This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.
I’ve been playing video games since my first Game & Watch handheld back in the 1980s, and quickly upgraded to an Atari, then a Nintendo Entertainment System, and so on. Like most passionate gamers, I typically preferred to play games that were fun, yet ultimately finished and polished end products. Video games are products, and we are consumers of them.
A hot button topic for gamers, developers, and most especially publishers is what we now consider a “finished product” in video games. To some, this means you can play the game from start to finish, while others refuse to play games that won’t perform at 60FPS. I think we can all agree on one thing: we need to stop giving excuses for unfinished games being released.
Now before you get examples of the offenders in this issue, hear me out for a second. Would you buy a movie knowing that you can’t see the real ending unless you pay a little extra to view it? How about listening to a new album that has awful production values? With this reasoning, why are we putting up with the practices seen in the games industry?
Honestly, I think we have been enabling game publishers, and by proxy game developers – because I don’t think the blame rests solely on game developers, and not all game developers or publishers are guilty of releasing unfinished products. We’ve been seeing the “foot-in-the-door” technique being used in this industry over the years, and it has to stop.
One of the more flagrant examples of this to launch recently is No Man’s Sky – a game that was hyped to no end from major outlets, Sony themselves, and more. Expectations were set sky high (pun intended) and the game launched plagued with performance issues and had content gutted from its release, presumably to make deadlines. Why was this acceptable?
With the advent of the internet, the world saw a technological and cultural revolution. For software and thus video games, this meant you could add to the product and apply changes or fixes to it after its release. Now, we have developers releasing unfinished, broken, gutted products with the promise of delivering the real deal later – sometimes never.
Let’s go back to the foot-in-the-door technique. I believe that over time hardware manufacturers, publishers, and thus developers, slowly eroded away expectations from gamers as consumers. The gaming press is also to blame, as some will be complicit and sometimes even silent regarding a blatantly unfinished game – usually in the fear of getting press credentials revoked.
The release of broken and or deliberately unfinished games is a multi-headed beast that must be approached from all angles. There are also modern platforms like Steam Early Access, founders packs, Kickstarter, and so on that let players get their hands on early builds – however sometimes these games never see a “full” or “complete” release.
There are some games that have entire swaths of content not included in their original release, despite a massive budget and a big publisher. Look no further than Street Fighter V, which lacked both an arcade and story mode in its original release. Let me repeat that: a fighting game without an arcade or story mode. This obviously doesn’t include performance issues.
Some games are even released with “day one DLC,” a frequent option happily adopted mostly by publishers to help encourage those cherished pre-orders. Unless said downloadable content is free, this is yet another blight upon the gaming industry that has to be stopped, else it continues being a cancer made to placate shareholders. This also includes those Season Pass schemes.
While games like Street Fighter V and No Man’s Sky have finally been updated to include content (No Man’s Sky still needs more content) they should have had at launch, the stuff coming with the pre-order DLC shenanigans are sometimes exclusive to pre-orders. Sometimes, this DLC is later released for purchase separately; again, content that should just be included in the game.
Perhaps I’m just being an old grognard over here, reminiscing over the days when I bought a game and knew I was getting the complete, finished experience. Sure there were bad releases prior to modern patches and updates, however they were far and few in-between. Games had to ship with all-or-nothing, and hardware manufacturers generally had stricter policies with releases.
Ultimately I think it’s ironic that we live in the most connected, informed era in the history of our species and yet we as consumers are being taken advantage of, and sometimes expected to just “give the game a chance” or told “the game will eventually be good.”
Some recent games have even seen ridiculous, decade-long (if not more) development cycles, multiple revisions, and still the shipped version has performance issues. In this instance I’m referring to Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian, both games having at least a decade of development, while the final release still has sluggish performance.
I oftentimes find myself wondering how games with blatant performance issues get a pass like this, whether its the game journalist, the gaming hobbyist, or even the publisher for allowing the game to release in such a state. Maybe you just need to buy a PlayStation 4 Pro, then the game will run properly.
I’ll finish this off with an often-repeated, yet sadly ignored quote. In the immortal words of the legendary creator Shigeru Miyamoto: “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”
How do you guys feel about the current state of game releases? How do you consider a game prior to purchasing it? Sound off in the comments below!