Why are we paying for broken video games?
We grew up thinking of game testing as a dream job, but the truth is we are all game testers now and we’re paying for the privilege
The Assassin's Creed glitch: no, Arno's face wasn't designed to be invisible
It’s amazing to think that video games have been around long enough to use the phrase “In the good old days”, but in the good old days when you bought a game it meant they had finished making it.
Last year saw a spate of top budget AAA games released in an almost unusable state. Far Cry 4 had so many issues that the patch released to fix them required players to delete their games and start over. Assassins Creed Unity received a huge fan backlash when users encountered numerous glitches from the amusing - when certain characters rendered without a face, leaving just floating eyeballs and teeth - to the unplayable - when players fell through floors into an endless void. The game was so broken that Ubisoft had to offer players a free DLC (downloadable content) as an apology. It’s hard to think of any games that haven’t released numerous patches since going on the market.
So why are the games we buy so broken? One excuse could be that games are so much more complex now than they once were. The slicker the graphics get, the longer and broader the story and world of the game, the more opportunities there are for glitches to pop up. In terms of testing things are more complicated. There aren’t too many paths to take when testing Mario or even Crash Bandicoot, but a game like Assassin’s Creed has many different ways to reach a goal or complete the game.
No matter how big and complicated a game is however, with thorough testing all of these bugs can and should be ironed out before it gets to the player. The issues we’re seeing in new releases are not obscure bugs that players were unlikely to find by themselves such Pokémon’s infamous MissingNo (pictured), these are obvious errors that should have been fixed long before a release date was even announced. The rush to get games out for their release date has outstripped any attempt at quality, and it’s the player who pays for this.
Many kids grew up thinking of game testing as a dream job, but the truth is we are all game testers now. Instead of games being sold as a finished product, they are now sold as a work in progress. Beta testing, the final testing phase where no new features are added but many glitches are still present, is being sold to customers as an added bonus. Instead of bug testing being a paid job, we are now paying for the privilege of playing a broken game. Halo 5: Guardians offered beta testing to people who bought Halo: The Master Chief Collection, while the anticipated multiplayer game Evolve opened beta testing after it shipped the game to be manufactured.
Wide internet access has meant that there are no deadlines anymore when it comes to games. Everything can be fixed… later. But it means the most passionate gamers, the ones who pre-order or buy soon after release, are the ones who lose out. They pay €60 for a broken product which may or may not work eventually. People are starting to complain about this practice, but by the time you find out the game doesn’t work it’s too late, your money is gone. The ‘Day One Patch’ is so ubiquitous now that no one bats an eyelid, but not everyone has their games consoles hooked up to the internet meaning that a game fresh from the box increasingly doesn’t work at all.
Games are one of the most expensive forms of entertainment you can buy these days. While the internet makes film, television and music cheaper and easier to get hold of, games are only getting more expensive. A new game now costs at least €60, if not more, and often that only gets you the basic product. As well as the Day One Patch, we are now seeing the Day One DLC , extra content developed at the same time as the game but held back in order to charge the player a second time. PC games such as Civilization: Beyond Earth and the Sims 4 seriously let down loyal fans of the respective series with extremely basic and limited games, featuring none of the content of previous ones. After shelling out €60 for the basic game, players are drip-fed new content every few months, paying another €20-30 each time. Expansion packs are not new ideas thought up to enhance the player experience, they are planned from the start and sold separately like a Barbie and her accessories.
These trends have crept up so slowly it can be easy to take it for granted that this is how the industry must work, but imagine if other entertainment industries behaved like this. Imagine if you paid €60 to go see a film, and were shown a rough edit and asked to come back and watch it again in a few weeks when they finished it. Imagine if the film didn’t work, so they showed you a five-minute short film instead as an ‘apology’ (and no refund). Imagine if the film ended after an hour, and you were charged another €20 to see the rest of it.
Who can we blame for this? You could blame the developers for not ensuring they have a working product, but they are under tremendous pressure to release the game on time. Delays are costly, and releasing a game on time, particularly if that time is right before Christmas, is an almost guaranteed financial success.
As with most of the world’s problems, the cause is money. Games that are available to buy make money, and games being tinkered with and perfected in private don’t. As long as people are willing to pay for games still in beta testing, alpha testing or just a twinkle in the developer’s eye, then they will be on sale. As long as people are willing to buy unfinished games and endless pointless DLCs, then they will be unfinished. It’s only when broken rushed games stop being profitable that we will start getting quality products again, so it’s up to us to put our collective foot down and demand it. Games are a big business that will always follow the money, so let’s start paying for the right things.