Don’t be surprised if this isn’t the first nor last article you’ll read about glitches in big releases. While you could certainly point to a creatively bankrupt writer, there’s no denying that buggy and flat-out broken games have cast a shadow over what has already been a disappointing year.
If it seems that every major game released within the last two months are half-functioning state fair rides run by creepy old men, that’s because they are. Games such as The Master Chief Collection, Grand Theft Auto V, and Dragon Age Origins all have their fair share of annoying problems. Most notably Sonic Boom and Assassins Creed Unity are outright broken, with Ubisoft at least having the gall to admit as much (ball’s in your court, Sega).
It’s strange to think that with so many studios hording games, waiting until the holiday window to launch anything that they can be so rushed. This wasn’t always the industry standard either, the bugs at least. Sure games have always had technical issues, sometimes game breaking ones, but never before has such a volume of releases been infected with a lack of quality control. The one thing that’s changed, the thing very thing that fixes these problems are firmware updates.
We’ve seen this before. The free to play model is a good idea, but as it became more popular, more studios began to use it to hold content ransom instead of drawing users in. DLC used to be a great idea to extend a game’s shelf life until that too was used to gate off content that used to be free. Same can be said about micro transactions and early access. Once the AAA industry gets its hands on an idea, it becomes determined to drive it into the ground taking every penny it can get out of it and then some. God help us if the big publishers ever start using crowd-funding.
The ability to release patches and updates post-launch has made publishers more willing than ever to release a game they know isn’t finished because they think people will buy it anyway. Ubisoft admitting that Unity was broken isn’t so much gall as it contempt for those that purchased the game. They don’t care that people will have a bad time playing a faulty product, and they either don’t care or don’t realize the implications it’ll have on the future, their own future. What’s going to be the one takeaway from Assassin’s Creed Unity, the one thing everyone will remember for years to come? Not that it was a mediocre video game, but rather this image:
Such a problem is only exacerbated by Ubisoft putting out an embargo on reviews until only twelve hours after release, making it near impossible for gamers to get such basic information as “the game doesn’t work” before they went out and bought it.
It may seem like I’m picking on Ubisoft, but one can hardly blame me. Still, it’s worth remember that they’re far from the only ones that do this. Activision is issuing takedown notices to anyone who dares post video of glitches in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
Some may argue that this practice is okay, and I can even see the argument. Release a game with just a few bugs here and there early to beat the competition and bring in income, income that’ll be spent on paying the staff and fixing those bugs. But intentionally selling a defective product on the promise of fixing it one day is a dangerous proposition. We’ve seen time and time again that we cannot trust these publishers. As I write this, there still isn’t a comprehensive fix to the bugs in Assassins Creed Unity or Sonic Boom, only apologizes and more promises. The fact of the matter is, they’ve already taken your money.
Let me draw your attention to Sonic the Hedgehog, aka Sonic ‘06, a game that to this day remains the glitches and most broken this side of Big Rigs. Sure it was released in 2006 before downloadable updates were common, and yes the game would be terrible anyway, but the point is it’s a defective product that the publisher has done nothing to fix. More recent examples include Ride to Hell: Retribution and Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, both of which remain virtually unplayable but continue to be sold.
When I look at the situation, I’m reminded of the modding community, whatever game being modded is irrelevant. Mods are modifications of existing games created by fans usually using tools provided by the developer. Some of the most popular modded games are Bethesda’s, including Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Skyrim. The thing about fans is that most of them aren’t game developers, they’re driven strictly by passion or even a desire to become developers themselves. But passion alone isn’t enough to develop a working, competent mod and that lack of experience and knowledge often shows.
Trust me, I’m a modder myself.
I created a quest mod for Fallout New Vegas entitled War Trash, and I’ve spent the last ten months developing War Trash 2. Truth be told the mod was done after around six months but bugs and glitches of my own have held back the release. After some time, I thought the bugs were ironed out and I announced the mod to be released on October 27. That didn’t come to pass, as a new round of game breaking glitches halted the release.
Nothing is worse than having a finished product and having to tell fans who loved your work and people who poured their heart into helping you that you have to delay it indefinitely because of a few bugs. It’s a huge hit to your ego; you feel like an idiot because you couldn’t do your job properly, and you had to delay it twice. Fans fear the worst and move on, forgetting about the thing you spent so much time on. You try to rush and iron out the flaws, but you inevitably only make things worse. That’s the thing about programming, one tiny flaw can bring the whole house of cards down, two flaws and you might as well fold.
The process of making a game is a long and difficult one, but rewarding. Okay, I might not be making The Last of Us or The Walking Dead, but making a game with love is a difficult thing. I love everything about the process; writing, programming, creating characters and environments, voice acting, and promotion… everything except bug busting. It’s soul crushing to see a game breaking glitch and have no idea what’s causing it. You’ll go in and mess around with everything, and eventually you might stumble upon a fix, but guess what, you’ve just broken something else down the line.
But it’s always best to fix the game before you release. When I published War Trash 1, there was a game breaking bug very early on and I had to release a Day 1 patch. From a developer’s standpoint I can see the desire to throw your hands up and release a game, bugs and all. I’ve come close to doing that myself and walking away from it forever. It was my desire that stopped me, my dedication and pa—okay, this is getting too self-masturbatory now.
The developers aren’t always the ones to blame. Are there development studios out there that don’t care about the crap they spew out? Probably. But more often than not it’s the publisher pushing release dates, and the developer either doesn’t have enough time and money, or are too incompetent to release a 100% functioning product with such strains.
Regardless of reason or intent, charging money for a broken product, one that you know is broken, is despicable. They certainly had to know how broken the game was, they use playtesters and the promise of releasing a patch in hopes of fixing most of the issues later isn’t justification enough. Ubisoft giving away the next bit of DLC for free isn’t much comfort either, considering the base game itself is broken. Whenever money is involved, promises can and will be broken. It’s a good thing mods are free.