As schedules become more inflexible, many incomplete or untested products are released to the consumer. Nate Hales looks at who loses
The era of internet-connected consoles has revolutionized gaming in many ways. However, not all of the changes are great and one of these in particular seems to be on the rise, products released with major bugs. Developers and publishers have realized that through the internet, they can push out patches, updates and bug fixes after release, leading to a decreased emphasis on bug-free gameplay. Delivering a product on time in the best possible sales environment is the goal, not delivering the best possible product.
Recently, developer 22 Cans released a small iOS title called Curiosity that was met with much anticipation and fanfare, quickly racking up over 200,000 downloads. Unfortunately, the game and online infrastructure were not ready for the load. Users were met with frequent connection problems, disappearing gold coins (the in-game currency) and generally a less than desirable experience. The team at 22 Cans was left scrambling to put out a solution to fix these problems, but its solution only caused more problems and in the end proved to be irreversible.
22 Cans developer Peter Molyneux called it a disaster. When pressed about what failed exactly, he said, “A mistake was made, which was a schoolboy mistake, but it was impossible to unravel. We lost the gold.” It’s these schoolboy mistakes that are falling through the cracks nowadays. Before the release of Curiosity, Molyneux and team had already planned the launch of their next project, so with deadlines firmly in place the game needed to launch. The team did as much testing as it could, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
Other titles have followed similar paths. Arguably one of the largest titles of 2011, Skyrim, was also one of the buggiest. On the PS3, the game contained many visual bugs, sound quirks and game-paralyzing lag, but the game was deemed acceptable on the other platforms so it was released on time, as opposed to making fixes. Later, when a patch was put out to fix the lag, more bugs were introduced and the lag remained unfixed. Developer Bethesda admitted to being too aggressive with its patching and said on its blog, “We need to treat our updates with greater care.”
The most egregious error in regards to Skyrim, however, might be Bethesda’s inability to anticipate future development problems on the PS3. Development of DLC has been slow as performance issues continue, but this didn’t stop the publisher from releasing the original game on the platform. This is the exact kind of thing that quality assurance testing is for, to help anticipate future problems. But the need to deliver the original game on as many platforms as possible overrode the issues with PS3 development.
Even hardware has fallen victim to the pressure of a timely release. The Wii U launched with many features, such as TVii, missing. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime remained cagey about the delay saying, the Wii U “is a living, breathing system that will bring more and more elements to bear over the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.” But that doesn’t address why features that were discussed for launch were absent. My guess is that the service simply doesn’t work as intended and rather than delay the holiday launch of Nintendo’s newest console, it was just pushed out the door without it. Nintendo’s choice to just remove buggy features outright, as opposed to taking the time to fix them shows a lack of regard for putting out the best product. Quality is allowed to slide in the pursuit of timeliness.
Of course this wasn’t the biggest problem for the Wii U. There was a major patch released for the system on launch day. This patch was needed last minute to address issues with backwards compatibility for Wii titles as well as other things. But because it was launch day, many users were forced to wait hours to apply it and some other more unlucky ones faced a bricked console.
Of course an apology was issued by Nintendo president Saturo Iwata, via IGN, “So, I feel very sorry for the fact that purchasers of Wii U have to experience a network update, which takes such a long time, and that there are the services that were not available at the hardware’s launch.” But, again, it didn’t stop Nintendo from releasing its new console. I am sure Nintendo’s quality assurance caught all of these issues, it just wasn’t enough to delay the making of money.
It’s these issue that highlight the mentality of the industry today. Releasing a game or hardware that is bug free is not as important as getting it out on time. There is money to be made and the always online nature of the current gaming landscape allows things to be fixed after you paid for it. Quality assurance is still a vital part of the process. It’s just now it catches “soon to be fixed” problems as opposed to “needs to be fixed” problems because being late is not an option.