Gamers, A Call to Arms!
I know that calling on you for an uprising against the gaming industry might seem strange, but hear me out. I am a passionate gamer, and I, like most of you, care about the video game industry and the people working long hours to provide us with new adventures. The evolution of games since its humble beginning in local arcades is nothing short of astounding. The level of production keeps getting better, and every year we are seeing new innovations in storytelling, gameplay and graphics. However, despite the positive developments, some of the darker sides of the industry are becoming apparent. This is especially true for the larger publishers who seem more concerned with money than their fans or games. While it is completely natural that a business wants and needs to make profit to survive, many game developers are using strategies that border on illegal. In other cases they completely disregard their fans (consumers) in order to try and make some quick cash. It is time that we take a hard look at how we, the gamers, are being treated. The release of a game can be divided into four phrases, and each of them reveals some of the sins of the industry. After going through these steps, I hope that you will look at game development in a different light and have the inspiration to do something about it.
While a game is still in development, the PR departments are already doing their best to convince as many gamers as possible that their products are worth buying. This strategy is common in many industries, not only in entertainment. The PR departments want us to talk and write about their product. The endgame is to create ‘hype’. When a number of people are excited about an upcoming game, it is easy for other people to get carried away and feel excited themselves. Eventually, a large group of gamers are convinced that a specific game is going to be fantastic, and all they have had to help them form this opinion is the marketing material that the PR department has chosen to show them. This includes trailers, production stills and ads presented in different media. While marketing is vital for any industry, the problem arises when the material shown to us is based on lies. One example that we see again and again is the trailers and demos that supposedly show us ‘actual gameplay’. This is the same as saying that the material we are presented with will be exactly the same as the game final game we will be playing. As the game is released, however, we realize that the graphics are worse and the gameplay does not live up to what was promised. In recent years, one of the most controversial releases in this regard is Watch Dogs. We promised an open world game where everything could be hacked. In reality it played more like a GTA game with a twist. Most of the controversy revolved around the graphics of the game. During E3 2012, Ubisoft showed off gameplay from the game. The graphics were stunning and helped with building up the hype already surrounding the game. The final game, however, did not live up to the demonstration. The graphics on PC running on Ultra didn’t even come close to the demonstrated product in many instances.
Lying advertisements like these are illegal in many countries. In these countries there are also departments in the government that regulate these laws. While most industries have to fall in line with these laws, the game industry seems to be able to do what they want without any legal consequence. Even after the controversy surrounding Watch Dogs, Ubisoft could carry on their work as if nothing had happened. This casual behavior towards consumer laws has to stop, and gamers need to stop putting up with it. You are spending your money on a product that is sold under false pretenses. If you bought a $150 leather jacket only to discover soon after that is was in fact fake leather, you would probably demand your money back, and it would be your lawful right to get it. Why, then, are you putting up with this behavior from the gaming industry and why are they not held accountable?
After jumping on the hype train and pre-ordering the game (we’ve all been there), it is finally time for the day of release! Naturally, a game will not live up to everyone’s expectation. That is perfectly fine: individual taste can’t be accounted for and it’s impossible to make a game that everyone will love. That is just our opinion, though, and that doesn’t mean that the game itself is bad or unplayable. The issue is when a game is released that is so broken and unpolished that it can hardly be called ‘completed’. A recent example of this is Assassins Creed: Unity. The game had so many bugs that it became unplayable to many people. The internet was soon filled with images and videos that showcased many of the errors gamers had encountered. It was very clear that the game had been rushed to meet a certain deadline, and as a result had not been properly tested and polished. There could be many reasons for this, and my guess is on Ubisoft’s ‘One Assassins Creed Game Per Year’ policy. The game was released in November. Had there been any delays, Ubisoft would not only have missed their 2014 window, but also the significant sales boost of the holidays the following month. From a business standpoint it makes perfect sense to push the game out early, but it is at the expense of their consumers. In the end they are selling us an unfinished product, which is not something we should tolerate.
Imagine buying a brand new smart phone, only to start it up and notice that key elements like the touchscreen, texting and calling are hardly working at all. You go back to the retailer to complain, but they simply tell you: “Sorry, we didn’t have time to properly finish those functions, but we will be releasing an update soon.” “When is soon?”, you might ask. The retailer isn’t able to give you a definite answer. It could be days, it could be weeks. This is the point where most of us would have told the retailer to stuff it and demand our money back. Again, it would be within our rights to do so because it is illegal to sell items that are advertised as something they are not. However, in the gaming industry the gamer is stuck with the game after they open the box. Most retail stores have a No Return policy on software. Once you break the seal, you’re stuck with it. As a frustrated and disappointed gamer who got a broken game on release day, try to think back on how you ended up in that situation. Oh, right. The hype and the pre-ordering.
The pre-ordering is one of the two major problems that can lead to rushed games. How are they connected? The no-return policies of course. If a game developer successfully manages to convince 100 000 people to pre-order their game, then that is 100 000 guaranteed sales right there. Your money guaranteed in their account on the day or release. So when a developer is falling behind schedule with their finalizing of the game, they know that it won’t really matter in the end because as long as the pre-orders stand, they will have their payday. Yes, their consumers could be a bit upset, but since they don’t have to face any legal consequences they don’t really have to worry. A mob of disgruntled gamers will soon calm down after a few released patches. The company might even offer a free game as a sign of goodwill. It’s no chip off of their shoulder anyway.
The second major problem that can make developers lazy in terms of polishing, is how the newest generation of consoles are usually connected to the internet. The time up to our previous generation of consoles was very different. If a game was released, the state it was released on was forever. If a developer wanted to fix a game they would have no choice but to re-release the game entirely, and that is a very costly affair. Therefore, developers took a lot more care to have their games finished and working. There would be no second chances. If they released a broken game, words would soon spread in reviews and other media about the state of the product, and people would not buy it. Broken product equaled no profit. Today, however, it is easy for any developer to take a more relaxed approach to the matter. If a game has preforming issues, the developer can work out a way to fix the problem and then release a patch on any platform. There are many games that come with a Day 1 patch on release, suggesting that developers know of certain issues while shipping the game off to production. They then spend the time between shipping and release date to make the patch that will hopefully make the game seem more polished than it actually was.
In the end, releasing broken and unfinished games is another symptom of the industry gone greedy. It also displays a bad attitude towards us if they can’t even be bothered to try to fix them. Relying on post-release patches is lazy and shows that our initial negative reactions are of little concern. If you pre-ordered, they have your cash anyway and there is nothing you can do. Do any of you feel that this attitude is alright? Why do we tolerate to be treated like this, time and time again?
Post-Release – Short Term
The game we had so many hopes for turned out to be something very different than what we thought, and in addition it’s not even working properly. There’s no way to get our money back, so we’re stuck with a sour taste in our mouth. Well, at least it can’t get any worse, can it? Wrong.
After a game release like the ones mentioned above, the game developer will probably have a strategy for handling the situation. In the event that the game is unplayable or suffering from a large number of bugs, the developer will hopefully feel an obligation to fix the product as best they can. Some developers will offer profound apologies and/or free games in compensation. A kind gesture, but their blunders should not be forgotten that easily. However, there some developers that choose to ignore the needs of their consumers and their responsibility to finish their product. After the release of Silent Hill: Downpour and Silent Hill HD Collection, Konami made no effort to develop patches that could fix the numerous issues in each game. 8 months later(!) Konami finally released a patch for Downpour without as much as an apology. SH HD for PS3 received a patch after 5 months, while the Xbox 360 version never got one due to ‘technical difficulties’. While Konami did offer refunds to 360 owners, it is still an ugly example of game developing done wrong. If the game is running so badly that even the developer is unable to fix it, then it should never have been released in the first place.
A different approach that is even more despicable is when a company is more concerned with securing more profits before attempting to repair the product they released. One recent example of this is, once again, Assassins Creed: Unity. The problems people experienced were posted on the internet within hours of the game’s initial release. Ubisoft were quick to apologize and promised that they were working hard with fixing the issues as soon as possible. There were many problems they would have to tackle, so where did they start? With the numerous graphical glitches that left the characters stuck in the environment? The randomly appearing and disappearing NPCs? Or maybe the freaky one that made characters’ faces disappear? No. What Ubisoft chose to fix first was the micro-transaction system, because God forbid they would lose any money. As if anyone was enticed to throw more money at a broken game. Making their online store a priority before anything else speaks volumes about how the industry is working today. Any monetary gain, no matter how small, is much more important than their consumers, as well as their integrity as game developers. Another similar example to this is Batman: Arkham Origins. This game was also suffering from a lot of glitches and issues at the time of release. People who bought the game waited for a response to their complaints, and eventually they got one. Sadly, it was not good news. Instead of owning up to their mistakes, Warner Bros. announced that they were not planning on releasing any fixes for the game because they were focusing all their efforts on upcoming DLCs. This is a statement that basically says: “We hear you, but we really don’t care as you have already bought the game. Feel free to give us more money for the upcoming DLCs, though!”
Is this really how we want to be treated as gamers? Are we just walking wallets to the developers? And why do we keep giving them our money without any second thought when our experience should tell us to be more wary?
Post-Relase – Long Term
It’s been a long and hard journey, but we made it this far. The game we bought at release has received patches and is now in good working condition. Now that the game is working and we have forgotten all about that traumatic release, we might be tempted to spend some money on some DLCs. I find DLCs to be an interesting subject to discuss, but to go in depth about all the pros and cons would require a separate article. In short, when done right a DLC can be a great addition to the game. When done wrong, it will clearly reflect a developer’s lack of respect for the consumers, and their own product (which is kind of a running theme in this article too). In this article I will mention two types of DLC that is so shady it might be pushing the boundaries of the laws I have mentioned previously.
The first one is naturally the infamous ‘On Disc’ DLC. This means that data for the DLC is already on the game disc when you buy the game. If you want access to this data you have to pay a price through the online store. What you think you are paying for is the data, but what you are actually paying for is a key to unlock it. Basically, you are being tricked into paying twice for the same product. When you buy a product you should be able to expect to use that product, and not have features hidden behind a fee. Several games have On Disc DLCs, including Bioshock 2, Resident Evil 6 and Saints Row The Third. I am pretty sure that this is a situation that could be argued as being illegal, but because games aren’t covered much by law enforcing institutions, it’s not something I argue for certain. I still think it’s a very shady way of doing DLC’s that we should not stand for.
The second example I want to discuss is an issue I have only heard about once. Since it happened fairly recently, I am worried that it might happen again if we do not show our disdain towards it. The culprit this time is Bungie and their implementation of the latest expansion pack for Destiny. When the expansion was released it added new features to the dungeons and raids of the game. The dungeons had been available for all players since the release of the game. The update, however, caused the dungeons to now only be available to people who had bought the expansion. Again, people would have to pay twice for the same content. The twist here is that the content used to be available for everyone until Bungie took it away and hid it behind a new price tag.
The thing that these two DLC implementations have in common is that they have been changed by the gaming community. When the On Disc DLCs were discovered, they became a controversy and gamers were very vocal about how they felt about this practice. With Destiny, Bungie took a step back and solved the issue by letting all players have access to the dungeons again. Seeing how game developers realize their mistake and change their ways as a result of an engaged community is very encouraging. It is also these results we can keep in mind as we move forward.
It’s Time to Fight Back!
I’m assuming that if you have read this far you will have read about at least one situation that you have experienced personally. Maybe you have some other issues with the game industry that you are fed up with too. The questions at the end of all this frustration is: What can we do to make the situation better? Where do we go from here? Like previously mentioned, there does not seem to be any official department that enforces consumer laws on game developers. Until a time when we will have one (hopefully) it is up to you and me to make a stand. They are able to continue this behavior because we let them, so it’s time we tell them that enough is enough.
The first step is probably the most effective, and I’m not the first to propose it: Stop pre-ordering! Looking back at the beginning of this article, it is suggested that the pre-orders are the root of all these problems. By hyping us up for a game, sometimes using questionable methods, the developers are ensuring sales long before the game is completed. Later this month, The Order: 1886 is being released. It has already ‘gone Gold’, meaning is has sold over a million copies. That is a million sales based solely on trailers and marketing material. Ready at Dawn can relax, knowing that even if their game turns out to be bad, they are guaranteed the money from these sales. Should the game turn out to have issues at launch, we won’t have any means of demanding our money back. The release is now very low risk for the developer, and the risk is now sitting with us. Does that sound right to you? By stopping our pre-orders we will be forcing the game industry to re-think their strategies. If they get a few pre-orders they will be at risk. They will have to ensure that the game they are making is complete and in good working order before they release it. If they don’t, they will lose a lot of sales from negative reviews. They won’t have the luxury of thinking that they can simply fix issues later. They will have to earn our money, not ‘trick’ them from us with elaborate marketing.
Secondly, be vigilant! What often happens after a troubled launch is that people tend to forget. After a broken game has been released and later fixed, gamers tend to move on. “At least the game is working now,” we think. Our anger disappears, and when the developer announces a new game we are getting hyped again. We might hope that the developer has learned from past mistakes and that this new game will turn out different. The problem with this attitude is that it allows developers to not take our protests seriously. “They are upset about the game now, but just gives it a couple of weeks and they will be over it.” The developer rides out the storm and gets away without serious consequences and with our money. It’s time that we show them that we should be taken seriously. We are the people who let them continue making games. We have all the power over them, but we just don’t realize it. But it does require that we stand together and make ourselves heard. If a developer treats us and their games badly, remember it! Stay skeptical towards them as their new game comes out. Don’t forgive that easily. Do you really think it was coincidence that screens from the new Assassins Creed game were ‘leaked’ so soon after a difficult launch? They easily manipulated us to focus on this new shiny thing while forgetting to focus on the issue at hand. We have to stop buying into these strategies. Give them the death-stare instead. Force them to own up to their mistakes. Trick us once and they will have to try extra hard next time. Their future will depend on it.
Lastly, be aware of late reviews. When a developer sends out review copies of a game, it usually comes with a set of rules. Among these rules will be the date on which reviewers are allowed to publish their work. Some developers will allow reviews to be released a time before the game is launched. The ones we should be wary of is the ones that are not released until sometime after the launch of the game. Once again with Assassins Creed: Unity, Ubisoft tried to cover their tracks by not allowing any reviews to be published until 12 hours after the launch of the game. This would ensure enough time for pre-orders to be cashed in and hopefully some additional sales before gamers could be properly ‘warned’ about the technical issues in the game. If a developer holds back reviews or won’t send out any review copies at all, it is a good cause for worry. It doesn’t mean that if the review is late, then the game must be bad. It should be treated as a possible warning, though. It might save us some grief by being aware of it.
These are not difficult steps to follow, but they could have big results. Maybe you have other suggestions that could help? The key is that we stand together. There is only so much I can do by myself. That is why I am calling you to arms. To stand up against the bad developers in the industry and being treated simply as an open wallet. Together we can make a change. Who is with me?