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Game development: Is releasing unfinished, unpolished and buggy games a new trend?

By Ian Chee - on 14 Nov 2014, 5:19pm

The recent mess with Assassin's Creed Unity brings back memories of last year, and not good ones. Remember the massive launch flop that was Battlefield 4? Of course you do.

Even the poster child is running from all the bugs at launch. <br>Image source: The Video Game Gallery.

While Ubisoft is quickly gaining notoriety as the next EA – thanks to this year’s installment of Assassin’s Creed and new IP Watch Dogs – it has to be said that these two are not the only guilty ones when it comes to releasing unfinished or unpolished games and expect to not face backlash of any sort. And yet, no one seems to truly care. Sure, the players and, to some extent, the press will rage about it for a while, but when these game developers and publishers say something along the lines of "We're sorry, we'll fix them soon," everyone becomes silent and takes it like it was supposed to happen. Well, it's not, period. Games are supposed to be released playable. It defeats the purpose of selling a game for, say, Christmas, since the game is unplayable at that time and gamers have to wait for the team to come back from their holidays to – if you'd pardon the reference – play Fix It Felix. By doing that, they have just wasted their customers’ holiday, when the time they thought they would spend playing games could be used for many other activities.

Again, I must confess that I don't know every finest detail of how the process of developing games goes, but I can imagine it is much like almost every other industry; you have deadlines to be met, a budget to juggle and profits to be made. And when it comes to complex computer coding like those for video games, I’m sure that coming up with the basic structure, building it up and then completely iron out the bugs is not easy, to say the least. I am also not surprised if publishers expect developers to do the impossible that is doing all that under deadlines so tight they suffocate, knowing full well how difficult the process is.

All that said, as a paying customer, should I care about all this? Maybe I should, but if it's happening so often, I find it very hard to empathize with their plight. This is especially so when before the game was even announced we get bombarded with blinding hype and glowing impressions (though this is partly the gaming community's own doing) and that we should totally pre-order it now, shortly after a title is announced and way before the game is set to be released. Publishers want your money before they can give you something worth the amount you pay in return. At this rate, it is probably fair to say that one day they will want your money before they even make your game.

Sure, some of the big names can afford to do this – at least for the first few times – but when they start screwing up big time the way EA and Ubisoft are doing, even they won’t have the right to say “Hey, pay us now and one day, maybe you will get your money’s worth from us.” Not that they ever had the right to do so, only now we are less inclined to fall for it. Again, not that we should fall for it in the first place.

This is something only the video game industry can get away with. You don’t see artists release an album with half-tracks and then asking you to buy a second one that will patch your previous halves into full songs, nor do you get, say a water bottle without the cap, which will be delivered three weeks after you bought the bottle itself. Anything else that doesn’t work the moment you buy it will only mean an immediate refund or replacement with something that does. Video games don’t work that way. At least, not anymore.

Having lived for just shy of a quarter of a century, I can’t say I am old myself. But at least I am old enough to remember the days when games worked like everything else; when you fork out money, it is for something that works the way it should. In fact, anyone who is reading this now is probably old enough to remember those good old days where games were bug free on launch day, or if there were any, they were so obscure and difficult to reproduce that finding them actually became another objective after the actual game was completed. I’m afraid the same can’t be said for the future generations though.

With the advent of patches, every publisher has an excuse to release semi-completed games and get the full retail price’s worth for it. Don’t get me wrong, there are many games for which I am grateful to patches, most of them being Bethesda titles. Unfortunately, many others don’t make use of patches that way, which is the way it should be. This abuse of patching technology then gives rise to another problem: DLCs.

DLCs are a way for publishers to milk a title for more than it is worth. Sometimes, they release half-games in the pretense of a full game, then sell you the other half for more money than what you already paid. Or worse, they lock away content in a disc, which is only accessible after you pay to unlock said content. With that, DLCs came to be known as two things: the former form is called Downloadable Content, while the latter is known as Disk-Locked Content. Capcom is especially guilty of this – they deliberately lock characters in the game discs only to be unlocked by buying them (think Street Fighter x Tekken), or making small improvements to an existing game but selling that patch as a whole new game (Street Fighter IV, need I say more?).

Another method of milking a title for more than it's worth is microtransactions, also known as in-app purchases. This is fine in a free-to-play game, but should be illegal in retail titles. The idea behind microtransactions is simple: need more money to buy that game-changing item but also want to skip all the prerequisites for it? Pay up and you can have it, skipping parts of the game in the process. And so my problem with it is: why should a consumer be made to pay more so that they get to play less of the game?

Now that I’ve gotten all that out of the way, you will notice that Assassin’s Creed Unity is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the video game industry, at least from my perspective. With it now guilty of microtransactions and not being finished and polished on release, it is only a matter of time before they release DLCs for it. Even worse is the fact that many publishers today are not aiming to make games the old fashioned and proper way; they are aiming to release games that are just like Assassin’s Creed Unity, so that they can milk as much money as they can from gullible consumers. If this kind of fiasco happened once in a blue moon, then yes, we could say this was truly an unfortunate instance. But when so many are suffering from the same problem, then you know there is a problem that needs addressing.

Indeed, let us unite against buggy game releases. <br>Image source: The Video Game Gallery.

So who needs to be addressing these problems? The publishers, for one; they are the ones who need to convince us their product is worth our money. That said we, as consumers, need to do our part as well in showing the publishers that if they want our money, they have to earn it the same way we earned ours. Instead of supporting the unscrupulous practice that is pre-orders, try waiting for the game to actually be out in the market. If it’s playable then, it’s fine to buy it and is well worth your money. If not, then either wait until it is or move on. DLCs are a little more complicated to deal with, but you can do better than buying every single one under the sun. Just take a look at the whole picture and decide if you are paying for something that should have been part of the game in the first place or something that actually adds value to the game. As for microtransactions, it is exceedingly simple: microtransactions and retail purchases are to be mutually exclusive. If you had to pay for a game, there can be no microtransactions. Likewise, if a game has microtransactions, you must not have paid to get said game.

Once again, the root of all evil is what makes the world go round, and this time around, it threatens to derail the gaming industry. It is up to us to keep things under control so that in the coming holiday seasons, we can hopefully see blockbuster titles that blow our minds without flopping like a fish out of water.

And on that bombshell, adieu to y'all.

Ian Chee

Ian Chee / Writer

Having given up his dreams of playing games for a living, he has gone for the next best thing: writing about them for a living. Or at least, whenever given the chance. Quite clearly a Japanophile, it's a wonder why he doesn't yet speak the language, although that might have something to do with the fact that he doesn't speak much in general.