One (Likely) Reason Big Video Games Are Releasing Broken

One (Likely) Reason Big Video Games Are Releasing Broken

Last year was marred by a number of major video games releasing in varying states of disrepair. Whether it was online woes or hilarious bugs, it was not the best year for the developers responsible, nor was it for the consumers stuck with busted games.

Why, though, is it happening? Why are companies risking their credibility and consumer base by releasing expensive titles that are in some cases fundamentally flawed?

It's a question Alex Wawro tackles in this Gamasutra blog, one that's summed up perfectly by its use of this image, by consultant Clinton Keith:

One (Likely) Reason Big Video Games Are Releasing Broken

That chart doesn't apply to every game — some major series' problems can be down to design decisions rather than technical flaws — but it gets the basic point right.

The point being that the chart doesn't have a beginning or end that can be neatly tackled. For businesses to improve on their end they'd need to free themselves from a reliance on shipping big games in the holiday season regardless of whether they're ready or not. For consumers to make their feelings truly known they'd need to stop falling for the same old shit every year instead of continually paying up then complaining on forums.

Let's get real: neither of those things are in danger of happening any time soon. Publishers run on money, and they make the most money in the holiday season. We all love video games, and to not buy the big video games we so often want to play is a pretty drastic step.

And so the cycle keeps on spinning. What's most depressing about it all is not how things currently are, but how things might end up in only a few years' time.

"Even the largest publishers aren't prepared to take a bath on today's mega-titles," says Keith Fuller in Wawro's post. "When I was at Raven Software we had an Activision C-level executive visit us and explain during a Q&A that, were it up to him, he never would have greenlit Uncharted 2 because there wasn't enough profit in it."


    Anyone remember cartridges? You know, when you couldn't patch shit and games had to work right out of the box? Good times, good times.

      I like how it took me over 30mins to start up Destiny one day, patch, frozen console, game patch, crashed game, console freeze, crashed game, server disconnect x 4.

      I gave up and played sm4sh bros

        sounds like my attempt to play Farcry 4 a month after launch (On PC mind you)

        Black screen, crash game, crash PC, update, crash game, Goes back to playing DOTA2

      The only patch was gently blowing inside the cartridge. Those were the days... Sigh....

        I was always astonished how often that worked. I could never figure out why that fixed every problem that could possibly come up :P

          To this day I cannot get my head around how they could fit an entire game on there and still leave space for your save games.

          In fact...I still don't understand how they could write back to the cartridge. I'm sure if I googled it I'd figure it out quick, but I kinda want to keep that magic there.

            Its done by adding a small slot of Memory (usually no more then a couple MB) which the save file is stored.

            Just like the 8MB Memory cards on the PS except it was added directly to the cartridge.

            Nintendo still does this with its games - assigning an area on the SD Cards which hold the games to create a save file and not saving the game to the console itself like Sony and Microsoft do.

            Goldeneye for the N64 was 12MB. 12MB. That ain't right....

              It's perfect.

              I remember the awesome games you could fit on one 1.44 floppy.

              12 MB of low res textures, fog, and recycled sound effects.

              It was fantastic.

          Mostly because you're pulling the cart out and re-seating the connectors. Doesn't stop me from blowing into them to this day.

          A friend of mine had a little gadget where you plugged the cart in and then squeezed a little rubber puffer to blow air over the connectors. It was supposed to prevent corrosion because you weren't spitting into the connectors every time.

            Blowing adds moisture to the cartridge that then gives a better connection. Nothing to do with dust.

          Because you're blowing off dust (which actually weakened the game).

            If the dust is loose enough to be blown off, surely the contacts in the slot can remove it too. They are designed to scratch into the cartridge's metal contacts, after all.

              From what I've read, it did nothing to dust. It coated the connections in a small amount of moisture from your breath, bridging the connections between the console and the scratched up connectors. It also further corroded the connectors, meaning a short term solution for greater long term damage.

      Speaking of cartridges, anyone remember E.T for the Atari 2600? The more things change...

      Yep, really did help that the games were a few hundred kb or a few mb at most tho.
      There were also games released back then that were broken and unable to be fixed which was super shitty.
      Comparing modern games to old ones is really unfair to modern games. They are much more complex and orders of magnitude larger... Testing them completely is a nearly impossible task. If a game has a blatantly obvious bug that effects everyone then that should never make it to market, but expecting every bug to be ironed out would mean that games would probably never get released.

      I could easily believe that only very small percentage of companies could exist in an offline, cartridge world today. I think marketer's get way too much of an influence in the equation if you ask me and are a big part of the paywalled bug ridden frustration us gamers have to endure. Makes me think there's another big industry crash around the corner.

      I never though I'd actually think that an industry crash was needed to flush all this crap out but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. The structure of game development is clearly broken and needs to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch. Gamers unite!

      end of rant

      They often did patch the software on cartridges... improvements were coded into later runs of production. So you'd have a limited run in the first instance, then the next larger run would include some bug fixes, and more would go into the third run... etc.
      Also, because games would release in one region before another, bug fixes could be incorporated before launches.

      Jeff Gerstmann over at GiantBomb was talking about this on their podcast, when they were asked about games being allowed to go past cert despite being broken.

      There were even cases, admittedly very... very.... rare, of games being recalled.

      Anyone remember cartridges? where you were stuck with the bugs forever. Then when they did patch it only the people who bought it at a later date got the patched version with no way of telling which cartridges have the bug fix and which ones didn't? I think your remembering the old days with rose tinted glasses.

        Pretty sure they had different serial numbers and such to differentiate which version was contained on there.

      Remember the the video game industry crash that resulted in the bankruptcy of Atari? This cycle looks awfully familiar to what happened back then. Although I won't pity ubisoft if they go bankrupt, I will feel for the developers tied to go down with ubisoft

      We are still living in the good times courtesy of, unsurprisingly, the guys who last renounced the cartridge: Nintendo! They never release a broken game.

        Look, I'm Nintendo fanboy, but even I know that Nintendo has released games, recently even, that could be considered broken.

        Mario Kart 7 had glitches that allowed you to skip half a course, and Pokemon X and Y and the pretty much game breaking Luminose City glitch (not to mention its pretty much the most patched Nintendo game on 3DS right now).

    Failure to meet scope and budget is a failure in project management. I wonder what PM principles most devs apply?

      Most devs apply agile methodology. Publisher agreements already specify milestones, so you just call them sprints, host a stand up every day, and pretend that you're organised.

        If the milestones are all set in advance without feedback from prior work meaningfully adjusting future milestones, it isn't really agile.

        And having code bases that don't even function until close to release also sounds like the antithesis of that development style.

      Not sure if you read the article at all, but that would be an effect of aggressive pressure to ship. You can hash out the best looking project on paper, then blame devs, crack whips & chop heads all you like but at the end of the day it all comes down to unrealistic expectations from people who only a have financial stake in the project. So when expected profits aren't made more pressure is applied, which leads to more unrealistic deadlines and more bugs and mistakes creeping in. It's a crazy downward spiral.

      Last edited 09/01/15 11:13 am

      Feature-creep. Only instead of it coming from clients, it comes from execs who spend too much time in marketing.

    That's been the case for many, many years and isn't just solely a problem in the video games industry. It can also be summed up by simply saying "money". The reason the mobile industry works so well despite having so many flawed and failed games is because this cycle works in overdrive with smaller iterations. Like boiling frogs, people won't notice the amount they are spending if you do it in small enough increments. They are also more likely to forgive issues if they feel they are getting the better end of the bargain. (ie. It's cheap so I don't care about the flaws)

    I fear for the next generation of games because the expanded technical capacity should require an equally expanded development cycle but that's going to make a lot of shareholders nervous so they will still try to short circuit the process which will just result in even more broken games.

    Last edited 09/01/15 10:43 am

      ...the expanded technical capacity should require an equally expanded development cycle but that's going to make a lot of shareholders nervous so they will still try to short circuit the process...

      It's all down to the purpose of a game. Investors see the purpose of a game as to get a return on that investment. Gamers see it as a form of entertainment or art or both. Developers are caught somewhere in the middle.

      When I was doing tech support for Telstra's broadband, one of the problems we always encountered was that management powerfully resented the fact that we existed. It was explained to us in an email that was not meant to have been sent to us (one incident in a looooong string of examples of abject incompetence) that the purpose of tech support is not to resolve issues, but to keep customers from claiming on the service-agreement (which they were unlikely to ever really be able to, because an army of lawyers made the standard form of agreement fucking airtight), and for marketing to be able to claim that we had 24/7 tech support.

      Yeah, that's right. Tech support is considered a bullet point on an ad to help marketing sell more broadband. Actually fixing problems is just a bonus.

      Senior management had serious issues with the fact that it costs so damn much to have that bullet-point, which was why the pressure was always on to make the customers just 'go away' no matter what it took. In the centre I was in, I quit after the centre manager made it clear that we were to spend no longer than a set amount of time before sending out a technician (who was not trained to resolve software issues, by the way). Sending out a technician (or 'rolling a truck' as we called it) is stupidly expensive at something close to $400 compared to how much it would cost us to spend the extra time to actually get a result... but the reason this was 'unofficial policy' was because - and I quote: "Our department doesn't pay for truck rolls, so it makes us look better."

      They tried various things to bring overhead costs down, some of which were actually illegal and resulted in out-of-court settlements. I left not long after they started monitoring you on how many sales-referrals or product sales you made after resolving a ticket, so I don't know how long that lasted, but either way, it was unconscionable.

      Anyway, the point is... games aren't games, to investors. They're products. And as long as it sells, who gives a fuck?

      Last edited 09/01/15 4:58 pm

    "A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever." - Shigeru Iwata

    Nintendo has your back, gamers!

    Last edited 09/01/15 10:52 am

      Not always.

      There have been multiple cases where games have been delayed for so long that they either are outdated when they are released, or are abandoned altogether (cough *Lord of the Clans* cough). There are ALWAYS improvements that can be made to a game, be it bug fixes, new features, updated engines, whatever... it's just a case of when is the game good enough.

        I hardly think his quote was meant to be taken that literally and applied to other publishers. Nintendo rarely bends to investor/gamer demands and won't churn out a game that isn't up to their standards.

        It's a blessing and a curse, but their catalogue is unequalled in terms of polish and acclaim because of that ethos.

        Last edited 09/01/15 12:19 pm
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    This is why I don't rush out and buy anything except that which I am extremely confident will be a great quality game and something I will play. There are very few companies left I trust in this way.

    Nobody really wants to release a broken game. While the cycle of pressure is definitely an issue, I think another major one is that games are just more complex these days, and with more complexity comes more potential for errors, plus with new consoles there's the first generation of games teething issues. Sure a lot of games aren't released "perfectly" "like with a cartridge", but with patches they don't need to be 100%. They SHOULD be, but they don't NEED to be; it's a safety net. Another thing is that problems with games can be like a rock in your shoe... if 99% of the experience of wearing your shoes is awesome but that 1% rock is giving you grief, you probably give it more attention. I feel for the programmers that put a lot of work into a game, and then someone figures out an exploit or balance issue like plug pulling and the game is terrible. Maybe it's that games are more finance(fewer staff, less play-testing) or time driven, but the ability to patch in itself is awesome.

    Why wouldn't they release broken games? The market has proved as a whole that it doesn't care.

    AC Unity caused a stir in its release week, but then with the announcement of the next game in the series the gaming community went wild with hype. Halo MCC took months to fix, and yet people are frothing at the mouth over the Halo 5 beta.

    I wish I worked in an industry where you could sell broken products and celebrate success rather than failure.

      Are people hyped for LondonAC? That seemed so desperate to leak it so early. Though I'll grant you - the gushing over Halo 5 is unseemly given the broken mess people (not me) paid full price for to access it.

    I heard it was because Gremlins © got into the system

    I don't think it's a co-incidence that all these issues with broken launches have come from publishers that are publicly listed companies. PLCs don't give a damn about quality or integrity, they only care about the next quarterly earnings report. Nothing is going to change until gamers stop giving their money to EA, Ubisoft, and Activision; hitting the hip pocket nerve is the only feedback these companies will respond to.

      Nailed it. The buck stop with the consumer (pun totally intended); as long as people are willing to listen to the media hype and shell out for average games like watch_dogs or broken games like AC on release, companies will continue to release them.
      Early adopters are a double-edged sword though; through them we get reviews on what to avoid, but their existence continues to encourage companies to release rubbish. It's not like early adopters are new though, in the world of tech and media - there's still a bunch of people with BetaMax players sitting under their houses, right?

    While this type of thing has been a problem for many years, it really was 2014 that got defined by it. But what else coincided?

    Major new-gen technology, and a massive consumer demand for Bigger and Better. Both consoles came out with much anticipation and then... no games, and definitely nothing that defined the new technology. There was a desperate desire from consumers for those games to define the new generation and an ever growing desire for that Bigger and Better - the pressure was on these companies to deliver big time in ways that hadn't been done yet. How many games are currently being delayed? (which is great, obviously they are learning).

    While 20-30 years ago you were talking about games that could be programmed line by line by a small team or techs. Now those credit sequences are long enough to rival the 20 minutes of credits at the end of the extended edition for Return of the King.

    What is possible in games today is utterly amazing, and was more than I could ever dream of as a 10 year old with a very wild imagination in the late 80s. I certainly dislike the notion of a broken product being released, and the need for major day 1 downloads (heck, this is Australia which was just nominated the 44th ranked Internet).

    So I won't and don't intend to defend these companies, but I realise that this is very new and exciting technology and creativity that has never EVER been seen before. And I'm grateful for it.

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