Halo: Master Chief Collection, Driveclub, Assassins Creed: Unity, Little Big Planet 3, and many more have something major in common: they’re all broken on arrival. While bugs and glitches in games have been around since gaming began, it appears now more than ever that games are shipping to consumers in a broken state, and it’s really starting to piss me off.
Devs and Publishers: At the end of the day, a customer paid “X” amount of dollars for a game (a product or service depending on how you look at it). And at the end of that day, a customer deserves a functioning copy of whatever they paid for. While accusations can be tossed around as to whether a game is “complete”, citing common complaints against Titanfall and Destiny for shipping with a lackluster or almost non-present story, few can argue that these games weren’t functional, and that’s an important distinction to make. The balance between what a customer expects when they buy and game and what the publisher/developer delivers can be tricky and is often a gray area, with customers having lofty expectations from community/industry hype, and varied expectations spread across millions of different opinions. Issues of functionality are a lot less “gray”. Sure, a frame rate hiccup every once in a while is tolerable, but game breaking bugs like falling through levels, missing faces, and non-functioning multi-player simply aren’t.
Delays: At this point, we have publishers to blame. Sure, some can blame developers as they’re the ones building a game, but the publishers are the ones releasing it. Publishers aren’t stupid, and generally know a game’s flaws. Ubisoft’s “WatchDogs” was delayed about 6 months. Early mock reviews of the game cited major issues, which influenced the publisher’s decision to delay the game for further polishing. More often than not, publishers seek out consultants and reviewers for mock reviews, and have a log of issues from their QA teams, and know how well games will score and perform across gaming media. Simply put, if a game sucks, publishers, PR, and marketing teams know it sucks, and they’ll do what they can to divert attention from that fact. And in the past, its usually been to a publisher’s benefit to hold off on a game until a game is ready. Recently, it has become more common for a publisher to release a game to either fit a holiday schedule, citing AC: Unity, LBP 3, Halo: MCC, or because they can no longer afford to invest resources, citing Driveclub. Simply put, if a game has serious problems, publishers, PR, and marketing teams know it, and they’ll do what they can to divert attention from that fact.
What become’s increasingly frustrating for gamers is the cavalier attitude with which publishers release these broken games.
“You know, they tried to do the best, newest, greatest thing ever to happen in the driving genre and they hit a hiccup” — Shawn Layden, SCEA President speaking about Evolution Studio’s Driveclub.
While I fully understand and support developers and studios trying new things and expanding the medium, selling a nonfunctioning product in the name of ambition is unacceptable. Paying full price for a game that is unplayable on its release, and then being told that it’s only a “hiccup” is nothing less than a slap in the face of the customer.
Embargoes: I’m not against all info embargoes; after big events like E3, they allow competing publications time to fully collect and release quality information instead of rushing and putting out false or misleading news. I understand reviews in progress, and some game reviews not being available on the day of release. Especially with multiplayer heavy games, there’s no way to effectively review a game until its launched and populated on real world servers. I can also understand review embargoes to come out closer to launch day, citing Far Cry 4, where reviews could be posted the Friday before the game launch. This is usually an effort by the publisher to capitalize on buzz and website traffic at a games peak, right before launch. What I can’t abide is a review embargoe that lasts until AFTER a game is released, citing AC: Unity, in which publications that received early copies of the game were instructed to hold off on publishing their respective reviews until 12 hours after the game had gone on sale. While some of you may ask, “well why don’t sites just post up their review whenever they want?”, keep in mind that if a publication were to violate that publisher imposed embargo, the publisher could easily deny that reviewer future access to early releases. Essentially, if I were to violate Ubisofts AC:Unity review embargo, next year I may not get an early copy of their game, meaning the soonest I could get the game is at the time of release, then I’d have to do about 40 hours of gameplay to get a feel for the game and write a review, which would come out days after any cite that had adhered to the embargo, thus putting me behind my competition. When a publisher chooses to have a review embargo up to or after the time of release, the consumer has no recourse other than to assume the publisher is attempting to hide a flawed product.
These types of business practices aren’t new, and in fact almost killed the gaming industry in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The shady actions from gaming publishers run the risk of eroding consumer confidence and harming a growing industry. What’s truly frightening is that 3 of the 4 games I listed at the beginning will go on to sell millions of copies, essentially sending a message to publishers that it’s OK to sell a broken product.
Solutions: While I’d love for review embargoes to be lifted and reviews to flow freely, that only treats a symptom, not the real issue. The biggest issues games face now are multiplayer issues. While QA teams do immense work for developers, the value of public beta testing cannot be over stressed, and a properly utilized beta can ensure a working product and boost sales. COD4:MW, Halo 3, Titanfall, Destiny all had giant betas to test their servers, and regardless of whether you liked the game or not, they had some of the smoothest launches, and were also some of the most heaviest played.
What I would hope is that we as consumers stand up for ourselves and not tolerate broken games, and that publishers/developers heed a lesson from one of gaming’s greatest minds, “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad”, Shigeru Miyamoto.
Authors Alex Reyes and Michelle O’Donnell