Why and when did releasing games in broken state become excusable?
A story about pile of cartridges and few thousand lines of code
Seriously – when did releasing video games in a very buggy and glitchy state become excusable? Why those triple-A blockbusters, with giant names behind them are almost always broken? Why, at the start of this new console generation do they continue to ship games in this state? When did we accept that when we buy a product, be it in advance or on launch day, it will need multiple patches to reach the kind of stability we should be able to expect?
When did it became the norm, if you will and how did this practice slip in our gaming lives? Should we blame the big corporation whose fists are full of money or are we blind enough not to care anymore?
These questions have a very simple answer, but before that, let’s look at the short history of releasing and distributing games, which will help us determine what we were promised and what we no longer get.
Low voltage silicon boards
Twenty years ago and beyond, video games were stored in ROM cartridges. At the time they a had few distinctive advantages over floppy disks and optical media storage, which made them
preferable. They allowed for fast and direct memory load into the machine, which meant less RAM usage. ROM cartridges were also not as easily damaged compared to the other popular storage methods.
While developing video (or then known as TV) games was relatively cheap and fast, the distribution side was handled by big publishers and retailers. Devs had to get a license, so their fruits of labour would be able to reach the hand of the public masses.
Some of these factors required games to be polished as much as possible up until the launch day. There was no way of fixing them, after they were released. Your only option was to release a new series of cartridges, with the bug-free version of the software, but manufacturing it them was expensive.
Which leads us to the Video game crash of 1983. There were many reasons why it happened, but I want to mention the burial of the thousands of Atari cartridges. They were buried, because they were useless, but producing a new line of cartridges, with the fixed software in them, meant financial suicide.
Another aspect of that era, which will help us answer the inevitable question of today’s tendency for broken games on launch day, was the communication and feedback between developers and consumers. It was much less than today. There was no internet, and getting feedback on the success of a game usually meant patiently waiting for the sale figures and the review scores from the magazines, which took time.
And then we were introduced to technically better games, which required bigger storage and better machines. As time passed, the importance and popularity of Internet rose and we could communicate with the whole world. Today with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, everybody can reach one another more easily than ever in human history.
The Bored Room of Grumpy Smokers
Or can we? Can we actually debate with the big publishers in a human to human nature? More to the point – is there a real communication between us? I don’t think so. Most of the time it is a one way channel, where we have no idea if our messages are in their spam folder or not. Which leads us to today, where we are desperate to use the technology in our hands to communicate with everybody, including those who we pay to entertain us. But often when we ask them the ‘big questions’ about ‘the next big’ installment in some franchise, we are treated as idiots.
And we are not the only ones – those who are supposed to protect us, the journalists, from bad practices, can get the same answers.
This issue of trying to dismiss problems by being silent is widespread and not only in games, but practically in every other industry (not limited to entertainment).
But what about the other way around – do big publishers know what we think and want? Oh, yes they do. They are always looking online to see how angry or excited we are. All of the forum discussions and YouTube PSAs are before their eyes.
I hope the gaming industry adapts the Hollywood’s practice of telling us the budget and revenue of a given game. It would take us briefly behind the curtains.
So – why are big publishers releasing broken games almost every single time? What gives them the power?
Press ‘LOL’ for Instant JoyTM v2.3.0854 from the other dimension
My answer is simple, it’s not “the sheer arrogance” of the big guy or the “total lack of consumer awareness.”
It comes down to technology. It comes to our advanced and ability to fulfill our desires. We have come so far that we can push a button and something happens on the other side of our planet or even the Solar system.
And that is what they are doing. They have the technology to fix their games, whenever and to whatever degree they want. Steam, Origin, Uplay, XboxGamesStore, PSN and such platforms allow for their owners and partners to control the flow of content.
They are releasing broken games because they can fix them later. After all, they own the platform, they have the money and people to do it. And as long as they have the control over developing, releasing and distributing video games, those practices will continue and even could go for the worse.
Until then, my only advice is to NOT pre-order games, do your research, vote with your wallet, and have fun.