Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

12 April, 2006

Meeting (incorrect) expectations
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:44 PM

I’ve been playing a few games lately to take my mind off the pain inflicted while we were moving. A few events in the games made me thinking about something important in most creative circles: the expectation of the audience, even if they are incorrect.

The problem is that not everyone knows everything. So, when you create something, often you have to meet the expectations of the audience even if they are completely incorrect.

How do you accomplish this?

A great example of this is in art. An artist I knew talked about drawing animals one time, and how people have certain expectations of what an animal will look like. Even if you draw a picture of an animal from a picture, it might not “look like” that animal to the observer. So, even if you are trying to capture the look of a “real” version of the animal, you might have to change it a bit to match expectations.

One example from gaming cames when I was playing Shadow of the Colossus. At one point the horse I was riding got hit, and I got knocked off. When the horse came up, it was hobbling like the leg was broken, but soon it was fine. My better half commented that the horse was probably lame from the first animation, given her knowledge and experience with horses. I never picked that up, but I knew that the horse was acting like it was hurt. It didn’t occur to me that the injury would indicate the horse was lame and therefore probably unridable. Of course, this didn’t fit in with the game very well (it would suck to have to walk everywhere in that game!)

The other example comes when I was playing God of War. In one portion they were talking about the “making of” the game and the concept art. One artist was complaining that the creative director came back and said one piece of art, “…wasn’t Greek enough,” even though the artist had used authentic source material for the drawing! Of course, what the creative director meant was that the art wasn’t Greek according to popular expectations. The artist had to change the drawings to take that into consideration.

This is an important lesson for designers to realize: even if you create something 100% authentic, it may not ring as authentic if it doesn’t match the expectations of the audience. The audience might even have incorrect expectations, thinking that something looks completely different than it should. The question is: how much should you change things to match expectations? This, of course, usually depends on the details of what you are doing. In a game designed almost purely for entertainment, relying heavily on expectations is okay. Developing a program for teaching people might not benefit from this so much.

In online games, we have to deal with this even more. People make certain assumptions about other people in the game. “Most women are played by men,” is one expectation that isn’t as true as people first think. It’s important to manage these expectations in order to keep the audience happy.

What are your experiences with the differences between “reality” and expectations?


  1. I actually had one of these exact little moments playing Oblivion. There’s a spell in the game called “Chameleon” which allows you to blend in with your surroundings, fulfilling what 99.9% of people believe Chameleons do. But they don’t. They never have done. Contrary to popular belief, chameleons do not change colour to disguise themselves against their background. They do change colour, but it’s to match their mood and temperature. It has nothing to do with their surroundings. But ask almost anyone what chameleons do, and they’ll say that’s it. Indeed, 100 years ago if you’d asked that same question, people would have said that chameleons survive entirely on oxygen, because they move so little and nobody had ever bothered to watch them long enough to see if they eat anything.

    There are, of course, a dizzying number of false expectations we have regarding just about everything in life. It’s not unusual that they would crop up in gaming too. For example, how many moons does Earth have? One, right? Nope, it has two, it’s just that one only orbits every 770 years. But there you go.

    Comment by Dom — 12 April, 2006 @ 11:12 PM

  2. Altered realities is one thing. It would suck in MMORPGs if you had to eat and drink regularly in order to survive, let alone get 8 hours of sleep a day.

    I don’t think that covers the ‘swimming in lava’ phenomenon, though.

    Comment by Dom — 13 April, 2006 @ 3:50 AM

  3. In business programming, project success or failure has nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with managing expectations. If you don’t set the right expectations, your project will be considered a failure even if it does everything that the business needs it to do. However, if you set the right expectations (read: low) then exceed them, whatever you do will be brilliant. For example, if something will take you 5 days to do, you say it will take 8 and *boom* you look efficient when you deliver in 5 days. (I know this sounds a lot like lieing, but the 3 days is more of a buffer in case something else goes wrong)

    In the MMOG world, there is a poster child for this: Shadowbane. This game was so hyped for so long and in a specific way that the expectations were huge and very explicit (play to crush). When it was released, the actual game did not (and arguably could not) ever meet the expectations set by both the positive expectations of the pro-pvp players and the negative expectations of non-pvp players. So, the pro-pvp players got disillusioned quickly and left while the non-pvp players never even gave it a first glance.

    A really good example of creating and managing expectations is politics. Whenever there is an election nearing, suddenly “crime is plaguing the city/country”? Even though if you look at the actual crime rates, the numbers havent really changed or are slightly less. (Us canucks are living this right now up here in the great white north. The crime rate hasnt really changed in 4 years but suddenly we cannot walk freely in our streets.)

    To wrap this all up, it might be time to invest in a little thing called Intellectual Integrity

    Comment by Neumann — 13 April, 2006 @ 4:58 AM

  4. It would suck in MMORPGs if you had to eat and drink regularly in order to survive, let alone get 8 hours of sleep a day.

    It’s interesting to note that a lot of times this is exactly what some people think should go into games. Back in the days of text MUDs, people always wanted to put in food and drink systems, and I’ve seen a “sleep” system discussed a few times. DIKU does have food and drink, but I don’t think you’ll starve to death, just stop regenerating health, etc. Very similar to what EQ did with its food and drink system.

    But, yeah, the hard-core systems have never been particularly fun, IMHO.

    Comment by Psychochild — 13 April, 2006 @ 5:16 PM

  5. I don’t feel bad or consider it lieing when I cite 8 days for a project that I expect will take 5. Just take a similar situation: getting to work on time. If it takes you 20 minutes to get to work on average, you don’t give yourself exactly 20 minutes, you give yourself 25 or 30.

    Comment by Notin — 13 April, 2006 @ 11:56 PM

  6. Ok, I’ve read some comments here, but really not sure anyone directed them to the question.

    Question being, how would you accomplish a creation or vision based on the expectations of a subscribership, even if you felt they were wrong.

    I think I can answer this with a simple analogy.

    Think of an artist or Art teacher, introducing the practice of sketching to a group of infants. He describes the vision by saying “today we will sketch a cow”.

    So now I add in the assumption that the class is already familier with basic shapes, lines curves etctra.

    So the “teacher” describes a cow before he starts to draw, he explains it has a head, a body, legs and a tail. This at least gives the class a referance. Additionally he may have a photgraph for this purpose.

    So now he asks the class where to begin, what shape to start with. Throughout the process he follows this procedure, until finally they arrive at what may or may not look like a cow.
    Or, he guides the class through the project. He allows them to choose what shape or what line to draw, but if it falls outside the vision or image, he corrects them by comparison to the referance material, the photograph.
    In this way he can hold true to the vision, while maintaining an understanding with the class as to why somethings need be a certain way.

    So in a sence, using a Forum as a class, and the dev team as the teacher/s; with open communications between the two, allowing input, but keeping it reasonable in expectation and vision. You can arrive at a product slightly altered from your original idea, yet workable and satisfying to the consumer.

    Agreed it can be a difficult task, given behavior on some forums, but not impossible.

    Everything is subjective, everyone has opinions, and no two are often alike. The best you can hope for is a “target” subscribership, and molding your product to best suit this group.

    Blizzard and WoW is a great example of a product that on the face pleased everyone (or most everyone). For some it will continue to please for a long time, but for many others it will, or has not. They also had a lot going for them in name recognition and a continuation of a theme. They knew how to draw a cow, but thier cow lackes the ability to hold it’s audience. (maybe it is’nt an exciting enough cow)

    (also a comment on Oblivion (ES4), a fantastic solo rpg. Most immersive solo game I’ve ever played)

    Forums are great for ideas, use them.

    Comment by Atoyota — 14 April, 2006 @ 5:20 AM

  7. Why build a game in the first place? To provide a service for others, or to satisfy some artistic vision of your own?

    Comment by Mikyo — 14 April, 2006 @ 4:18 PM

  8. Neumann wrote:
    …managing expectations.

    This is an excellent point, and something I advocate in online game development. As you said, if you don’t manage expectations then things may not live up to expectations, even if you do what seems to be the impossible. Too few game companies do this at all, let alone doing it well.

    Atoyota wrote:
    …sketch a cow.

    Er, okay…. :) Interesting analogy. Keep in mind that forums are not always a great indicator of what people really think. Forums are usually visited by a fraction of the total population of the game, and even then most of the vocal people are the minority of total readers of the forum.

    Mikyo wrote:
    Why build a game in the first place? To provide a service for others, or to satisfy some artistic vision of your own?

    Your question is very limiting. First, it doesn’t have to be either/or: I could be developing a game to satisfy an artistic vision and making it available as a service to others. There are also a lot of other reasons for making a game, such as educating people. In this case giving into incorrect expectations could harm the educational experience. This is why the question is so interesting, for me at least. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 14 April, 2006 @ 11:42 PM

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