Some poor Team Fortress 2 players—beleaguered by bots, stomachs growling from the game’s lack of major updates—wrongly believed they would finally get a dose of good news after spotting the Engineer character in a promotional image for PC Gamer’s PC Gaming Show on June 12. They did not.
To be fair to PC Gamer’s graphic designer, the promotional image also featured characters like Manny Calavera from the adventure game Grim Fandango, which was released in 1998, The Red Prince from role-playing game Divinity: Original Sin II, and Lara Croft from the Angelina Jolie movie. We can assume that gamers in 2022 aren’t frothing at the mouth for a Grim Fandango re-remaster just in time for its 24th birthday, but Team Fortress 2 players would gladly accept the most microscopic crumb of news to keep them fed.
They’ve had a hard few years. Video game company Valve has put the 15-year-old game mostly on the backburner aside from lifeless Halloween-themed updates. Team Fortress 2 players once kept track of their neglect on the website Creators.TF with a graphic indicating days since the game’s last major update. To fill the empty days, they also maintained a repository of fan-made updates to keep the “authentic Team Fortress 2 spirit” alive and to rise to the occasion when Valve wouldn’t. That website is down now.
Spotting the Engineer out in the wild was thrilling for these sad puppies. Seeing him proved that other people could see him too, and that they remembered Team Fortress 2’s existence. A normal promotional image turned into a single, hopeful firefly in the game’s starless update catacombs. But once players’ hope grew too big, PC Gamer stamped out that firefly real quick.
“Just to check everyone’s collective expectations—this is a promotional image celebrating some iconic characters in PC gaming,” the website tweeted on June 12. “Team Fortress 2 isn’t featured in this year’s show, as much as we’d like it to be.” Ah. Can you hear that? It’s the sound of 30,000 hearts getting bazooka gunned.
It was funny how Team Fortress 2 fans collectively deflated, even though context clues might have saved them from disappointment. They also knew their intense reaction was funny, and posted a lot of memes that involved crying and laughing and laughing about how much they’re crying.
But we can’t fault them for their tears. They flow because mainstream gaming showcases have trained players’ expectations to grow big and tall, despite the fact that the announcements they share are often demure, predictable, or not at all what players were asking for.
The video game industry has successfully overhyped its tiny announcements, but our grieving Team Fortress 2 fans show that a too-oiled hype machine is detrimental to it. Geoff Keighley delivered the same chill-out message about Summer Game Fest last week, but that didn’t stop fans from making “Kojima” trend on Twitter after Summer Game Fest brought no news about his rumored horror game Overdose. It also didn’t stop Keighley from acting like the latest Left 4 Dead wannabe is the most stunning gift to Earth, outranking the pyramids and when you find a bunny rabbit on your lawn.
Of course fans are going to be disappointed. They’ve all been eaten by the hype monster gaming showcases created, the one the industry is realizing it can no longer control. We should defang the monster once and for all. Wipe your tears, keep your expectations modest, and don’t trust people who want to sell you things.