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Day-One Issues: Current-Gen Edition
Imagine yourself waking up one day on a rainy Tuesday morning, sometime in the near future of course, impatiently waiting to play the next Call of Duty game, Call of Duty 18: A lot of Explosions. As your copy of Activision’s, and the developer’s (insert name here) latest offering finished downloading you eagerly started it. But instead of being greeted with the opportunity (or right if you want to call it that) to play a game you paid $60 dollars for, you see a bunch of server errors and 30 GB patches.
Now, avoiding the predictable reaction of a rightfully angry consumer, you accepted it. So you waited and waited until Activision and that same developer finally released a patch that was capable of turning your $60 product into one that actually works – weeks later. But you were never surprised, accepting this sadistic dystopia as it was. This is our future ladies and gentlemen devoid of incredulous gasps, if the current trend of the games industry is anything to go by. The “normalization,” as writers Seth C. Lewis and Stephen D. Reese would say, of day one issues is etching ever closer to an inevitable, frightening reality.
Ever since both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched last November we’ve been enveloped by a litany of launch day issues for several games. It has been a full year since both machines have been out in the wild and though we expected matchmaking problems, massive patches, and unfinished products to be resolved a year later, it seems they have only become more severe. Couple that with some questionable business decisions, and it’s easy to see why this could become a permanent trend.
In the past few months we’ve seen a huge increase in such issues, with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity releasing as a technical mess, Driveclub and Halo: The Master Chief Collection essentially being unplayable for many people, and even Rockstar’s current-gen edition of Grand Theft Auto V launching with players having difficulty transferring their GTA Online save files. When will it end? Some people would claim that these things are inevitable with new hardware – give publishers and developers time – but when have we ever had to deal with a more vexing first year for any new hardware cycle?
Looking back at Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal last year, which has since been mocked and criticized ad nauseam, it’s easy to see why consumers were so critical of the North American giant. Microsoft pitched us a future in which online rules all, where our consoles had to check in online at least once a day. As we all assumed at the time, the industry simply wasn’t ready for such a leap forward. Microsoft gave us no indication of whether it’ll be capable of handling such a future – its pitch was painfully botched. Fast-forward a year later, and most publishers and developers are only making that very same pitch seem that much more of a failure.
As an industry we need to take a step back and revel in the basics. What I mean by this is that studios should focus on developing single-player games. Most games that have found immense success both critically and commercially in the past two years have predominantly been single-player focused. The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Tomb Raider, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Rayman Legends, and Grand Theft Auto V (not Grand Theft Auto Online), just to name a few. Even the most recent of these, Bioware’s single-player only Dragon Age: Inquisition, is a breath of fresh air for many simply because it works.
This is without considering the panoply of indie darlings that have hit the market like Shovel Knight and The Swapper. Consumers will always be hungry for such experiences, they don’t need an online mode shoved down their throats to justify a purchase. Now of course I’m not claiming that all video games that include multiplayer or co-op are complete trash, there have been some great ones, but there’s a blatant and severely worrisome trend here – developers just can’t handle the demands of online gameplay right now. And that’s totally fine, if the companies in question acknowledge their limits.
But they also need to take their precious time making their games. Players are developing a stronger aversion towards big publishers simply because they feel the focus is shifting away from creating a fantastic product, to simply getting a quick buck off of people. This is dangerous, because a deteriorating trust between a company and its consumers has the potential to permanently tarnish the company’s reputation. The best example of this in the past year is Ubisoft. To say the software giant has had a rough 2014 is putting it mildly. Even though its games have sold great, they carry with them the stigma of critical disappointment.
The most recent Assassin’s Creed entry, Unity, looked like a promising return to the popular series’ glory days of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and a chance for Ubisoft to lay new ground work for the series to thrive on new consoles. Instead, Unity is now the worst-reviewed main entry in the franchise’s history, and the only entry thus far to suffocate its consumers with repugnant microtransactions. Watch Dogs is another one which, to this day, several months after its launch in May, is still being criticized for not fulfilling on its lofty promises – debuting dramatically for the first time during E3 2012. Ubisoft’s focus on combining single-player and online components to create one ‘cohesive’ experience, leading them to releasing unfinished products, has easily created a deep-seated animosity for its consumers.
As for us the players, we need to stop pre-ordering games as this continuously justifies questionable decisions from companies. They’ll continue to avoid releasing finished products, which won’t need day one patches to function properly, simply because the current model is profitable and safe. We need to take a stance and elucidate to publishers and developers that we won’t stand for this, that we won’t pay hand over fist for the next “revolutionary” triple A release without at least letting these games spend some time in the wild.
Remember, companies are solely influenced by the bottom line and if we stop giving them the incentive they’ll be forced to rethink their current, unacceptable behaviors. It’s worth a shot don’t you think? It’s perhaps the only tangible solution we’ve got – otherwise we’ll be blankly staring at a dystopian future where residents passively aggrandize big name publishers.