Tom Powter asks whether the future of video games is a fragmented, broken mess…
There was a time not all that long ago when video games were sold to eager gamers as a complete package. You’d stroll into your nearest store, slap £40 on the counter and walk away with a generally polished title – when it was done, it was done and that was that. There wasn’t any DLC, and you didn’t have to worry about the servers breaking because they weren’t there. They were simpler times, and people today often look back upon them with a hint of nostalgia and yes, longing.
Gaming today, is not the gaming of yesterday.
Today, our favourite past time is a very different beast. It can often be found broken up into bite-size chunks, often sold to you after you’ve already purchased supposedly a full game. It can often be found to have numerous apps and websites that enhance the experience, or a ‘premium service’ subscription model that adds really what should have been in the game in the first place. More often than not in fact, your favourite past time can be found lying destitute in a gutter, broken and, in some more horrific cases, without a face at all.
Video games are the fastest growing media in the world. Often their revenue beats out both film and music, with behemoths like Call of Duty smashing records year in, year out. Yet with this newfound social acceptance in the world, gaming has both found its footing – and slipped tremendously.
Let’s take a look at the year just gone by, and how the first full year for both the PS4 and the Xbox One has showcased some shocking underlying issues with the games industry as a whole.
Despite this being the first chance for these machines to show off what they’re capable of, the year has been a string of disappointments in regards to the games considered to be ‘triple A’ releases. Perhaps the earliest point is Ubisoft’s new franchise, Watch Dogs, which put out a game that was completely different to what was shown off when it was first unveiled. Gamers felt betrayed – their first chance to truly experience the supposed ‘next-generation’ was little more than a fallacy, a combination of clearly downgraded graphics and middle-of-the-road gameplay.
Not only that, but Watch Dogs launched as a broken game, with glitches and issues plaguing the multiplayer specifically. However, this would turn out to be some of the least of Ubisoft’s worries as the year progressed. Perhaps one of the most anticipated games of the year, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, launched in one of the worst states imaginable. Sub-20 frames per second, game-breaking glitches and characters without faces to say the least. Possibly their most prized franchise at the moment wasn’t able to avoid the broken state that a worrying number of games are beginning to arrive in.
Why is this happening though? Why is it that developers are seemingly content with pushing a half-finished game onto their audience, then supplementing it down the road with additional DLC and ‘connected’ apps. Assassin’s Creed fan Javed Rahman, who has been gaming for over fifteen years, feels the answer might be disturbingly simple: “They had to get the game out for the holiday period to maximise sales.”
However, it doesn’t end there. Mr Rahman’s comments highlight another issue running rampant among gaming’s biggest companies: “I suspect another reason was because they release a game every year and they’d have been under pressure from above to get it done so that work on the 2015 game can speed up.”
As more and more franchises become annualised, the pressure tightens on developers to continue to deliver. Famous examples from 2013 include Battlefield 4, which was rushed out to compete in the holiday market and, as a result, suffered from broken multiplayer long into 2014. All the while, the developers churned out DLC and expected you to pay for it.
Speaking of broken multiplayer, is Halo fixed yet? That seems to be a common question floating around at the moment. Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Microsoft’s big hurrah of the year, suffered from game-breaking multiplayer issues and still does, even after being pushed through numerous patches. DriveClub, Sony’s exclusive racing game, which was delayed a full year because of problems, still managed to release incomplete and broken.
Gaming today can be seen as a very sad state of affairs. Why should developers even bother to make sure their games are released properly when people will continue to lap up the downloadable content that comes afterwards? Why bother to make sure it works when people will buy the sequel? Gaming has become a monster – a beast of considerable size and power, where originality and inspiration struggles to thrive.
The industry is fast becoming a mass of sequels, prequels and franchises that keep on releasing new titles every year as sure as the sun goes up and down. Call of Duty has become a household name through repeated releases of similar quality. It’s now a service, more than anything else – you expect what to get and you get what you expect. Is that really the future of games?
I might sound like some free-thinking anarchist, but I’m part of the problem. Buying games in the hope they’ll be fixed because I respect the developer – coming out of E3 this year, I felt Ubisoft could do no wrong, with a good showing of smaller titles and a promising year ahead. However, since that show, I’m not even sure they’ve released a single game in the last six months that hasn’t needed some work post-release. Meanwhile, Nintendo continue to release games of a constant quality, yet apparently nobody is buying their consoles. That’s a story for another time in itself.
So where does this leave us? 2014 is over, and it’s been a year of massive disappointment – mostly. Games have promised so much, only to deliver so little. Assassin’s Creed: Unity may be a decent game after a 40GB patch is installed, but that still doesn’t excuse the issues. All those gamers that still want a crack at Halo 2‘s legendary multiplayer are having to wait. Yet, developers will continue to break their games up and focus on additional content first and foremost.
But who’s to blame for the state of the industry? The developer, for churning out games that aren’t finished? The big companies, like EA, who turn up the pressure and turn down the development time? Or is it we, the consumers, who continue to buy despite the blatant under-lying issues with the industry? I’m not sure the blame can really sit with one party alone.
Despite this, 2015 looks promising. Fantastic looking games like Bloodborne, Ori and the Blind Forest and Batman: Arkham Knight are on the horizon. Yet, some of the most anticipated games of the year are those familiar faces – the newly leaked Assassin’s Creed: Victory cannot possibly suffer the same issues as Unity. Meanwhile, EA are possibly holding one of the biggest cards, with Star Wars: Battlefront. It’s been in development for years – it can’t go wrong, surely? Then there’s Tom Clancy’s The Division – a game that promises that much connectivity is just asking to break.
Yet we keep on holding out hope. Someday, something is going to change. Someone is going to realise that all of these unfinished, broken games are inexcusable. The first full year of PS4 and Xbox One has been tarnished with these missteps. Here’s hoping 2015 doesn’t glitch.
What examples of broken games in 2014 have irritated you the most? Why do you think this trend is continuing? Let us know!