Blockbuster game releases have become something resembling what big Hollywood premiers looked like when movies ruled the entertainment world. Most big releases get special midnight events with excited gamers lined up outside their local game shop waiting to get their hands on the long anticipated game. The game that everyone drooled over the E3 footage they saw over the summer, which prompted them to then rush out and pre-order it the next day with their hard earned cash. Everyone rushes home in anticipation of starting chapter one of the story mode or logging on to play some multiplayer chaos with your friends who, I will remind, were waiting in that same line for the same game.
But before you get a chance to play, a box pops up with text saying that a firmware update is required before you can even boot the game up. You click on “ok” and proceed to watch your download bar move slowly from left to right. Before you know it it’s been two hours and you are now ready to crush your online opponents, until you discover that you can’t even get into a lobby to join a game, and when you finally do it’s so full of lag that it’s unplayable. You decide to try the campaign mode instead and hope that it can salvage some of the trust you put in the game when you pre-ordered it. You play for about an hour, but you find it is full of frame rate issues and bugs that make it almost unplayable. So you quit and resign to bed and maybe tomorrow it will get better. But it doesn’t. Maybe it will get better the next day, then it becomes next week, and finally next month. Then the publisher or developer release a statement that they are working on a patch to fix all the problems and it will be out in the next couple weeks. You promptly take back the game you bought, no, pre-ordered, to the game store you waited in line at midnight to pick it up, only to receive half of what it’s worth in game credit and, if you are lucky, a quarter of what it’s worth in cash.
You bought, essentially, a broken product. A product that was dressed in a pretty trailer riding a unicorn farting miles of golden tracks for this hype train to travel on, only to breakdown after you board it and deny you a refund when it does. Then they ask you patiently to wait as they work on getting the train back up and running. How long you ask? Who knows, but if you don’t like it you can walk to your destination.
This, in a nutshell, is what game publishers expect you to do when the game they release doesn’t resemble a working product. Ubi Soft did it with Assassins Creed Unity, Microsoft with the Master Chief Collection’s multiplayer, and 2K Sports decided to take the same route with NBA 2K14 (and 2K15 apparently). These are big, well known franchises that are producing games unfinished and then asking us to let them finish the game on our time.
Even Nintendo released the Wii U in need of a mandatory day one update that most game media recommended taking out of the box, loading it, and then putting it back in if you were giving this as a Christmas present due to the length of time it took to load it. That sentence, in and of itself, is full of ridiculousness. That is like buying a toy and finding out you have to construct an actual battery that must have power harnessed from Mars’ core using only chop sticks and one of those collectable state spoons of your choice.
And this has become an alarmingly normal way to do business for video game publishers, which is even more bizarre to think about it. This has become the excepted way to release games now, which scrambles my mind on how this method became an acceptable way to do things.
Who is to blame for this new business cycle in the video game industry? I think there is enough blame to go around.
Now, before my little island of opinion gets bombarded, I will admit that I don’t believe the developers are too much at fault. I’ve read enough horror stories about developers working up against a daunting timeline that stuff has to get done by with publishers breathing down their necks. I’m not saying they aren’t totally at fault, they made the game, but they are held under a certain timeframe to get this done and they know that going in. I don’t envy developers that have to craft a new world with a new story within a very small window. I imagine it can’t be easy to do complex things with a deadline looming in the back ground, but that is what is expected when you take big money from big publishers. You are expected to perform and put out the product at the agreed upon time.
This leaves the publishers to take the blunt of the criticism. They are the ones pushing developers to finish games in a certain timeframe so they can hit the best release date for the biggest returns on said game. I understand the process we call capitalism. But that shouldn’t serve as an excuse to release a broken product to your consumer base. Especially when those games, at least recently, are established properties that fans would be more than happy to wait on. If these were new properties that you were trying to establish, I could understand after dumping tons of advertising dollars into a new property that they would not want it pushed back from there much hyped release date. But these are established million dollar sellers that have a well established fan base, not a new property that needs to be kept on track for release at a certain time. Fans of the series mentioned above would wait for the next-gen installment to look and play at its best, instead of getting a half-baked one.
And you would think that publishers would want their tentpole franchises to continue the quality that made them fan favorites to begin with. Why do something that will cause you to lose money on something that made you so much to begin with? And don’t tell me it kills the hype of established properties. That it disappoints the fans of the series to wait longer for the game, or that publishers can’t afford delays. Developer Rocksteady did it with what might be the biggest release of next year with Arkham Knight because it needed more time to make it the best game they can when it is released to the masses. I’m sure it may have a firmware update to fix something, but I’m ok with having to do that knowing the developer and Time-Warner agreed that the game needed to be a quality release on day one. We as gamers should appreciate the gesture of wanting to release a working game, and not complain about a delay that benefits us as both gamers and consumers.
Publishers know their biggest franchises are going to make money regardless, why not take the extra time to make the game as good as possible before you release it. All of the games above, minus NBA 2K which gets a small amount of leeway due to the NBA season starting, doesn’t really have to be put out on a timeframe at all if need be. Most big gaming franchises should give, at the very least, one free delay if the developer feels like they need it. Just another reason why having a release date is silly on established sellers due those games having a “build it and they will come” following.
That question leads into the final party that deserves some of the blame: Us.
Even though I’ve never been one to pre-order a game, I do sometimes rush out to pick up the newest game on day one, only to to be disappointed by something in the game or a firmware update I have to sit through before I play. We, as gamers, have allowed this to happen by not taking advantage of multiple review sites that get a chance to play these games and critique them for a profession. Some may not like reviewers, I admit some can be a bit too positive or negative about a release, but that is why we, as gamers, should do ourselves a service and use these reviews to make decisions on what games we should pick up on day one versus those we should wait on. Review sites and the writers they employ are our only protection from being taken advantage of by publishers who continue to give us much less than what we should expect from them. And, sure, that might mean not having the “coolest” game on the block for a bit longer, but at least you give the developers time to fix what needs to be fixed.
Disappointment in this life will happen, why not save yourself some with a little bit of research.
I have become a much more avid review reader and it has saved my self a lot of frustration. I waited to buy a Wii U even though I really wanted one at launch, and reading reviews about the firmware update and the impending drought of game releases I read about helped me to wait. I waited patiently, and sometimes not-so-patiently, until Mario Kart 8 came out and my wonderful wife, girlfriend at the time, surprised me with a trip to Best Buy to pick one up. And guess what? I plugged it up and it was ready to go, and my initial enjoyment was much better due to reading reviews and waiting than it would have been when the system had it’s long day-one firmware update. I’m not saying this patience has always been part of my buying habits. In fact, it was quite the opposite for a long time. But why should one be patient when trying to find a house or vehicle that would make their life more enjoyable, and not be that way with their entertainment as well? And unlike the other two, which is a necessity that sometimes doesn’t give us that luxury of choice, video games and other forms of entertainment has more than enough opinions to help us chose the one that we will enjoy the most. Why are we not using those opinions and reviews to help us make better decisions and to show publishers that we want better than what they are giving us currently? I’m not saying we should just let reviews decide whether we should buy a game or not, but we should let them give us the positives and negatives, and then use those, along with other personal accounts from forums, and as weight to decide if we want to spend our money on that particular game.
We as gamers need to start holding publishers accountable for these broken releases and forgiving them for it because they give us a fancy new outfit or an XP boost when we pre-order it. Or when they do give us a statement giving us free stuff due to all the bad PR a game is getting because, again, it’s broken, and we give them a mulligan and hope they do better next while we, again, wait to download something. It’s time we begin to take responsibility for being a part of this warped cycle and allow publishers to continue to disrespect us as consumers.
I know some will read this and bring up things I may have not thought of. Like how firmware updates are good for the industry, how release dates help build anticipation and give us something to look forward to, how developers are trying their best with the time given to them, and don’t forget about the new hardware. And I understand all of those. Firmware updates was something I felt was needed to help make games perform better after release, but not something that is needed to actually make the game work. I also don’t fault developers for having to work under ridiculous time crunches to make a game that needs, in some cases, twice as long to fully develop. New hardware is difficult to work with, hence why you might need to take more time. As for the release dates, well, you are just wrong on that one.
Regardless, we should expect better. And until we realize that we do, the only thing we should expect from the industry we love is for them to keep taking advantage of our loyalty and fandom. That, my gaming friends, is a dangerous future, and one I am not looking forward to living in.