With the release of games like Overwatch, Dishonored 2, Stellaris, and DOOM (just to name a few), 2016 certainly had no shortage of (generally) well-received titles. By the time the holiday season came around, you could more or less find a decent game for anyone, regardless of their personal preferences, simply because there was such a wide variety of titles to choose from. Of course, not every game that has been released last year performed well, with more than a handful of high-profile failures. In all fairness, some of these failures were certainly commercial successes, but such success came at a high price, often souring the relationship between consumers and developers. It would be easy (and rather repetitive) to mock games like No Man’s Sky for this reason alone, but remembering why such games flopped would likely be more useful as a new year of games are unleashed upon us.
That being said, No Man’s Sky is the poster child of everything that can possibly go wrong with a game’s release. With the backing of Sony, the game enjoyed an incredible amount of exposure across all kinds of advertising mediums (even going so far as to being previewed on national television), whipping its intended audience into almost cult-like levels of dedication and zealotry. By the time the game released, however, it was clear that the only people who were reaping the benefits of the game’s initially high sales numbers were those in charge of the marketing. While the game did end up being a huge disappointment for many (judging by all the refunds of the game anyways), No Man’s Sky should be thanked for opening people’s eyes to the dangers of marketing (especially game marketing). In the months leading up to the game’s release, very few people could or would question anything about the game or its developers; a dangerous situation to be sure, and one that we will likely see again once E3 2017 goes underway.
If No Man’s Sky was the most prolific failure of 2016, then The Division surely deserves the runner-up position. While it wasn’t overly marketed to the same degree as No Man’s Sky, The Division let its audience down almost as much, proving to be a promising game on release but ultimately imploding due to various mistakes made by the developer and or publisher. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that people were looking for a replacement for Destiny in The Division, but by the time the game’s first content update came out, the only thing that they got was a game that pretty much copied almost all of the complaints that people had about Destiny—bullet sponge enemies, lack of meaningful end-game content, mediocre-at-best PvP, etc.—and put it into a modern setting.
This time, however, the warning signs were more subtle, with the biggest red flag (the developer refusing to talk in-depth about their plans for end-game content) only showing up after people already bought The Division based on the game’s fairly decent core gameplay. Sure, you could say that consumers weren’t patient enough to wait until after we saw what the developers had in mind for post-launch content, but the bigger, if more obvious, culprit is the developer for seemingly failing to take advantage of a market that was, understandably, very vocal about what they liked and didn’t like.
Speaking of missed opportunities, there were plenty of those too in 2016. Battleborn was absolutely crushed by Overwatch (to no one’s surprise), Titanfall 2 is still trying to make its way out of Battlefield 1’s shadow (try and explain that kerfuffle, EA), Virtual Reality came and made quite an impression on the relatively minuscule amount of people who could afford it, Pokemon GO decided that being popular was too much work, and the Assassin’s Creed movie really only existed to prove two things: no one learned anything from all the other video game movie adaptation flops and nothing can stop people’s love for Star Wars (Christmas specials and Gungans notwithstanding). Could all of the aforementioned missteps been prevented by better timing on the account of the developers and publishers? Perhaps, but it just goes to show that heavily investing in anything (emotionally or otherwise) is still an easily avoidable gamble, especially when developers and publishers are capable of making huge mistakes on something like release dates; seemingly the theme of 2016 that should be kept in mind as more and more games are revealed or released throughout 2017.
Naturally, it would be rather remiss to not mention that (as with every year, but with 2016 especially) as developers and publishers grow bolder with their marketing, it is entirely possible that they will end up openly taking their audience for granted. Echo chambers are easier than ever to set up thanks to all the forms of social media that exist, and at the end of the day it is up to the consumer to dig through everything to see if developers and publishers are trying to sell games based on brand loyalty alone or if there is a genuine attempt to respond to criticism. After all, as annoying as vocal minorities may be, they can often be representative of a silent majority that is simply content to go to the next big thing rather than provide criticism, something that should definitely be kept in mind as more and more developers try different ways to “engage” with audiences throughout the new year.More About This Game