problem. While I personally am not affected by the news because I never buy story DLC and hadn’t planned on it with Andromeda either, it clearly stated during the release window that the game would have additional single player content added in the future. I bought the Deluxe Edition. Plenty of people bought the game expecting additional content to be added later and now they won’t get it. That’s false advertising which is akin to theft. It’s exactly what happened to me with God of War: Ascension. I preordered the Collector’s Edition because of the promise of additional single player content which I was supposed to obtain with the season pass. Ultimately they never released any, made all the multiplayer DLC free for everyone, and never returned my money or compensated me in any way for having paid extra for a literally useless season pass. Developers should not lie to consumers. It’s not ok. In any other industry we’d be talking about a class action lawsuit. There almost was one in the UK for No Man’s Sky. If a game can’t stand on its own two feet and the developer can’t sell it honestly, then it’s clearly not ready for release or shouldn’t be released at all.
The problem is that developers have forgotten that they are in the business of entertainment. They’ve started to think that just because they make games means they deserve to make sales. That’s not how entertainment works. Making a game only gives you the right to potentially make a profit. It’s the quality of that game and the strength of the marketing that ultimately leads to profit. But if the marketing isn’t honest, then it’s not acceptable marketing. Personally, I think this trend is a serious problem. Look at games like Destiny and The Division. Both games that didn’t flat out lie, but were very dishonest in how they were presented pre-release. I preordered both games and while I don’t regret The Division as much, I do wish I hadn’t purchased either game. Lying to consumers or misrepresenting products to consumers, which for all intents and purposes is lying, is not and should not be considered an acceptable practice in the gaming industry or any industry for that matter.
Have any games burned you recently?