There was a time when games would just work right out of the box. This was before developers had the luxury to patch their games after release.
Issues with games were rare, but over the past decade or so, things have taken a turn for the worse. We got used of seeing buggy games and compromised with the issue to some extent.
However, the issue of broken games came under spotlight again recently, when some massive AAA games came out and had so many problems – that fans decided against playing until proper fixes.
In the past few months, we saw the disaster of DriveClub, Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
Public apologies were made by Sony, Microsoft, Bungie and Ubisoft. However, no one bothered to explain why are we paying $60 for a broken game? They never answered why these games aren’t working?
I highly respect Nintendo for this, their games just work. When was the last time we saw so many issues in a Nintendo game? Are they using some form of ancient Japanese magic to develop awesome titles like Super Smash Bros?
We blame developers for not fixing their games; we raise fingers, and demand an answer, but the root of the problem lies somewhere else.
Keith Fuller is an experienced production consultant/developer and has worked with Activision for over a decade on projects like Call of Duty: Black Ops, Quake 4, and more. This was before he went on to work as an indie dev. In a recent interview he revealed some facts about the development process by saying:
Developers rarely get to tell Marketing ‘We can ship it now, we fixed all the bugs. Rather, the marketing department will tell you when you’re launching regardless of fixing bugs. If you want that arrangement to change, figure out how to sell millions of units without telling anyone your game exists.
Pressure is put on developers to prefer flashy gameplay elements over stability. Annual franchises are required to be bigger and better every year with a very limited amount of time available to developers for fixing the game.
He further adds:
The last game I worked on as a studio dev was Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Activision’s legal team would go into cardiac arrest if I shared with you how few months before launch that game was almost entirely unplayable. That’s due to the pressure of annual franchise instalments and the competitive landscape.
All of this is part of a vicious development cycle which is explained by an image provided by another industry veteran, Clinton Keith. You can see the image above, which will help you understand things better.
According to Clinton Keith, development teams are constantly under pressure to meet deadlines, reach scope and cost goals which are highly “unreasonable.”
As a result of all this, the team releases an inferior game, which doesn’t sell well and damages the brand,” says Keith “The stakeholders/shareholders respond by applying more pressure to management, who then apply more pressure to development.
Clinton mentions something called a “technical debt”, which is not being addressed by developers properly. What this means is that devs tend to “rack up” technical issues such as bugs, unoptimized tech and systems, that needs ‘playtesting.’
The issue of broken games run deeper than we think, but I believe companies can avoid this by properly managing their budget, expectations, and development process. AAA games are the ones to suffer the most, but what can consumers do about it?
The best way is to stop pre-ordering and wait until reviews come-in before deciding to purchase. It doesn’t matter how vocal we are about broken games, unless we control our own actions.