Should we accept games being released unfinished?

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In a fast-paced industry, it’s easy for games to get left behind. It seems every month new, big, triple a titles are launching. Take the end of the year in 2018 just as an example:

  • September: Spider-Man (2018)
  • October: Red Dead Redemption 2
  • November: Pokémon Let’s Go
  • December: Super Smash Bros Ultimate

And when there’s so much competition, can you afford to wait? Or do you accept having bugs in your program?

The reality

The reality of it is, that many games seem to be launching when they are not fully finished. Bethesda games are constantly released with bugs and glitches (remember the giant glitch from Skyrim?). Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed games are now famous for the state of their games on release and Techland managed to release the pre-release version of Dead Island on PC back in 2011. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they were forced to fix several dozen day one issues even when the right version was finally put out.

Techland's Dead Island
Techland's Dead Island

It really is very hard to think of a game that’s been released in recent years that doesn’t have glaring issues on launch day. Most companies have hundreds of play testers to go through their games and this is where the issues should be being picked up. So it’s easy to understand why the general opinion of gamers is that game development is being rushed.

Take some more recent examples of game breaking bugs and frequent glitches:

Rainbow Six Siege, State of Decay 2, Fallout 4, Destiny and God of War.

Nearly all of these have game-breaking bugs. Something which should be inexcusable for games that are being released, on average, for around £50.

Santa Monica Studio's God of War
Santa Monica Studio's God of War

In defence of the publishers, it’s not necessarily rushed development, though undoubtedly some are rushed for release date deadlines. As we’ve touched on before, games are far more complex than they’ve ever been before. And unless you can afford extensive, public beta-testing, it’ll be nigh-on possible to find every glitch. Testing every outcome and event just isn’t feasible. And on top of this, some gamers will actively try and break games and dig through them in a way that a play tester wouldn’t.

Does anyone buck the trend?

Arguably, yes. Nintendo is known for the quality of its games and it’s incredibly rare that they launch a game when it’s in a bad way. Shigeru Miyamoto has the famous quote of, “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is bad forever.” And it was this mantra which led to the three month delay of the Nintendo 64; something which eventually worked in Nintendo’s favour.

This does mean that their new consoles tend to have a meagre line-ups. Both the Nintendo Switch and the original 3DS got off to slow starts. But that hasn’t slowed down sales of the Nintendo Switch at all.

In March of this year, Nintendo announced that a year into the Switch’s life cycle, 18 million consoles had been sold. Completely destroying their target of 14 million. And though there’s still not huge swathes of huge titles, the ones they do have (Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) have all been reviewed extremely well. So in Nintendo’s case, quality over quantity seems to be a good mantra.

Nintendo's Super Mario Odyssey
Nintendo's Super Mario Odyssey

Do gamers care about glitches and bugs?

The one thing the games listed before have in common is that they all sold ridiculously well. State of Decay 2 was the best-selling game in May this year, Fallout 4 is Bethesda’s most successful game to date, Destiny made $500 million from pre-orders alone and God of War sold 3.1 million copies in its first three days.

There’s a growing movement for gamers to hold off on pre-ordering to protest against games being sold incomplete. But it doesn’t seem to be having a huge effect. For example, in the U.S alone, Red Dead Redemption 2 has currently got 400,000 pre-orders. There’s still 11 weeks until it launches.

Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption 2
Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption 2

There was a recent study of Steam reviews which found that consumers care more about bad design than bugs. Whilst looking at 10 million reviews, the study found that when negative feedback was given, it was more often about bad design, not the bugs and glitches. Only 17% of the negative feedback was about bugs. 57% of it was about bad game design.

So should we expect this to be the new norm?

It looks like it will be unless something dramatically changes.

Consumers used to know whether a game was going to be a failure from its reviews. A bad review could give someone time to cancel their pre-order or to reconsider buying the game altogether. But early reviews are becoming less common. Big publishers (like Bethesda, 2K Games and Ubisoft) are either only giving copies to reviewers one day before release, or not giving them review copies at all. And because of these delays in getting reviews, if you want a game on release day, you end up buying blindly. And you can’t be sure if the game will be as promised.

For example, with Ubisoft’s The Division, they claimed that they weren’t doing reviews because of the online element. It would be, “impossible for us to populate the servers in a way that would adequately replicate playing The Division on launch day.”

When No Man’s Sky was about to be released, reviewers couldn’t have access to the game early. Why? Because the day one patch wouldn’t have been applied. Thus the game would not be an accurate representation of “what players will experience.

Hello Games' No Man's Sky
Hello Games' No Man's Sky

On Steam, gamers are able to pledge their support to games which are still in the alpha and beta phases by paying for them, as it supports the developers and enables them to keep going. This is known as Early Access. Steam has had to warn gamers, in their FAQ’s section, that some of the games they buy will never be finished.

But the fact that consumers are willing to pay for a game which may be years away from finishing sends a message to other developers and publishers that they are willing to accept them in an unfinished format.

So what does this mean for the future?

When you consider that pre-orders haven’t been affected by the many messages written on forums and in articles, that consumers have little trust in game reviews anyway, and that glitches and bugs aren’t their biggest concern, it seems unlikely that publishers and developers will need to change their practices any time soon.

What do you think?

Do you think that more games are being released unfinished and with bugs? Does it bother you?

Let us know!