In the first part of this article, I wrote about people’s attitudes to video games and about the way video games used to be. I now shift the view to the developers’ and publishers’ side of the equation.
Video games have doubtless become far more complex than anyone could have dreamed in the 1980s and 1990s. Many modern games feature fancy graphics, easier controls, and streamlind mechanisms. On the other hand, many, if not most, of the aforementioned games suffer from unacceptably high amounts of errors (mostly known as ‘bugs’ or ‘glitches’), including continual crashes (due to a variety of issues, often enough without any explanation; the notorious crash to desktop [CTD] without error message comes to mind), clipping errors, detection errors, physical object/line of sight/cover issues, and many, many more. While clipping errors may be funny unless they happen too often, game breaking issues are annoying and frustrating. If, for instance, a game keeps crashing, while it does not even save your progress, or video settings keep being automatically reset to levels a computer’s hardware cannot handle, not only is there no point in playing, but also does it mean that you wasted your money unless these issues get fixed – which, often enough, they do not, or if they do, long after release. To be sure, I am not referring to indie games, which are often surprisingly good and polished, so much as to the so-called AAA titles. The latter are developed by professional developer teams and published by big publishers such as Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Nintendo, Sony, Sega, Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namico Games, and others. It is quite ironic that especially these games suffer from the most and the most devastating issues. Now, I do not claim for the following analysis to be completely correct. I consider the chances of its being correct very high, however. (Feel free to disagree, either in the comments or via private communication.)
Being professional (that is to say, doing something for a living, which does not necessarily entail competence) and highly funded unfortunately by no means guarantees a good, let alone a great game. The major resources are time and money, yet it is obviously quite easy to mismanage both. And this is, so I claim, the case with AAA video games.
On the one hand, the developers get a very small amount of time for developing the game, with some series, such as Assassin’s Creed, getting a new title every year. Considering the amount of time it takes to program a video game, a year is next to nothing. And at this point, we have not even included profound alpha- and beta-testing. Although every year, the hardware requirements take leaps of faith, since the graphics (attempt to) outdo everything that has been there before, the result more and more often will be an unplayable, broken mess instead of an enjoyable activity. Huge parts of the budgets are directed into graphics development and hyping the games long before release, on pain of the games’ mechanics being neglected due to lack of profound testing. It usually (and at best) takes months to get such games into playable, albeit still broken, states, which many people sourly and justly so call ‘paid beta testing’. In other words, people pay full prices (50–60€/$, up to more than 100€/$ for special editions) for an unfinished product.
In order to comprehend how absurd this is, just contemplate the following. People pre-order a car because of the promises made in advertisments. When the car is delivered, however, the customers notice that all the fancy stuff is somehow there, but the car has several malfunctions as to its basic equipment. The brake shoes are insufficient to stop the vehicle at a speed higher than ten miles per hour, the steering wheel is somewhat loose, the fuel tank is leaky, the headlights are dead, only the left indicator works, and a tyre is missing. Our customers paid the full price for an unfinished and broken product. Would anyone accept the manufacturer’s weak apologies, accompanied by the promise to fix these issues within the next six months, and that this would not happen again in the future? I think not. In most cases, we should rather demand a refund, and the manufacturer’s reputation would be severely damaged with economical consequences. With respect to video games, different standards appear to apply, though. Publishers can deliver broken messes of a products repeatedly without people actually ceasing to give them money. Furthermore, jurisdiction seems to be far behind the status quo (correct me if I am wrong). Not only is false advertisement as to video games not persued and punished as the fraud that it is, but also can vendors get away with no-refund policies (yes, I am looking at you, Steam/Valve, even though you are certainly the best platform out there right now). This is basically like saying, ‘As soon as you give us your money, it will remain ours regardless of what you get in exchange’. So, buying video games has become some kind of gamble – you never know what, precisely, you will get!
To be fair, developers cannot win, anyway. Unless they side with a big publisher, they will need to find another manner of funding their project, which not only may take several years but also may end in the middle of nowhere, the project being abandoned in the end. At the same time, if they do side with a big publisher, they will be given deadlines of which they know in advance that they cannot meet them. And there will always be those who complain regardless of the content of the game: either people complain that the developers did not make the same game twice, or they will complain that the developers did make the same game twice. If game mechanics are as they used to be in other games (or similar to them, for that matter), it is considered a copy-and-paste project or a rip-off; if something new is introduced to which people are not accustomed yet, it is considered stupid or inconsiderate. There certainly is no solution to this particular problem. There is, however, a solution to the aforementioned problems, I dare say. It is high time for people to put their money where their mouth is – that is to say, keep your wallets shut in order to punish those who have deceived you time and again. Do not pre-order, let alone pre-purchase, especially not from those who delivered video game atrocities like Total War: Rome 2 and Assassin’s Creed Unity (yes, I am looking at you, Sega and Ubisoft).