Games have always had bugs, and any gamer knows that a team of game testers, even on a huge title, can’t catch everything. When millions of people are playing the game for hours at a time, bugs will pop up. It’s natural. Obviously, back in the day, games lived with these bugs and there was nothing we could do but enjoy and exploit them.
Once the internet was more prevalent in households, patches were downloaded for games that had any bugs or tuning required. It’s been around forever in PC games, but console gamers have only experienced this in recent years for their games. Many cry about day one patches, but I’m always happy to welcome a smoother game experience.
Somewhere along this timeline of extended patching and game upkeep, gaming blew up, and became big business. Yes, gaming was always a business before, but in the last ten years or so it became an industry spearheaded more by investor relations and key demographics than innovation and fun. It was in these years where games were obviously being released with incomplete code and crappy experiences in order to meet deadlines, Q4 earning projections, and above all – building franchises.
It’s the Call of Duty effect, really. Make money, make money, make money. Cut costs and charge more. Hit the old sales tactics of impulse buys, add-ons and make sure you hook the users and fans with merchandise and year-round releases from your brand.
Never mind the content, never mind the fans that actually care. These are the people who pay full price for a product, wait in line in the cold like goons at midnight and are your most loyal customers — they expect launches to be “rough,” as if that’s any excuse. It’s not an excuse. Not any more. Games being released incomplete is becoming more prevalent by the month, and no game is more guilty of this than Battlefield 4 (and Total War: Rome 2). Not to mention GTA: Online’s awfulness… Man, I can name more, and those all came out in the last three months.
So I picked up BF4 a month after release, knowing and expecting that rough… Patch, for lack of a better word, and what I found a month after release is that the bugs are still ridiculously abundant, connection issues plague the game, and there have been days where I simply can’t log in. A month after release. This isn’t a day one or two thing (which even then, I don’t want to forgive, why even have release dates anymore if the game is unplayable on said release date (oh wait, I know why, marketing. Make money, make money)).
Now Polygon is reporting that shareholders have hired the law firm Holzer, Holzer and Fistel LLC to investigate shareholder and investor misleading to the quality of BF4. This sets a pretty interesting precedent.
Let it be known that when I can actually play BF4, I love it. The maps are dynamic and well-made, but it’s also obvious that the game came out too soon, lacked testing and has some fundamentally broken issues with the net code. I don’t think the actual game is awful, I just don’t think it should’ve been released when it was released.
I get the other side of the argument. You have to make money. EA, Activision, et al aren’t here for charity, but Steam Green Light and other releases where they make it abundantly clear that you’re playing an alpha or beta have a proven success record. Look at Arma, a title that released in alpha for a reduced price, raised in price in beta and then in full release and ended up getting a massive amount of user feedback and data before they ever put it on the market at full price.
The big game companies are doing it in reverse. They are releasing beta-level games at full price and disenfranchising their fan bases. No company is immortal, and nothing lasts forever. See: Billion dollar franchises in Rock Band and Guitar Hero. See: Final Fantasy and it’s lackluster titles translating into lackluster sales. See: NBA Live. See: Tony Hawk, Medal of Honor and Resident Evil.
Hell, look at the Wii – everyone loved it until they realized it sucked (great first party content, though).
Hitting Q4 release dates with preorder incentives and big budget commercials will not a make a successful, long-lasting gaming franchise. Only quality releases will.
Hopefully someone, somewhere, in a high-ranking position of power learns something from this investigation. I like BF4, and I like most of EA’s products. I don’t want to see Battlefield next to the Timesplitters or Medal of Honors of the gaming world, but if something doesn’t happen to the big gaming business soon, then I’ll find little reason to ever spend $60 on a new release game again.
Or god-forbid I buy it used, because I can’t trust the companies to buy the product new. Then it’s lose/lose for everyone involved.