There has been a recent influx of games being released in a state that feels far from complete. Titles such as Battlefield 4, NBA Live 14, and Forza 5 have all released with either bugs or disappointing features. Why do developers think they can release a subpar experience and then apologize to their users? This behavior won’t be tolerated in the long run and hurts a brand’s image. Either developers are resting on their laurels or they simply think that their bottom line matters more than quality.
Games that launch with online components always struggle a bit to find their footing in terms of server stability. This is especially true of games with online multiplayer. When Battlefield 4 launched, it was plagued with connectivity issues causing the game to be unplayable for many players. Developers spend a lot of time in the testing phase of development with early internal tests and open beta tests. Stress tests are supposed to allow developers to get a feel for server capacity. It is possible that in the case of Battlefield 4 there was simply an overwhelming demand that DICE could not account for but developers should have contingency plans in place. Perhaps there is a lot of pressure from investors to release a game within a certain timeframe. It is understandable that a triple-A title such as Battlefield 4 would have a lot of pressure regarding release schedules. But if a company releases a game knowing that there are going to be day one issues rather than delaying the release, it creates discord in the minds of consumers. If a developer makes an amazing product, gamers will buy their next game but each new game must stand on its own two feet. Gamers will not continue to buy products from a developer or franchise simply because they have done well in the past. Too many mistakes like a botched launch will leave a sour taste in gamers’ mouths. That being said, an apology can go a long way.
Battlefield offered gamers double XP rewards to smooth over the launch issues. The developers of Forza 5 and NBA Live 14 both issued apologies to fans. Forza 5 was panned by critics for having an in-game economy that was intentionally skewed to require real money purchases – some cars cost upwards of $60. An apology was issued with a promise to make changes as well as discount in-game purchases. NBA LIVE 14 was plagued with subpar graphics and a near impossible learning curve with no tutorials. The developers have since apologized and promised to make changes to the game. Extra in-game rewards are nice but it would be better to simply purchase a game that lives up to its standards. Grand Theft Auto Online was delayed from the launch of Grand Theft Auto V so that Rockstar could work out the kinks but that still didn’t stop the game from suffering. Among other issues, character data would disappear for many players. Rockstar seemed to have an inkling that there would be issues prior to the game’s launch and warned that online games typically suffering through an initial period of bugs. They gave players a chunk of in-game money as compensation for suffering through those issues.
So what is a player to do if games continue to release prematurely? Should they wait until all of the fixes are in place before purchasing? If they aren’t in a rush, they could wait for a price drop as well. These day one issues are becoming more and more frequent. Skyrim had a notoriously rough launch on the PS3 and the issues weren’t fully rectified for over half a year. Gamers had to either wait for the delayed release of the expansions or buy the game on another platform. As compensation, the expansions were released at a discount but six months is a long time to wait. To Betehesda’s credit, the issue was mainly that PS3’s proprietary hardware was difficult to develop for. Sim City 4 had a strange launch – it was a mostly single player experience that required an always-on Internet connection. There was an incredible amount of disconnections reported by players. Maxis offered a free game as compensation. While it’s wonderful that developers are doing right by their player-base, it is unfortunate that these issues exist in the first place.
Some developer’s take their time to make sure that the experience they provide for players is the best it can be. Ubisoft recently delayed the launch of their upcoming next-gen title, Watch Dogs. Their philosophy, while a little unorthodox, is to delay a game if it isn’t going to be the best possible experience. It is a difficult decision to make, whether or not to delay a game but Ubisoft believes that it can pay out in the long run. Blizzard is notorious for releasing games “when they’re ready.” Of course that didn’t stop Diablo 3 from coming up a little short. Blizzard, ever the perfectionist, has been tweaking the game since launch. It takes Rockstar 5 years to make a game but when they do (online component notwithstanding) it is flawless. Then there is the recent issue NBA 2K14 server troubles. How 2K will respond to these issues is still to be seen.
It seems that there is always a tradeoff when it comes to a game’s release schedule. The more time that a developer takes the more money gets invested. At some point a decision has to be made to say enough is enough and release the game whether its fully ready or not. An apology with compensation may be cheaper in the long run even when accounting for customer dissatisfaction.
I don’t claim to have in-depth knowledge of the decision making process of the games industry, but there are costs to every decision and its vital to weigh them against the benefits. The important thing is that developers keep an open dialogue with their player-base. If they communicate their problems with the player and explain why a given issue has arisen, gamers can be quick to forgive. Plus what will be remembered, a week of not being able to connect to a server, or months of enjoyment actually playing the game?