Bygones

It was once said:

“A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” -Shigeru Miyamoto

These days, we have this:

“All of the games like this… It’s not how you launch, it’s what it becomes.” -Todd Howard

There are a number of interesting articles out this week, including this one, which covers a candid interview with Todd Howard regarding (among many other things) Fallout 76. Specifically, how he and the entire team knew it was going to be a widely panned shitshow… but released it anyway. Because eventually it could be made better.

…and it has. Even if you were hostile to the idea of a Fallout survival game in the first place, it is undeniably in a better state than before. It may still not be your cup of tea at all, but it’s better.

None of this is particularly ideal for anyone though. As consumers, we should not be offered half-completed games riddled with bugs and half-baked design philosophies. On the developer side, while they do indeed get cash for a half-completed game, they also get (well-deserved) bad reviews and negative press for releasing a shoddy product.

The thing is… this method appears to work. As pointed out in the Ars Technica article:

The examples are almost too numerous to list. There are the games like Evolve, Paragon, Battleborn, Artifact, and Lawbreakers that were never able to turn things around after moribund launches. Then there are titles like Rainbow Six: Siege, For Honor, Final Fantasy XIV, and Bethesda’s own Elder Scrolls Online that have found long-term success despite some early troubles. Right now, Bioware’s rough launch of Anthem seems to be sitting on the razor’s edge between these two possibilities.

The other two poignant examples listed earlier in the same article are Diablo 3 and No Man’s Sky. While we can quibble over whether No Man’s Sky is any better conceptually than it started, the game is undeniably a huge success now, with each content update pulling 100,000 concurrent Steam users. In other words, it did not crash and burn – the poor initial showing was only a flesh wound. And Diablo 3? The game that launched with literal P2W in the form of Real Money Auction House? Blizzard was punished with… 30 million copies sold by 2015.

And, really, at what point does it all end up sounding like sour grapes? I had to look back, but apparently the Diablo 3 RMAH was removed back in March 2014. Are we still mad five years later?

I mean, the RMAH was absolutely a terrible idea and Blizzard should have known better and we’re all so terribly disappointed in them. But if someone asked you whether they should play Diablo 3 today, is the RMAH really something you would legitimately bring up? What’s the statute of limitations on poor game design that no longer even exists in the current game?

It’s a struggle, I know. If you buy/play/enjoy Fallout 76 or No Man’s Sky or Diablo 3 or anything else today, you are indirectly supporting the (usually) same people who screwed up these games the first time around. “How will they learn, then?!” Well… they did learn. As evidenced by the game getting better. It will probably not prevent them from releasing a half-baked mess with their next game, but that may simply be the unfortunate reality at this point. We can hope that by delaying our purchase until the game is fixed – instead of preordering or Day 1 purchasing like a chump – the devs get the memo on what stage of completeness we are willing to accept. On the other hand, giving them money later on kinda justifies the whole “Release Now, Fix Later” approach.

And on the third, mystery hand? Taking a principled stand is exhausting when you could just sit down and play some damn games. If it’s fun now, play; otherwise, don’t.

Posted on June 7, 2019, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. If D3 had a smooth launch, and much of the other mistakes Blizz has made since that time don’t happen, is D:Immortal as panned as it was? I mean sure some of that was the terrible presentation and the idiotic “everyone has a phone”, but was D3 RMAH a factor as well? I think so, at least to some degree.

    On bad games turning it around; could something like Lawbreakers (never played it) turned it around like Rainbow 6 has if more people bought it day-1? Would R6 have the time for its turnaround if fewer people bought it initially (R6 is amazing hot garbage btw, its barbie soldiers online, but that’s a different story)?

    I think the more devs burn early buyers with stuff like F76, the fewer early buyers there will be, both overall and specifically for that company/devs. And if these struggling games don’t show at least a glimpse of future success, they won’t continue to get the support to eventually turn it around.

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    • I still think Diablo: Immortal gets panned because everyone was expecting Diablo 4, not a mobile game. If Blizzard had done the Bethesda thing of “We’re making Diablo 4, and by the way, here’s mobile Diablo you can download right now” it would have went over much better, as Fallout Shelter did. Hell, do we even care that Fallout Shelter had/has lootboxes galore? Nope. That was one of the most successful surprise launches of a game I had ever seen.

      “Justice” for devs that release games in a shitty state is something I also fantasize about, but I don’t know if it works these days. For one thing, if justice did exist, there wouldn’t be these comeback stories like FF14, Diablo 3, etc. Those games would have crashed and burned and ceased to exist, possibly taking the studio down with them. Are we really better off without Maxis after the SimCity (2013) disaster? Blizzard probably doesn’t fold if D3 flopped, but there would be less resources available for anything else.

      We all want fun, bug-free games to play. It’s entirely rational to be suspicious of a company that releases garbage and asks for $60 for it. But these days I am considerably less inclined to hold grudges over poor releases, because tacitly all that is doing is denying myself pleasure to make some principled point that has arguably lost its relevance. Yeah, No Man’s Sky had absurd launch promises they weren’t able to deliver… three years ago. In that time, there have been numerous, sweeping changes, added story content, and considerable systems polish. Hell, now there’s even going to be multiplayer (of sorts), like was originally promised. “Justice” would be for no one to buy the game, but if you really like space survival crafting games, all you would be doing is denying yourself a good time.

      As for the point about making the early adapter pool shallower by continual disappointments, that’s a legit concern. People still pre-order games though, which suggests they either have short memories, are very susceptible to marketing, were born yesterday, or possibly just want to believe a given game is good even if they were hurt before.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m inclined to agree with you that Diablo Immortal was an issue of positioning moreso than existence. They did try to do some expectation setting prior to the fateful Blizzcon in question — but it was way too weak. Too little, too late, given the much stronger expectations set by putting the Diablo talk on the Mythic stage as the headliner to the whole event, up first.

        As for the rest of it… I have had a post drafted for a while now titled, ‘Forgiveness as a Business Model’. How launching in a shit state for the pre-order, early adopter revenue and banking on the forgiveness of players when the game is fixed to an acceptable standard for further revenues.

        It’s a fairly cold and calculated, very commercial approach to it all, and it’s a hard one to stomach when the likes of EA does it. Publishers in the AAA league doing undeclared early-access games, basically.

        Still… If one were to try hold a grudge for this, it would be a very small pool of games indeed one could play at the moment. :/

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  2. “People will buy anything.” – also Todd Howard. I suppose the real suckers are the devs who actually do slap the EA label on their games forthrightly, as Naithin says above.

    That said, we’ve long accepted the necessary, ubiquitous 1.1 patch for always-online games (especially MMOs) without much of a fuss, because some issues actually do require stress-testing/scale-testing by the playerbase. Since every game is now an “online” game, and the customer feels… okay, the customer expects the feasibility of games being altered post-release instead of being content to gamble for quality at the point of the box sale, this seems like a very natural push-back against that phenomenon. Almost like a starting position at the negotiating table.

    It’s also important to consider what constitutes a specific promise on the part of the developers as opposed to ill-advised hype during the development cycle and what constitutes a broken as opposed to merely disappointing feature.

    Finally, I guess, when considering dispensing ‘justice’, intent matters. I genuinely think that Hello Games (who were still kind of indie at the time, if I recall) were lovingly over-ambitious with NMS and miscalculated badly, followed by terrible and dishonest PR. On the other hand, some of the larger players just cynically don’t bother with as much QA as they should be doing.

    Liked by 1 person

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