I know the holidays are when publishers want to release their most ambitious games… but come on, guys. Really?
In late spring/early summer, the fall months were already overloaded with games. So, I began to scrimp and save, until I finally amassed enough coin to purchase Bayonetta 2, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Grand Theft Auto V, and Far Cry 4… with the latter four split over two consecutive weeks. And these were only MY must-have titles. The rest of the gaming community had to weigh Sunset Overdrive, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Little Big Planet 3, and Smash Bros. for the Wii-U. For all intents and purposes, November was primed to be every gamers wet dream… so, why do I feel like the industry is in shambles now more than ever? The media’s ranting, gamers are raging, and… well, okay, that’s par for the course. So, let me put it this way:
On November 11th, when I SHOULD have been enjoying Halo and Unity, I was playing Super Mario 64 instead.
What the hell happened?
Well, from my perspective, this generation of gaming has… how do I put this gently? “A lot of room for growth.” Nintendo has decided to release yet another iteration of the 3DS, while expanding their focus to include cheap toys – that is, high in price and cheap in quality – and DLC.
In green vs. blue land, Microsoft is competing while Sony hardly competes. Resolution and frame rates have become marketing tools. Lies and broken promises continue to litter the landscape of consumer relations. Make no mistake about it; patience thins as incompetence grows. As a result, you would think the major publishers would take every precaution to ensure their games shine at the time of release… and yet, the opposite is happening. While it’s true that day 1 patches have become the norm, most of these come and go without a peep from the gaming community. And why? Because these updates are perceived by many to be trivial. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. But over the last couple of months – if not the entirety of this generation – the industry has sunk to a new low.
“The game just launched. OF COURSE it’s buggy!”
Let’s be clear: Nobody should EVER justify poor quality control as, “That’s just the way it is.” All that justification does is inform the industry that people are okay with products that don’t work as advertised. But… why? Why should they be granted amnesty? Battlefield 4 was broken for, what, half a year or so? Destiny was hyped to the high heavens, yet only the shell of a game had been delivered. Driveclub’s multiplayer was a joke, and its PS+ version is still a promise laughing from the wings. The Evil Within had a bunch of performance issues. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare suffered from some multiplayer hiccups. The sad thing? This list is only the tip of the iceberg.
Things truly came to a head on November 11th. Mark this on your calendar as the day apologists allowed a dose of reality to seep in: The industry is focused on launch windows so much, that releasing a finished product has become a secondary concern. I know, I know: Some will find that last statement to be a double-barreled load of hyperbole… but is it? On this date, two of 2014’s most anticipated games were unleashed, and both were clearly not ready to leave their respective stables. It doesn’t matter what school of thought you want to bring to the table: This. Is. Not. OK.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection. For all intents and purposes, this was poised to move Xbox One’s and increase the average software attach rate. EA’s Titanfall was the previous steward of such responsibility, but let’s be honest – It failed to make a significant enough splash. So, Microsoft looked to 343i to deliver its beautifully culminated package of Spartan and Cortana for the holidays. Unfortunately, 343’s early Christmas present to their parent company amounted to little more than a black eye.
For starters, 343 Industries decided to punish consumers for choosing physical over digital. Unintentional, I’m sure, but that doesn’t really make the situation any better. Weeks prior to release, the studio announced there would be a 20GB update on day 1. And no, that isn’t a typo: 20GB (although it was condensed to 15GB just prior to release). Why? Because the single player campaigns utilized all 45GB of usable disc space. No big deal, right? 343i had included a second install disc for Halo 4, right? Well, this time they said, “Screw it, that costs money. Let’s just let people download the additional content at home.” How is it I perceive this to be punishment? Because people who pre-ordered digitally could access the update ahead of time, meaning they could play the game on the stroke of midnight at launch. The rest of us had to wait until we downloaded that behemoth of an update…
…only to find out the matchmaking didn’t work.
When I complain about this around the web, the common response I get is, “You can enjoy the single player for the time being. 343i will fix it.” True enough, except I – and many others – purchased the Halo collection primarily for multiplayer. Not only that, with the onslaught of games being released at the moment, I have next to zero motivation to play Halo 1-4. I’d much rather play something new.
Good thing Assassin’s Creed: Unity was there to save the day, right? Right?!
While I HAVE been enjoying my time with the latest dose of ‘sneak-stab-climb’ from Ubisoft, there’s no excuse for the condition this game was released in. There was a pretty big stink raised when the devs announced they ‘achieved parity’ between the Xbox One and PS4 iterations. Why? Because people believed the Xbox One was holding the PS4 version back at 900p and 30fps. Personally, we didn’t have any facts to back such a claim, so I decided to wait and see how everything shook out. There’s really nothing wrong with 900p, is there? 1080p is much better, of course, but Ryse was 900p, and stands – a year after the fact, mind you – as one of the most impressive looking titles of this generation. 30fps isn’t a big deal to me either…
…But there’s a difference between ’30fps’ and Ubisoft’s 30fps.
Frame rate issues jank the game on a regular basis. It doesn’t usually affect gameplay, but there ARE times where the game looks like a slide-show on my PS4. Pop-in is especially atrocious. It doesn’t matter if you’re running across rooftops, getting a panoramic view of the city while ‘synchronizing’, or pounding cobblestones beneath your feet. You’re going to see shadows, clothing, and even complete character models come and go. Arno – the main character – would also fall through the world’s geometry. The game also locked up my PS4 on a couple of occasions.
No less than 10 teams worked on this game for about 4 years… and this is the how the game launches? “It’s day one, of course…” No. Just no. Keep in mind that of these 10 teams, not everyone was working on the game itself. Some of Ubisoft’s resources were allotted for developing a mobile app, while others (more than likely) focused on the microtransaction system. Some have undoubtedly spent their time building content for the season pass.
You have to hand it to Ubisoft, I suppose, because the set of balls on them are enormous. They released a game THIS buggy, yet have the unmitigated gall to suggest we further support their product by purchasing a season pass and in-game currency? Are they freakin’ nuts?
Truth be told, all the major studios are bonkers. As stated earlier in this article, Halo and Unity aren’t the only games with issues as of late. A week later, on November 18th, three additional AAA titles were reported with certain bugs and/or performance issues: Far Cry 4, Grand Theft Auto 5 (Xbox One/PS4), and Little Big Planet 3. As of this writing, Smash Bros will be launching on the Wii-U and (regardless of how you feel about Nintendo) I’m willing to bet their latest offering will be the least problematic of the bunch.
I’ve tried to remain as diplomatic as possible in writing this editorial, but the bullshit has stacked so high, I doubt I’ve come across that way. Not that it matters. After all, if I’m about to rage, it’s because each and every day I recognize the video game industry a bit less than the day before. For the sake of transparency, I should also share that I feel hurt and betrayed by just how far things have slid down the proverbial slippery slope.
You see, I’m a physical media kind of guy. I don’t really have anything against digital content, but I believe hard copies of video games are likely to outlast the servers that currently host them. In theory, if I wanted to play a PS4 game in 20 years, I should be able to insert a disc, install, and play. Unfortunately, the reliance studios have on updating games at, and even after the time of release is crippling that future. With the way things are, if I wanted to play a PS4 game in 20 years, the hard copy wouldn’t be enough. No, I’d need to download an update to play the bug-free version, but without any servers to acquire said updates, what’s the point?
So, yes, as a result, I’m weighing a digital only future with my Xbox One and PS4 (not my Wii-U, since its storage capacity is rather limited). Not because I’m feeling ‘jazzed’ about it, but because AAA publishers are doing everything in their power to make this aging dinosaur feel all but extinct. I mean, if my physical copies are worth virtually nothing – remember, they’re incomplete versions sitting on those retail shelves – then what’s the difference? Why not go digital? Why not join the masses in pre-load ecstasy, being able to enjoy these games the very moment they go live without ever having to leave the house?
Oh, I remember now. It’s because I have a spine, and I’m not willing to let the studios bully me into a position I don’t want to support. I’m not saying I’m as solid as a statue, because that’s not exactly true. If I were as ‘pure’ as one of my friends (dude’s a warrior, I’m tellin’ ya), I wouldn’t have purchased Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and most all the other freakin’ games I mentioned in this article. Or, I’d buy them, hear the negative reports, and return them promptly to their point of purchase. But, I’m not that strong. Call me crazy, but I still want to enjoy the games I’d have fun with. Those day 1 bugs will inevitably be patched, and Arno falling through the streets of Paris will become a distant memory, amongst a host of other negative memories.
And I’m not justifying all the incompetence we’ve seen with the industry as of late. No, I’m merely saying that most of these games are going to be insanely fun once the kinks are worked out… but that doesn’t give any of the greedy big-wigs a pass. Their huge fuck-ups this year have finally allowed the casual gamer to take notice of the things I’ve been rambling about for months… and as GI Joe used to say, “Knowing is half the battle.”
But hey, look at it this way: I don’t get these games from publishers. I buy all my own games with my own money (sometimes they’re gifts, but you know what I mean). I get too curious and want to try these games first hand to know what the deal is. So… use me. Watch me play and vent my frustrations, or positive reactions, while playing these games live on Twitch. If a game sucks, LET ME BUY IT SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO. If my mistakes happen to help a person or two, then I’ll be grateful for the anguish.