I’ve spent an awful lot of time pointing fingers at companies that care too much about revenue, and not enough about consumer satisfaction. So much so, that I, at times, have twisted that finger back at myself. It’s hard not to feel like an asshole when all I do is bitch and moan, but being that I’m constantly reminded of the sad state of the video game industry, I snap out of that funk pretty quick. I mean, I’m not asking too much of the devs and publishers, am I? I just want games to work the way they’re supposed to. Not on day two, seven, twenty-one or beyond… but day one. That seems both reasonable and logical, yet any time I bring this up, people tell me to “just deal with it” because “that’s just the way things are.” More than that, their attitude implies that because developers have the ability to patch our games through the internet, we should just default to being grateful… and I can’t side with that sentiment at all. As with most things I’m asked to ‘deal with’, my gratitude can only extend so far.
But it’s important to remember that just because a bunch of publishers opt to cut corners for the sake of deadlines, it doesn’t mean EVERY company is like that. No, there are studios that wholeheartedly believe in releasing games when they’re done. They know anything less would tarnish their name and drive customers away, so they try to do what’s best for EVERYONE, their company and gamers alike.
Let’s take Remedy Entertainment, for example. The studio is best known for its work on the Max Payne franchise (the first two installments), but I respect them most for the development cycle of Alan Wake. It was originally announced in 2005, with a brief tech demo shown to the press (behind closed doors, of course), but didn’t see the light of day until 2010. A long wait, sure, but the end result speaks for itself: It’s a game that exceeded both technical and conceptual expectation, and as a testament of this, stands as one of the best games on the Xbox 360. Will they uphold that quality with Xbox One’s Quantum Break? That remains to be seen, but this company has given me no reason to sweat them yet.
Rocksteady were supposed to release Batman: Arkham Knight this fall, but postponed it until June. The reason is unclear, but I think it’s safe to assume that they realized it wasn’t yet up to their level of standards. They have a decent track record thus far with Asylum and City, so why mess with it now? Warner Bros. Games Montreal took a stab at the franchise with Arkham Origins, and predictably, they shoved their offering out the door with a fair amount of bugs, including one which has been known to break the game.
You can say what you want about Nintendo, but one thing’s for sure: Their output is consistently problem free. When I turn on my Wii-U and pop in a first party game, there’s no question in my mind about how smooth an experience it will be. As a matter of fact, the only major issue I can recall is a game-breaking progression bug in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (which has since been fixed). Otherwise, everything I’ve played on their consoles has been technically spectacular.
So, why have I chosen this moment to break away from all the bitching and moaning to focus on something positive instead? That answer came in the form of an announcement from CDProjektRed:
Ever since we started working on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we knew it would be an ambitious game. We wanted, and still aim, to give you an incredible experience, an epic adventure in a vast, completely open fantasy universe.
The sheer size and complexity of The Witcher, key features of the title, have had a decisive impact on production. Now, nearing the end of our work, we see many details that need to be corrected. When we release the most important game in our studio’s history, we must be absolutely sure that we did everything we could to limit any bugs to a level that will allow you to enjoy the game thoroughly.
With this in mind, we took another look at current workloads and what they mean for the team. Even though everyone is working at full speed, we concluded that we need another 12 weeks, so we are shifting the release date of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to May 19th, 2015.
We owe you an apology. We set the release date too hastily. It’s a hard lesson, one to take to heart for the future. We know what we want to do to make Wild Hunt one of the best RPGs you will ever play. And we continue to work hard to achieve just that. So, we apologize and ask for your trust.
Thank you for the all support you show us on a daily basis. We truly do appreciate it. It has fueled us in our passion since the start and will continue to do so.
The Board of CD PROJEKT SA”
Oh, and just prior to this, they announced there would be plenty of free DLC in the several weeks following launch:
“As CD PROJEKT RED, we strongly believe this is not the way it should work and, with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we have decided to do it differently. Cutting to the chase, everyone who buys Wild Hunt will receive 16 specially prepared DLCs absolutely for free, regardless of platform. You don’t have to pre-order, you don’t have to buy any special edition to get them — if you own a copy of Wild Hunt, they’re yours. This is our way of saying thank you for buying our game.”
Is there really any question that this is how things should be done?
I know some skeptics are probably calling me a CD Projekt RED fan boy at this point, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My first experience with this studio’s work was through The Witcher 2… and I only began playing that a couple of weeks ago. That said, I don’t have to be a devout fan to acknowledge the fact they just seem to ‘get it’. This company is openly against DRM, isn’t about to gouge their customers by selling DLC for what feels like an incomplete game, and they obviously care about the quality of their output.
It’s very seldom an entity in the industry decides to uphold these values, and while I understand that money has, and always will be the primary motivation, the likes of EA and Ubisoft should take note. If you ask gamers who they feel the most respectable studio is, you’re likely to find an overwhelming amount of people who echo Projekt RED’s name. Because of the respect they’ve shown for both their work and their customers, many in the gaming community feel they are a beacon of hope – at least as far as the AAA scene is concerned – that everyone should follow. There’s a reason why fans of this studio are increasingly loyal, and why more people swallow the RED pill each and every day. Hell, I know a couple of people who are going to buy The Witcher 3 JUST because they want to support this company’s business practices.
It’s unfortunate that so many companies have lost their way… that they’ve forgotten their customers are intelligent human beings who actually notice – and will respond negatively to – nickel-and-dime practices. Something else these companies have seemingly forgotten, is that people will actually REWARD the studios that treat them right. After all, CD Projekt RED hasn’t been elevated to ‘hero’ status amongst the gaming community for nothing. That’s not a label I’m comfortable bestowing upon them, however. My take is that they’re merely exercising common sense, but because various other companies have set the bar so low, it makes them look like saviors by comparison.
Still, the fact that an ever growing studio has managed to stick by their moral code, not to mention continually expandtheir business as a result of that, is highly encouraging. More encouraging than that, is that CD Projekt RED aren’t alone.
Take, for example, 11 Bit Studios. Their latest effort, This War of Mine, had (of course) inevitably leaked on The Pirate Bay. Their course of action? Well, they didn’t call their lawyers, or release numerous ‘join the fight against piracy’ statements to the press. No, their response was pure class all the way. Direct from the comment section of the torrent page (which is now missing, due to The Pirate Bay going belly up):
“It’s Karol from 11 bit studios, the developers of This War of Mine.
We are really happy to hear that you like our game. They prove, that spending 2 years on it was worth it.
I would like to say thank you to everyone, who decides to buy the game and support us — because of that we’ll be able to develop TWoM further and create even better games in the future.
If because of some reasons you can’t buy the game, it’s ok. We know life, and we know, that sometimes it’s just not possible.
Here are some codes for the steam copy of the game, so some of you can take a look at it. And if you like the game after spending few hours in, then just spread the word, and you’ll help us a lot.”
They elaborated their position with Polygon, as well:
“It’s just that not all pirates are the same. Of course there are people that would pirate the game even if it would cost 10 cents, but you can do nothing about them…”
“What many of us often forget though, is that there are also other people. Folks that are doing that, because they are simply pissed about the current quality of many games, or those who simply can’t afford the game at the time, because of some personal reasons,” he continued. “That’s why we believe that instead of treating everyone the same way, where pirates are the most evil people on earth, it’s better to talk and try to find a solution, where everyone somehow benefits.”
“You can’t buy the game, but you would like to suport [sic] us? Tell your friends, and who knows, maybe one of them will pay for it and that would give us few bucks,” Miechowski told Polygon.
“Pretty well known Polish indie developer Sos did something similar some time ago, and just like in our case it proved, that it always pays back if you try to understand people, instead of condemning everyone.”
Every studio has tales rooted in humble origins, and while some have forgotten what it means to provide and interact with human beings, others remain humble regardless of success. Again, the studios I’ve mentioned aren’t alone, and I believe the future of gaming may not be as bleak as it often looks. Think about it: We have a slew of independent developers making a splash on both consoles and PC, and they, more than anyone, understand how important it is to let hard work and positive word of mouth lead them to success. As we’ve seen with multiple AAA releases in 2014, good things will not await those who release games that don’t work as intended… especially when DLC and microtransactions are involved. No, instead, the ‘indies’ know they need to take their time, say ‘thank you’ to their loyal customers, and hopefully if they’ve done a well enough job, reap the benefits.
Years from now, I believe at least a handful of independent studios – such as 11 Bit Studios – will grow and become as respect as the likes of CD Projekt RED, Remedy Entertainment, Rocksteady Studios, etc. All we need to do in return is ensure that those who show us respect, get it back in spades, while those who treat us like bottomless piggy banks are brought to the forefront of conversation… you know, to keep them on their toes. And believe me, it works. Obviously Microsoft had little choice but to listen to their potential customers when it came to the Xbox One. In more recent news, Ubisoft said they’re going to change the way they interact with people, while Electronic Arts looks to improving the overall quality of future projects. Why? Because this contrast exists within the industry, and our collective voice DOES have an effect on how these businesses conform.
Bringing this back full circle, I know I spend a lot of time bitching on this site… but when it comes to the gaming industry, I DO believe hope is very much alive. Support the companies whose practices you applaud, and the rest should fall in place.