At the risk of both dating myself and losing everyone in the first sentence, when I was a child the internet did not exist and if your new game didn’t work, it didn’t sell. Games were admittedly somewhat less complicated both technologically and mechanically, as the medium was in its infancy. But we have since departed from that standard. These days games rarely launch in a complete and functional state. They rely heavily on massive day-one patches and extended release schedules for additional content. As a result I find myself asking whether I should buy new games at all.
I first noticed this trend with massively multiplayer online role playing games, or MMORPGs. The online component and the sheer scope of those games led to dysfunctional launches where the game was unplayable for weeks after its initial launch. It became standard practice to wait two to three months before buying and trying a new MMORPG. This gave the company time to patch bugs and manage their backend. Primarily they had to mitigate crippling levels of latency or debilitating bugs. Player populations eventually eased and the community settled into a sustainable rhythm once the hype died down.
You can see continued examples of these even today in the launch of games like “Sim City” with their connectivity issues. “Batman: Arkham Knight” and “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” had significant performance issues. The PC version of “Batman: Arkham Knight” suffered so severely that Warner Brothers pulled it from the market until it was in a more presentable state.
I now refuse to buy most new games until after I see reviews for it on the platform of my choosing. Some games I may wait years before buying because I know they are half-baked with a minimal amount of necessary content. A great example of this is the notorious “No Man’s Sky” by Hello Games. That game released in August of 2016. At this point six months later it actually has many of the features it advertised prior to its launch. It is a demonstrably better game, and far more representative of the early trailers that sparked people’s dreams.
The New Norm
While “No Man’s Sky” was a lightning rod for this type of criticism, other games with larger and more veteran developers such as Bungie and Ubisoft released “Destiny” and “Tom Clancy’s The Division” that were just as, if not more incomplete and empty. I could write pages on why this happens. Today I just want to ask the question of whether this should be the new norm. What, if anything, we can do to address it? It’s clearly not something only small developers deal with. Big budget, AAA titles from respectable powerhouse developers release with a dearth of content and polish and are being rewarded for it.
People understandably like to defend their favorite developers though. “Fallout 4” launched in a poorly optimized state. It visually didn’t compare to its competitors, and generally fell short of expectations. It was wildly successful, so please don’t misunderstand my point. If anything, its commercial success is exactly the point I am making. People who are Fallout diehards claimed that you couldn’t have a deep open world game with seemingly limitless equipment and customization and not experience bugs or technical difficulties. At the same time, game of the year “The Witcher 3” came out within months of “Fallout 4” and it was more beautiful, feature rich, smoother, and overall a better game on every front. So that argument, while not without its merits, is perhaps not a passable excuse. Just because something is difficult to create does not mean it should be supported in a broken or subpar state.
An Informed Consumer
That said, if you want to push back against new games in this state there is really only one course of action that matters. Refuse to buy games that don’t deliver on their promises. As an aggregate whole, the games media exists to provide you with the information you need to make intelligent purchase decisions. This means refusing to preorder games and waiting until reviews are out to research and decide to purchase or pass on games. As it is currently, broken and incomplete games still manage to have record breaking preorders and day one sales. This provides absolutely no incentive to developers or publishers to release complete and self-sufficient games.
I am a bit more judicious in my purchasing habits than most. If I get burned by a new game I am less likely to trust the quality of that developer’s games in the future. I bought Ubisoft’s “Watch Dogs” for PC at launch and it ran terribly. Without getting into the performance issues or the multiplayer connectivity problems I experienced, the controls were so bad I had to buy an XBox 360 controller just to play the game in any meaningful way. To this day I am extremely wary of Ubisoft PC ports and feel vindicated when I refuse to buy their games only to see them barely able to run, or render only a disembodied pair of eyes and teeth instead of a face.
There are additional perks to waiting that many people overlook. Most of the time you can benefit from a 20% discount if you preorder a game, which is nice. If you wait three months you can probably get 30% off. And if you’re willing to wait nine months to a year you will probably find it 50% or more discounted. Financial savings aside, the game you purchase will be polished and far more feature-rich as well. The only responsibility you have as a late adopter is to ensure you don’t expose yourself to spoilers. Let’s be honest though. If you currently surround yourself with people and media that regularly ruins games for you, you have other problems that need to be addressed.
Should we still get excited about new games? Of course. Can we still get caught up in hype and hope for the stars? Absolutely. But always be ready to temper that excitement with a dose of reality right before you pull the trigger. Hold these companies accountable. Save your preorder until you read the review or hear the general consensus. Be wary of developers that won’t release their embargo before the launch date. With new games, heed the motto of markets the world over for centuries: buyer beware.