The dishonest practise of unfinished games, and why developers must do better in 2014

Greed Money

By on January 9, 2014 at 11:12 am

There is a small but growing element of complacency when it comes to developing a title in this new internet age. Quick and easy distribution, significantly more reliable networks, always-on internet and improved client management means the build you release for consumption can be as complete as you’d like it to be. Because, hey — it doesn’t matter if your game is missing core assets, crashes consistently and only runs on video card drivers from six months ago, because your customers can simply change a few .ini files and run a community created patch.

Even on consoles, the original pre-XBL bastion of stability, where games updates come at a hefty premium for their publishers, it was not unlikely for gamers to be greeted with Day One patches as hefty at 3GB, compressed. None of this is acceptable, at all, on any level. In 1991, If your cartridge based title didn’t work, companies lost money when customers returned their carts. In 2013, you’d be lucky to get a refund out of Steam.

Over the past year, a host of titles released in such poor states that some of their stench even crossed platforms. Battlefield 4 launched broken across every single console, and at most, barely serviceable on its host platform. SimCity was unplayable for weeks after its launch, with eight months worth of patches required for the title to be feature complete. The War Z blatantly lied to consumers about its state, abusing Steam’s light-handed approach to the content of their store, but not before fleecing thousands from unsuspecting patrons. Hell, they’re still at it, even after a name change. But what’s more painful than the act of simply being dishonest is how carte blanche developers feel about dropping faulty product on their trusting audiences.

Then there was X Rebirth.

The Hot Mess

The X series has a pretty long and esteemed pedigree of deep, albeit somewhat convoluted, experiences that have heralded it as the “go to” space trading sim in the minds of black hole connoisseurs everywhere. Very few of those games have launched in anything resembling a perfect state, leaving much needed repairs and additions to volunteer modders. But Rebirth was different; radically changed from the ground up to (apparently) tackle some of the various longtime series’ bugbears — from improved UI, a wider universe to explore, and a dynamic economy to exploit. But what actually happened was Egosoft broke almost everything that could be broken, rushed everything from art, sound and story, and forgot that most gamers enjoy having their text fit inside the box.

There is almost nothing redeeming about Rebirth – unlike other unfinished releases, the game barely functions even after you breach the wall of startup crashes and load failures. The menu system just doesn’t work, refusing to consistently respond to requests or provide any useful information. There’s a lazy, clunky split set of controls. An appalling excuse of a tutorial that fails to explain anything outside very basic commands and procedures. Obvious and sloppy duplication of around 80% of the games textures, vectors and level design. The graphics are cluttered and broken, clipping through walls and in some cases, falling off their placeholders thanks to the abhorrently epic number of bugs.

Then there are the missions that fail… only to leave you stuck in a campaign dead zone. Objectives that don’t compete. Being asked to attack a ship only to find the entire intergalactic police hunting you down like a rabid dog. I could go on, and on. There was no conceivable way that anyone at Egosoft, or their publisher, Deep Silver, played this title and found it fit for sale. Even on production machines, as shown by the almost instantaneous apologies and micro patches that dribbled out via Steam over the first week post-launch, the game was broken, incomplete, and desperate for quality assurance and about 6 months of bug squashing.

But in the end – it didn’t really matter. Not a single outlet was allowed to review the game until the word was well and truly out.

The Straight-Up Lies

A fellow journalist and good friend, David Rayfield, would wax lyrical to me on a weekly basis about how excited he was for Aliens: Colonial Marines. There were some epic trailers and previews that showed off some impressive gameplay — full of tasty high resolution textures, impressive lighting, great weapons and animation. One preview in particular has Gearbox’s infamous president, Randy Pitchford, guiding players through some of the experience, with clever aliens pouncing on unsuspecting soldiers, anguished cries from mauled teammates, all apparently driven by “sophisticated artificial intelligence”.

So it was almost unbelievable to many, including those in the media who had played early builds, how mind numbingly terrible the final product was. Almost nothing — from that ominous red mist wafting in and out of flickering florescent bulbs, to aliens stalking deep corridors, climbing the ceilings in order to get the jump on you, actually occurred. What did, however, was a largely pointless, linear, romp through the same corridors, fighting aliens that barely move with guns that wouldn’t look and sound out of place on a shooter from 1993. Nothing, outside of the fact there are indeed aliens and colonial marines, that was represented and indeed promised to players ended up being offered.

The game wasn’t even close to finished. A:CM was an alpha, dressed up and debugged enough that it didn’t break anyone’s systems, but devoid of everything that would have made it special and worth purchasing in the first place. Unlocks don’t actually do anything. There is no suspense, no fear and no dogged cat and mouse hunting. Sure, there may be some scripted elements where an alien skulks through a vent or bursts out of the wall, but that’s almost exactly where things stop. Gearbox and SEGA quickly realised that the elongated development period mixed with the pre-determined expectations they alone put down on the table was not achievable without spending a lot more money…

…so they didn’t spend any more money.

The Server Problems

I was so hooked on the concept of a next generation SimCity that I practically threw my money at the screen the moment after I saw that first Glassbox demo. I was floored by the possibilities — actual people contributing to a real economy, sharing resources, problems and solutions across an entire region that worked together towards common goals. I absorbed every new dev video like the miniscule heaping of crack they were, expertly designed elements that cleverly hid many of the problems— that the system relied exclusively on both you being online the entire time, and, well, the GlassBox engine actually working properly.

I had, and still continue to have, a lot of faith in Maxis — even after they were purchased by EA, they continued to produce quality software while balancing the insane demands of their new overlords to produce exhausting amounts of largely irrelevant DLC. Playing the launch version of SimCity was just utterly painful — not only had EA drastically underestimated the day one population demands of a phenomenally popular series, but most of the GlassBox engine was still a huge work in progress. Everything from traffic routes to RCI demand was utterly broken. Almost none of the shared region features, which much of the games’ wealth creation relies on, worked either.

Maxis, whether out of a sense of duty or because of an order to from EA, fell on their sword and apologised for the atrocious state of their launch product. It took almost two weeks for the server problems to become manageable, but another eight months until the title was eventually feature complete. If only to rub more salt in customers wounds, Maxis mixed blog posts featuring cries of mercy mixed schizophrenically with announcements of some silly little DLC pack, including bafflingly obtuse attempts at product placement with Nissan and insurance company Progressive, while players continued to lose their patience waiting for a working game.

But there in lies much of the anguish that faces gamers who find themselves on the pointy end of faulty products — why do developers apologise as if they were completely unaware of these faults?

The Loose Ends

DICE has a pretty nasty habit of pretending that game breaking issues are only “affecting some users”, with almost every Battlefield game launching with enormous, almost comical, numbers of little bugs and faults. There’s always some announcement 2-3 weeks after each Battlefield launches, “thanking the core gamers” for their patience and “pledging to fix the problems” while “working non stop”. But every time players ask the same questions: Why do these bugs appear in the first place? It’s all well and good to expect bugs on release, especially as games become much more complex and large in size, but DICE’s track record has become laughably consistent – developing stunning game experiences but dropping the ball on the loose ends.

Battlefield 4 was probably the worst launch yet for DICE and EA, with almost completely unplayable versions of the title on PS4, PS3, 360 and XB1, plagued by issues ranging from launch crashes, lost save states and one hit kills to empty server browsers and missing crosshairs. While many of the larger bugs have indeed been fixed since launch, especially on PC (which featured the lowest number of launch problems),  there are still seven critical bugs, including one simply called “Bug accounting for a large amount of crashes on X360″ still outstanding.

Sure, there is a pretty spectacular shooter under all these crashes. I bought the title fully aware of the outstanding bugs and managed to enjoy many matches. But the fact that I managed to connect the magical dots in order to have a playable experience is not shared by many players, especially on consoles, who are still unable to play MP without being matchmade with players with one second pings or getting killed after a single assault rifle shot to the chest.

Many of these bugs could have been stamped out by three more months of intensive quality control and beta testing. Many of the client crashes would have been easily picked up in early testing on non-debug equipment, and many of the multiplayer issues could have been picked up via a longer, less restrictive closed beta test. But what’s really becoming old is this expectation by DICE that they can simply expect to waste millions of people’s time in locating and troubleshooting their critical bugs after the game has been paid for, not before. There was no ominous DayZ-style warning on the purchase here — Battlefield 4, like any other title listed in this article, was sold as a complete, ready-to-play product.

DICE should be mortified at these faults existing at all, not trying to deflect accusations by saying “millions of players” are doing fine. No, Deep Silver, EA, Gearbox — the game should not be released until it is finished. Full stop. If you are aware of bugs, fix them. Don’t rely on your release dates and “community expectations” for when your titles are flushed into the Steam and Origin ecosystems. Here’s a hot tip: We like to play games that actually work.

The Sheer Embarrassment

Unlike many other entertainment industries, gamers feel connections to the people who make their titles. They preorder games, buy collectors editions, read interviews with creatives and watch previews. They expect that the trust they provide will be reciprocated, fully aware any dollar they put down, 90% of the time, can be a gamble with no chance of refund for poor experiences.

Then they are offered this:

Dear developers and publishers: We expect better than this. We we hand you our money, we are owed better than this. Work harder.

Tags:
32 comments (Leave your own)

To be fair:

1. Poor, unfinished games have been released since video games began.
2. Massive disappointment on a minority of anticipated AAA titles doesn’t necessarily mean the entire industry is dropping the ball. I could count a lot more good, polished games released in 2013 than poor unfinished games.

Vote with your wallet and don’t buy until you’ve read the reviews. I learned my lesson after A:CM.

 

Time for regulators to start issuing fines to these publishers.

 

Ralph, i feel the author is not saying that a majority or even many games are being released unfinished, but that it appears as though the amount of games being released as such is rising and that it’s a worrying trend. I have to say i agree, though it does appear only to be the big studios who are doing it.

 

ralphwiggum:
To be fair:

1. Poor, unfinished games have been released since video games began.

This. It’s just that they are much more noticeable now because games are so complex that you see the problems straight away.

What is pissing me off about the industry though is all this PAY for Early Access / Beta. It’s just an excuse for a dev to release a game unfinished, with people paying for it, and no reason to make it final.

 

Steam should introduce a Great Game Guarantee Like EA has recently

You may return EA full game digital downloads (PC/Mac) purchased on Origin for a full refund within 24 hours after you first launch the game, within seven days from your date of purchase or within seven days from the game’s release date if you pre-ordered, whichever comes first. This is in addition to your standard return or refund rights.

 

felixinside,

While it’s true, it’s the attitude of the developers and publishers that piss me off. It’s all like “Yeah, whatever, we’ll fix it eventually” Back in the day of say Wing Commander 1 it was awfully hard to patch a game, new disks had to be sent out. So they had to catch as many bugs as possible before the product was shipped. The internet has made publishers lazy to the point of negligent because they can “patch” whenever they feel like it, which may be never.

 
James Pinnell

ralphwiggum,

You could get a refund post purchase if your cartridge didn’t work. Same with a disc based retail game. Fat chance from Steam.

Origins GGG as mentioned above is a fantastic policy but I think it should be one week played or unplayed.

But my key point stands – the internet has made developers lazy and publishers pushy to hold release dates as gospel and let players suffer through faults with the additude that its somehow their problem and that their time is less valuable.

 

James Pinnell,

Ssshh…don’t mention Origin/EA is doing better than Steam in something. The forums will explode ;)

I agree with you in general, I guess my point was that the laziness and lack of regard to buyers by a few bad eggs shouldn’t spoil the whole carton.

 

As a software developer, unless you are a complete shonkster or don’t give a damn, you put in all your effort to make sure the product you ship is as good as it can be. I find the problem comes from red tape, politics, marketing and imposed deadlines – these are what really create substandard pieces of software.

 

I didn’t have any real issues with BF4 since release (on PC) so I can’t help but wonder how much of this is “Angry Fanboi” syndrome where a lot of noise is made be relatively few people given that buggy games have been released since the dawn of the industry.

When we say “Why didn’t they do more testing?”, no company can in testing replicate the impact of potentially millions of gamers all trying to hit servers simultaneously or finding a bug that didn’t affect anyone in a test team of 50 but happens to affect 1 in a 100 players in the real world (creating 10 000 angry gamers out of a million).

Also, if people are really sick of being “burned” by buggy games – instead of preordering they should wait until after release where they can read reviews/community opinion before diving in.

As for the Ashes game – they didn’t get much right apparently but the English score in that video is pretty close to what they managed to achieve most of the series!

 

teufelhund:
I didn’t have any real issues with BF4 since release (on PC) so I can’t help but wonder how much of this is “Angry Fanboi” syndrome where a lot of noise is made be relatively few people given that buggy games have been released since the dawn of the industry.

Oh trust me, BF4 had heaps of issues at launch. Game breaking bugs, disconnections, servers missing, performance problems, you name it.

No, it wasn’t just on my PC, I witnessed it on 6 different PCs at 2 different locations.

BUT, they have fixed most of it now. You can play a match without any major issues.

 

teufelhund:
Also, if people are really sick of being “burned” by buggy games – instead of preordering they should wait until after release where they can read reviews/community opinion before diving in.

This. Very much this. Of course the big red flag that something is wrong is when the publisher starts enforcing review embargoes – if the publisher isn’t certain the game isn’t going to go down well then the end user should be wary also.

 

teufelhund:
Also, if people are really sick of being “burned” by buggy games – instead of preordering they should wait until after release where they can read reviews/community opinion before diving in.

vcatkiller: This.Very much this.Of course the big red flag that something is wrong is when the publisher starts enforcing review embargoes – if the publisher isn’t certain the game isn’t going to go down well then the end user should be wary also.

Thing is that most people don’t preorder just because they are bored, they do it because the preorder normally comes with extras, like statues, bonus items, discounts on price, early access, etc.

 

felixinside: What is pissing me off about the industry though is all this PAY for Early Access / Beta. It’s just an excuse for a dev to release a game unfinished, with people paying for it, and no reason to make it final.

Every early access/kickstart beta game I’ve jumped on so far has been in a MUCH better state than the so-called AAA titles mentioned in the article. What other people do with their own money is their own business.

teufelhund: As for the Ashes game – they didn’t get much right apparently but the English score in that video is pretty close to what they managed to achieve most of the series!

Haha, poor England.

 

teufelhund I have to agree with FeliXinside here. BF4 was a buggy mess and still is to a degree. The double damage bug isn’t fully fixed (one bullet applying 2x damage). There are still bugs relating to leading targets and lag hitting targets that are behind cover. But compared to the crashes related to just using a browser (yes it had a bug which ran up the unpaged memory pool until your PC froze) which was needed for Battlelog, crashes because someone got in or out of a vehicle, sound failures for EVERYONE in a map because someone had a silencer on their gun, etcetera. The list is long and extensive, a list that DICE should be ashamed of, but EA moreso seeing as they pushed it through QA KNOWING these bugs existed but determined to beat Ghosts to sale.

Which brings up another question, James why did Ghosts get off scot free in that article when it was released in a state just as bad as BF4. So much so that the PC player population for it is less than Treyarch’s previous outing in Black Ops 2.

As a whole though James is right. AAA Publishers in particular are reacting badly to the world of Indie and Crowdfunded gaming and this article highlights the worst of the bunch. It’s been going on for a while, for instance remember DA2, SWTOR, and the last god knows how many FIFA games on the same tired engine from sometime last decade. Ubisoft dropped the ball with titles from Assassin’s Creed to Settlers with heavy DRM which caused massive bugs for the end users which they flatout denied was DRM related until they decided to stop using it. When AAA Publishers see that a few crowdfunded games like Star Citizen (special case), Elite Dangerous, Novus Aeturno, Next Car Game, Roam, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Satellite Reign, The Mandate, Planetary Annihilation and Carmageddon Reincarnation are going to succeed by being openly developed with a large Alpha test group and a very large beta test group, hopefully they’ll see why their model is outdated and doomed to fail unless they start being more open with development.

PS – No matter that England invented the game, they still suck at cricket :D

 

felixinside,

I don’t think anybody would preorder just because they’re bored. I’d be guessing most folk would preorder because they believe enough in a game that they want to get in early and support it. The reason they spring for a collector’s edition or whatever is for the extras. That said most collector’s editions are just not worth it – a whole bunch of in game extras that should have been in the game to begin with, a bonus making of DVD that you’ll probably watch once maybe, a music CD with audio tracks that just seems pointless when removed from the game, a cheap plastic figure of some sort etc…there are very few collector’s editions I’d actually want.

And don’t get me started on bonus items like maps and manuals. I remember the good old days when those things were just part of the standard packaging. Check out the manual for Daggerfall, or the original printed Neverwinter Nights manual, those things were amazing! I’ve still got both of those in a box somewhere. Now you get a little double sided slip of paper and that’s the manual.

Bah now I’m starting to sound like a crotchety old man. Won’t be long now I’ll be sitting on the front porch shouting at kids to get off my lawn and shaking my cane at them.

 

teufelhund: When we say “Why didn’t they do more testing?”, no company can in testing replicate the impact of potentially millions of gamers all trying to hit servers simultaneously or finding a bug that didn’t affect anyone in a test team of 50 but happens to affect 1 in a 100 players in the real world (creating 10 000 angry gamers out of a million).

Except the issue is that the games developed by the same people years prior were far more bug free than what they are today. Choc that up to game technologies becoming more and more complex to use. Point is that AAA is a destructive part of the industry and will eventually collapse in on itself because the business model is inherently flawed. Their solution will be to load the games with Microtransactions.. this will be a rampant problem in 2014 as I predict the majority of games will start implementing these.. the consumer is to blame for all that because in the end they’re the ones that made it viable else it would’ve been a waste of time and money to implement.

With the case of games being released under early access there’s nothing wrong with this. I’d go as far to say that yes sure they are more disappointing in the end but are far far cheaper overall compared to full blown AAA releases which can be just as buggy and poorly developed, and contain loads of Microtransactions and DLCs solely for the sake of screwing their customers further.

That’s not to say Early Access doesn’t have this problem either.. but it certainly lowers the chances of that happening. As a result I’ve seen fewer early access kickstarter titles actually use the DLC Microtransaction model because its generally seen unfavorably. Point is there is a place for it. But the AAAs should definitely not be using it because they will without a doubt exploit it. In the same way a no-name Indie would (by that I mean “I want to make a game” types who haven’t the slightest bloody clue what they’re doing.)

Yes sure this issues been a problem since the 1970s, but it wasn’t as widespread back then because projects were manageable. The extreme was during the crash of ’83 where Atari did in a very similar way to what many AAAs are doing now, where they are shoveling out as much shit as they can and over hyping their games to screw as much money out of the customer as they can bare. You’ll recall ET which was the catalyst for the entire thing was a very hyped game. Point is that its the same attitude that we’re seeing again.

EA’s GGG is the same as Nintendo’s seal of quality which was implemented to resolve the issues with the crash of 83, it essentially set a standard for which their products could be licensed out, this ensured Nintendo only certified “Quality” games- though as we all know occasionally some slipped under the radar.

Whilst I think that’s positive, I don’t think its going to be enough. Especially with Publishers like Sega around that are now guilty of misleading advertisement twice in the same year. To me that spells that the problems become more rampant in recent years than it has been since the 83 crash. Problem is most customers are more gullible now than they were back then- a big part of this is to do with the amount of money the industry now puts into Marketing. This is probably the only case where I do legitimately sympathize with the consumer.. beyond that though I think most gamers are shoot at the hip morons that impulsively buy due to OOooo Shiny!

I think all this is best represented by Total Biscuit’s Christmas song.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytPjClyQGo8

 

Agree with the article. I think its the pressure from senior management, publishers, etc that makes the developers release shonky software. What they did with AC13 was just horrendous.

 

Don’t forget Rome total war 2, not only did Sega crush A:CM, along with CA they crushed Rome TW2, and matches many points on this article

 

At least one bonus with the early access games is that you know the publisher feels it’s at least mostly OK as otherwise everyone will know it’s crap before release.

A lot of the titles above were no public early access and some had review embargoes until after launch. Works well to keep the launch day purchases going since people don’t know any better.

 
Leave a comment

You can use the following bbCode
[i], [b], [img], [quote], [url href="http://www.google.com/"]Google[/url]

Leave a Reply

PC Gaming Calendar 2014

Follow Games.on.net

Steam Group

Upcoming Games

Community Soapbox

Recent Features
Heroes of the Storm

Heroes of the Storm makes other MOBAs look like crap: My scientific analysis

Five highly objective examples of why other MOBA games can just get lost, thanks.

Valiant Hearts

Valiant Hearts is the hand-drawn WW1 game that I didn’t know I needed

This touching story of the horror of the Great War hits all the right notes.

coming_soon_july

Coming Soon (July 2014): Make The Most of this Dry Spell

But that doesn't mean there isn't something to look forward to.

Sniper Elite 3

Sniper Elite 3 reviewed: A problem shared is a problem halved

The addition of co-op is a welcome move, but can it compensate for the buggy AI and glitches? James looks down his scope.

Streaming Radio
Radio Streams are restricted to iiNet group customers.

GreenManGaming MREC

The Regulars
Battlefield 4

Sitrep: I Endured Battlefield 4 And All I Got Was This Lousy Andrew Wilson

EA CEO Andrew Wilson's recent comments about BF4 have really got Toby's little gears grinding.

Oculus Rift

Friday Tech Roundup (20 June 2014): 30fps a failure according to Oculus founder

Plus, scientists discover three oceans-worth of water beneath the Earth's surface.

go_to_jail_for_gameplay_videos

Legal Opinion: A fair go for games, or “why you can go to jail for making gameplay videos”

Our gaming lawyer explains why proposed changes to fair use laws are important for anybody who wants to share a video or screenshot.

Battlefield 3

Sitrep: I Have Discovered Shotguns And Now I Am A Golden God

Toby is the worst shot in the world -- so why did it take him so long to discover the amazing power of the shotgun?

Facebook Like Box