Caveat Emptor is Latin for “Let the buyer beware” and while it traditionally applies to real property, it can apply to other goods; video games perhaps. This phrase arose from the idea of information asymmetry, whereby the seller has more information than the buyer, i.e. the seller knows what defects and limitations exist and the buyer does not. This principle is less applicable nowadays in some countrieswhere consumer law protects buyers andas a result its teachings have all but been forgotten.
When the world’s media, and not just gaming media, is paying attention you can be sure that developers and publishers are pulling out all the stops. This is their time to sell their game to a wider audience, some of whom won’t catch another piece of gaming news until it entails Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, or it’s E3 once again.
As a result, trailers and sales pitches are big business in themselves. We no longer have to take developers at their word that their game will “make [us] its bitch.” Now they can show us themselves. Of course, that’s not to say that they hit the mark every time.
The timing of E3 in this regard couldn’t be any better as a learning opportunity. Watch Dogs was released just weeks ago and left many disappointed. It’s not quite as stream lined as many hoped – street crimes are sought out purposefully rather than by scanning the surrounding – and the graphics controversy has been covered in-depth in the past few months. And yet, two years ago at this very conference it opened our eyes to the future of gaming, singlehandedly winning E3 for Ubisoft.
Of course, Watch Dogs is not the only game to have promised so much and fallen short of its lofty targets. While many are currently celebrating the announcement of Grand Theft Auto V on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it's worth remembering that even the mighty Rockstar has seen its title hampered by issues in its online component. Servers creaked at launch, as they seem to invariably do at this stage, players glitched their way to more money than they could spend, and players are still waiting for the day that they can execute the perfect online heist rather than just dreaming of it.
We can hope that this is just an isolated incident and that Rockstar will have learned some valuable lessons. Players, on the other hand, seem determined not to learn from experiences. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” is an expression that needs to be taken to heart. If servers implode or bugs render games unplayable, perhaps it’s worth waiting to see how the game fares in fan, social, or professional circles.
E3 is an exciting time of year, no doubt. The industry needs excitement and enthusiasm, but it also requires higher standards. It needs audiences to beware.