The gaming world is a constantly evolving market, as new systems and new capabilities are opened up every day and the continual upgrade of the Internet and its capabilities. But how has this affected us as the consumer?
I’ve been a gaming journalist for over two years now, and it seems that companies are becoming less interested in our rights as the consumer by the day, while only worrying about how much money they can stuff into their back pocket with every new release.
In this article I want to go through the current state of gaming and touch on a few matters that you may not have thought about before, in the hope that I can create one or two more informed consumers.
Pre-Alpha, Alpha, Beta, Charlie, Delta… ARGH!
The “early-access” concept is a fairly new one that has already cemented itself into the gaming arsenal as of 2014, and has its pros and cons for both sides of the argument.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some situations that beta’s are entirely necessary,take the recent beta that NCSoft had for Wildstar. The game is so huge that it would take the developers an absolute age to try and test every nook and cranny in their game, so they invited the community in to give feedback and give the game a try before it is finally released next month.
Wildstar's Open Beta is not the most common of occurrences.
These kind of betas are pretty few and far between however, and it is becoming fairly rare to be able to try a product before it’s actually released or at least monetised in a some way. Nowadays, you will have to pay full price for the game to get access to its early access, and are often delivered a fairly broken or incomplete product.
The most famous example of this in recent times is Earth: Year 2066, which was released on Steam early access for $19.99 (R220), and was an incredibly broken game. To add insult to injury, the game’s developer, known simply as “Muxwell”, deleted all the negative feedback off the game’s page on Steam, since developers are allowed to moderate their own forums and reviews on the platform.
After Jim Sterling from the Escapist played the game and made a video about the game on his Escapist show, “Jimquisition”, the outcry from the community was eventually so much the game was removed from Steam.
This is by no means a “once in a lifetime occurrence”, as the current Steam policies for making sure games actually work before they are released as “early access” seem nonexistent, allowing for all sorts of trash to make it onto Steam with the “early access” tag tagged on to justify a broken game.
Popular YouTube personalities such as Jim Sterling and Totalbiscuit (perhaps better known as “The Cynical Brit) are regularly releasing videos of these broken early access games and Steam releases in a bid to try and inform the consumer before making bad decisions, but it seems as if they can’t make videos fast enough, as more and more trash continues to flood onto Steam.
The abuse of the “early access” tag is something that we now have to look out for as a consumer, as it is in no way a judge of what quality of game we are getting. For the moment there seems like there is no chance of a quick fix to the problem until Steam put in some quality control onto their platform, but the peer review system has gone some way into alleviating the problem.
BroForce is currently in Steam Early-Access and well worth a try.
Game Releases in the Next Generation
Thinking back, I honestly cannot remember a game that just worked on release. Diablo 3 in 2012 was one of the most horrendous game releases ever, as no one was actually able to play the game. Battlefield 4 was completely broken on release when it hit shelves in November last year, as you weren’t able to get through a round without the game crashing.
Almost every game in the past five years I have bought has either not worked on release or had an extensive “day one” patch used to fix errors so people could actually play their game. Dark Souls 2, which released last month, had a “day one” patch to try and fix the fact that the game would not launch for a majority of PC users, and wouldn’t detect controllers.
This has just become standard fare for us, the consumer, as we just expect this kind of thing as part and parcel of the game we are buying. Go back 15 years and this would have been deemed entirely unacceptable, and games that were broken on release often reflected that fact in poor sales.
It is just so commonplace nowadays that the consumer just doesn’t even care that it is happening, and will gladly throw pre-orders in for a game that is most likely going to be broken on release day, just like the others.
Diablo 3 suffered from an incredibly bad release, but has recovered 2 years down the line.
Pre-Orders are a huge part of this problem, as we continue to throw money at developers and publishers before ever actually playing the game. I’ve done this myself, but recently have felt that it is just way better to wait for a game to actually release before spending your money, as you honestly don’t know what you’re going to get anymore in this day and age.
That being said, Watch Dogs (as an example) is currently in a happy second place in the most popular games on Steam, despite the fact that the game is still a week away from launch. This to me is just astonishing, as it is the same as buying a house without actually going to see what the place is like. You just look at a couple of heavily Photoshopped photographs, say “yeah, that looks good” and carry on with your life.
Meanwhile the decrepit mess you just bought may not be anything like the way it looks in the photos, but how would you know? You’ve never been there. This is the same as pre-ordering a game, and can be easily avoided by just waiting for the game to release before giving away your money.
Just Give us the Game!
I’m unfortunately going to use Watch Dogs again for my example, as it so aptly demonstrates what I want to say. Take a look at this graph, showing what different “Collector’s Editions” are available for the game on release:
This, simply put, is utterly ridiculous. Not only are you offering five different “Collector’s Editions” for a brand new IP (you would think that you may want to actually establish the franchise before offering a collector’s edition for fans of the game – an outdated concept it seems), but each collector’s edition has its own content blocks.
If you wanted all the content available for Watch Dogs on release, you would have to buy three versions of the game. This is completely mind boggling, and once again goes back to the fact that the developers just want your money at the end of the day.
Capcom put a “on disk” downloadable content (DLC) that was locked away behind a paywall unless you paid more money. The Elder Scrolls Online had an entire race locked behind a $20 paywall, on top of their already ludicrously expensive game.
There is just example after example of companies not “actually” releasing the full game to the consumer, and locking content behind paywalls that you need to pay extra in order to obtain. This, up until recent times, was a foreign concept, and is just another way that developers are emptying are wallets.
But What Can we Do?
“What can we as the consumer do to stop all this?” you may ask, and the answer is really a simple one.
Don’t pre-order games unless you absolutely know for sure of the product you are going to be getting. Before buying “early access” games, read a review or two on the Internet to make sure you are not funding some cheese-ball looking to make a quick buck.
At the end of the day, developers and publishers are relying on our wallets, and it is with our wallets that we can make the difference. If we let them know that it’s not okay to release a broken game perhaps we may see a change in the future. Until that day actually comes however, the only way to stay safe is to practice responsible consumerism.