Games are being pushed out the door before they are ready, before in some cases they are even properly finished. So who’s to blame for these unfinished products, developers or publishers? Or are we the fans to blame in our terrifying outrage against delays? Or is there even a blame to be laid – is this simply the way the industry has evolved now that games are bigger and more intricate than they’ve ever been?
I don’t quite know how this post will turn out yet. Unfortunately on the topic of the recent ‘unfinished game’ trend, I fall squarely undecided. It’s a tricky situation – as games have become more complex, with more space for creativity and innovation to fill, developers have been pushing the limits past what they can achieve before a release date. My opinions fall in the middle of a player vs. developer tug of war where each side’s dominance is determined simply by which side of the story i’m reading.
We have The Division, which launched with an infestation of nasty, glitchy bugs as well as an internal system highly susceptible to the common hacker. We had Assassin’s Creed Unity which released to outrageous fan backlash after comically awful visual glitches and framerate collapses. These are just two examples in a string of cumbersome day one patches, server failures, multiplayer disappearances, bugs, glitches, and save file issues. Games are being pushed out the door before they are ready, before in some cases they are even properly finished. So who’s to blame for these unfinished products, developers or publishers? Or are we the fans to blame in our terrifying outrage against delays? Or is there even a blame to be laid – is this simply the way the industry has evolved now that games are bigger and more intricate than they’ve ever been?
As players we shouldn’t accept the unfinished game. Why should people be ok with spending upwards of $50 on a new game only to realise that the purchased product is not what was promised. Why should players excuse the issues with The Division just because it’s the first time Ubisoft have attempted a game on this scale. We’ve paid for this game, and the promised product has not been delivered. In any other industry this would be totally unacceptable, and yet we’ve grown in a state of Stockholm Syndrome to accept the culture of patching issues as players get to them. Why are we suddenly ok with giving companies a lot of our hard earned cash in return for what might turn out to be the promised product after a few months of patch work and maintenance. After the beta period has finished, the consumers are players not play-testers.
I’d feel more inclined to lay more blame with the publishers here than the developers. It’s a romantic notion I know, but the matter stands that publishers are in it for that cash dollar and while developers probably are too, they have to have a proven love for the product to ensure the product exists at all. While publishers have both eyes firmly on those profit margins, developers are wandering from their drawing boards to the graphs every now and then. It’s an industry about money nevertheless, and a big industry with big money. Sometimes this big money simply needs to be made – meaning titles need to be rushed out the door as soon as possible. This might be due to internal goals, or seasonal rushes, either way the AAA games we all wait for end up being some of the most rushed.
But there it is. The AAA games we all wait for. The AAA games we demand more from with every annual instalment. The AAA games we expect to be groundbreaking and new in their approach with every release. And to an extent, that’s what developers have given us. We have amazingly constructed living maps at our disposal with graphical output beyond anything we’ve been exposed to before. The intelligence behind and within the games we take as standard now has skyrocketed beyond industry projections from years ago. It’s a domino effect. As developers bring out these massive games, we come to accept these massive games, and they must then build on their technological prowess with more detail and creativity again and again, faster and faster – to meet player demands. We’ve seen the effect delays have, the grumbles surrounding the Zelda push back recently whine for themselves. As developers strive to meet both the deadlines of their publishers, and us the players, they naturally fall short in a few areas. Be it that they simply don’t have the time to play-test every area, or one section of code hasn’t been properly run. As games have become more intricate they require more time for development, and ironically as this level of sophistication has risen, time has been stripped.
Considering all sides of this argument however, brings us back to one central question of blame – is it necessary? Do we need to blame anyone for games releasing with these problems, or is this simply an organic evolution of the video game industry? We have high speed internet now, and consoles that can run it while sleeping. We have the ability to patch up games, add DLC, preorder and preload. Why not use it? Why should we have a problem with a game requiring an hour or so of day one patch downloading, and a few weeks of smoothing out if it gives rise to the ability for devs to produce these amazing worlds we play in? There’s a line to balance here, between making allowances for the tweaking of expansive games like this and accepting an unfinished product. It’s when these issues halt, or degrade actual gameplay itself that things get ugly.
There’s another aspect to the unfinished game that perhaps deserves a mention. It’s something i’ve come up against in the past few months with a few releases, and something the news sites need to address. Reviews. We cannot keep telling readers to ‘wait for a few patches and this game might be worth your time’. Then again if we’re not given the final product when we sit down to play it through, how can we make assumptions on the entire game’s potential further down the line? An unfinished game back in the day was a bad game, and reviewers annihilated them. It’s what stopped publishers rushing developers into releasing version 0.01 of their product. Nowadays, reviews are becoming hypothetical in their praises or critiques – trying not to base judgment on what’s sitting before them on launch day but what they could be playing two weeks down the line. It raises issues of journalistic integrity as well as issues of probability in the reviewer’s words remaining valid a month into release.
The unfinished game has spawned a culture of patches and updates that enrage and disappoint players continuously. It’s a degradation of launch day prestige and a topic of discussion that will gather momentum i’m sure after the events of 2016 so far. In terms of blame however, it’s difficult. Everyone has their part to play in this evolution of the industry. Players demand top quality titles, fast and on time, publishers need to score those profit margins quickly as the costs of development increase dramatically, and developers are desperately trying to cram every revolutionary feature into their games to please both parties. In the end, it’s the way things are now, and we’ll definitely see a new culture of late game purchasing arising soon. The effect this will have on preorders is another story.
Huh, so that’s how it turned out.