Making games is hard.
Creating deep experiences that keep players engrossed keeps teams of developers slaving away at their PC for years. And then the time comes to unleash what’s been created on the public – only sometimes, it seems too early.
In the last couple of weeks, two titles have been launched which have effectively sabotaged themselves. Fallout 76 is an absolute disaster, a title with no redeeming qualities that needs months of additional development to make it feel like it will be worth anyone’s time. And then this week Darksiders III landed with both the PS4 and Xbox One versions being both buggy and unoptimised, ruining what is otherwise a very enjoyable experience.
Of course, the time of the year has likely played a large role in the apparent premature release of those two titles; both publishers and developers will have no doubt been keen to get their games out in time for Christmas, believing sales will be maximised. With reviews and word of mouth being negative for both due to their issues, however, those sales expectations might not be realised.
It doesn’t only happen at Christmas though. Throughout the year, games are often released in a seemingly unfinished state. Often, they have large patches on or near to the day of launch, eradicating a large swathe of bugs and performance problems. Sometimes they remain broken for quite some time. And, as review code is usually provided before launch, they are viewed in their worst light. It’s not unusual for a reviewer’s experience with a game to be quite different to that of a consumer’s. And that’s not ideal for anyone.
Maybe the reason so many games are released in states that don’t quite feel complete is because of the acceptance of Early Access programs. Gamers have inadvertently become product testers, finding bugs and issues in the games they play that are then quashed after launch. Sometimes, feedback is also used to shape a game’s continued development. It’s a double-edged sword: on the one hand it means that they continue to get better after launch, but on the other hand those who buy games on day one don’t often get the stellar experience they deserve. At least when games as marked as Early Access titles, though, they are judged accordingly.
Darksiders III and Fallout 76 are finished products as far as you and I are concerned. Sold for full price, we expect them to be polished, and to work as intended. But they don’t. I suspect that Darksiders III will be perfectly playable on PS4 and Xbox One soon, but the damage of launching those versions with poor performance and bugs will have already been done; mixed reviews and sour word of mouth will have many potential buyers waiting for it to be discounted. Fallout 76, on the other hand, well, that will need more than patches to fix.
Games are simply being let out to die rather then being delayed for a month or two to make sure they’re truly ready. Release dates are being put before quality, and nobody wins. Consumers don’t win because they end up buying games that clearly aren’t finished. Developers don’t win because they are viewed to have shoved something out of the door. And publishers don’t win because ultimately, sales will be negatively impacted. Hopefully things will change, but I have the feeling they won’t. Poor sales will just be interpreted by publishers as a game that failed to find an audience rather than something which has been poorly marketed or released too early.