The best guys really do finish last!

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Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Andy: M st  f th  t m   l k  t  th nk  f mys lf  s   pr tty p s t v  p rs n.  ’m m r   f   gl ss h lf f ll typ   f g y. Y t, n  m tt r h w p s t v    try t  b  my p t  nc   s w  r ng th n f r   p rt c l r pr ct c   n th  g m ng  nd stry.  t’s  n   f th s  th ngs th t d v l p rs try t  pl y  ff  s “n rm l”,  nd th n th y try t  r fr m   t l k  th y  r  d  ng  s   f v r wh n th y… try t  f x  t l t r. S , t d y   w nt t  p t my f  t d wn h r   nd s y  n  gh  s  n  gh.

If you had trouble reading the above paragraph, I apologize. You see, all the vowels on my keyboard didn’t work. Don’t worry though it will be fixed soon in an update, maybe Nicholas and I will write an additional article for free as an apology for any inconvenience that any reader faced. We try to do our best but when we have to hit a deadline somethings have to be sacrificed and well we’d rather put out a half-arsed article than one that’s complete and makes sense.

This week I want to start by talking about developers and publishers who intentionally release a substandard-performing game. A game that for all intents and purposes is not finished. I reached the last straw a couple weeks ago when Homefront: The Revolution was released amid some pretty buggy performance. Stevivor’s review touched on many of those issues. Then a developer from Dambuster Studios did an interview and said the game is “not currently where we want it to be.” Pardon me, but when I buy a game for full price I damn well expect that game to be complete and as free of bugs as possible. When the bugs and glitches make the game near impossible to play, there’s a problem.

I get that there are deadlines and release schedules but when a game is so broken that it freezes once a minutes (per the Stevivor review). it simply should not be released. I get that the game had a difficult road and it’s a labor of love that it even saw release, but that doesn’t make any of the issues with the game acceptable. Just to be clear I’m not talking about content here or design decisions, I’m talking about a game simply working. I don’t think that’s too much to ask is it? Before I go too far up on this little soapbox I wanted to get your opinion of releasing a game like this with this many issues and expecting gamers to fork over full price for it.

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Nicholas: First and foremost, and most importantly, I want to assure to our readers that I tried to make sense of that first paragraph, failed and didn’t bother trying again. Now that we’ve established that, onto the meat of the topic. I read Stevivor’s review of Homefront earlier this week and it was surprising to say the least to discover the myriad of issues that plagued the game. I understand that not all games will have great graphics or an amazing storyline, but when a game is so broken it isn’t actually functional, then that’s where we start to have an issue.

There are many times when we’ve spoken about gamer entitlement and about the unnecessary complaining from gamers when things don’t go their way, but this is one of those instances where it’s a complete and utter failure from the side of the developers/publishers. It’s one thing for a game to not be fun, but it’s another when it’s unplayable, and with the case of Homefront, it’s the latter. It’s purely unacceptable.

There are a number of questions that come to mind when an example like this arises. Were these issues prevalent in testing? Do all gamers experience the same issues at the same frequency? What were the reasons the game had to be released when and in the state it was? Ultimately however, and to answer your question, if the issues Stevivor has covered are the same across the board, then what Dambuster have done is criminal – from the point of selling a product that does not do what it’s advertised to do (that is, work).

I can tell you’re busting at the seams however to dive into this head-first, so what are your thoughts on the entire situation? Furthermore, is this something that you’ve observed happening a few times in the past now?

Andy: I am busting at the seams on this one, because it’s so bloody frustrating. You’ve already mentioned one thing I was going to say in that this is not a case of gamer entitlement and wanting something that are unwarranted or beyond the scope of what the game is supposed to be. This isn’t a case of wanting more content, modes, characters or what have you. This boils down to the very fundamental thing of when I buy a game I expect it to work. Period. There is no grey area here, no subjective interpretation. It. Should. Work.

I am usually a glass half-full type of person. I like to look for the good, the silver lining and the things can get better type of thinking. Yet it seems developers are more and more brazen when it comes to releasing incomplete and broken games now. It seems like they are OK with releasing titles that don’t always work correctly because they can always patch it later. Just look at the size of some of the Day One updates we are seeing. 2GB, 5GB, heck we’ve even seen a 20GB launch update. It’s just becoming more and more ridiculous, really. Gone are the days when we can go to the store, buy a game, come home, open it, put it in the console and play it. Now we unwrap it, put it in the console, install it, download the update, install the update and then play it.

Here’s the thing that gets me the most pissed off though. Virtually every other industry out there if you are sold a faulty product, a product that doesn’t work or a product that does not do the task to which it was designed you can get your money back. Take it back to the store, say it didn’t work and move on. With games, once it’s opened you can exchange it… for the same damn game. If you get lucky and get an employee that’s willing to bend the rules a little you may get store credit but that’s about it. You’re told, “oh just wait for the update they’ll fix it.”

I’m honestly to the point where I feel like I am being taken advantage of. I’m honestly to the point where I am becoming leery of buying a new game the first couple of weeks it’s out. Gamers say it often, but I really feel like more and more we, the gamers who buy games on release, are glorified beta. The only difference is gamers get to pay for the opportunity to find out a game doesn’t work, where as true testers get paid to find the issues. It just feels to me like developers and publishers are taking the goodwill of gamers, who want to support games and have something new to play, and are taking advantage of it. I find it hard to believe a game with the issues that have been reported like Homefront was unnoticed in testing. I would rather a game get bumped back a month and released in working condition then pushed out the door and have to wait a month, or more, for an update so I can play what I bought.  Do you think developers/publishers are going push gamers away from those Day One/Week One buys with practices like this? Furthermore, why do you think this has become a more accepted practice both from gamers and those who make the games?

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Nicholas: They’re (representing certain publishers but not all) certainly making it seem that way aren’t they? For a while now they’ve tried to incentivise purchasing games on launch with special collector’s editions and exclusive pre-order bonuses, but what good is an exclusive pack of weapons or cars to drive if the game you’re meant to use them in doesn’t actually work to begin with? Initially I was going to respond to your questions above by asking if we’re speaking about a minority of publishers, but as I type this and as I think about it, we’re seeing this kind of behaviour from some fairly heavy hitters in the industry. I don’t play as many games as you do, but even I can think of a few examples of games being released with less than impressive launches. Electronic Arts made a major mistake with Battlefield 4 a few years back. Ubisoft did the same with Assassin’s Creed Unity, and if I can think of a lesser example, think of Need For Speed launching and then over the course of a year, Ghost Games were adding features to it.

So it’s making me think that this isn’t just an issue that’s exclusive to a few smaller publishers with smaller titles, no, it’s happening to the gaming juggernauts with some of their flagship franchises – and interestingly enough, all in this generation too!

You’re asking whether this is becoming accepted practice from both sides of the fence, and to that I say – no. Sure, launch day patches are to be accepted, but I don’t think gamers are appreciative when it starts getting into the 5GB+ territory. When it comes to games not working, that’s an absolute no. I don’t think gamers are tolerant of that and I hope (as horrible as it is to say) that Homefront tanks as a result of such a pathetic business decision.

It makes me think, there’s been a decision to release the game ‘on schedule’ and also in a unfinished state. We the gamers know it and the developers acknowledge it as well (as you’ve said). The moment reviews start pouring in that the game doesn’t work, surely it’s going to affect sales, especially given Homefront isn’t the biggest franchise out there. Do you think it makes (business sense) to release a game on time and get whatever sales you can, while in the process potentially ruining future sales of both this game and any (if made) sequels, rather than post-pone and actually finish the game so it’s free of such play-breaking bugs? Why do you think some developers will delay their game (think No Man Sky) while some are unwilling to budge?

Andy: The only way it makes business sense to me, would be that if I know my game sucks and is terrible but I try to squeeze as many Day One sales as I can out of it to try and get some money back for the effort. In terms of why some developers are more willing to push their games back than others, I can only think of one word. Respect. They respect their game so much that they want the shipped product to represent what their vision is. They respect gamers enough to want to ship a completely finished game to them to give them the best experience they can. A developer like Dambuster, who acknowledge the same week the game is released that “the game isn’t where we want it” has no respect for gamers. They see us as a slot machine and once they get that handle pulled they don’t care.

Sure, they may say the right buzzwords during interviews post launch like; we’re working hard on an update, we have x, y and z planned going forward, it was a labour of love and dedication, etc. You know what, I don’t care. I don’t care what you are planning to do, or even what you want to do in the future. The reality is you shipped a broken game. What would have happened if the week before release this same developer gave the same interview and said “the game isn’t where we want it”? Zero to no sales. Dambusters knew the state of the game, knew the myriad of issues the game had but still pulled that slot machine handle as many times as they could.

I never thought I’d go this far in talking about video games, but something you said at the end of your first reply here has had me thinking. When a game is released in a state such as Homefront where more often than not it doesn’t work, when there are issues that are not allowing gamers to have fun and where gamers certainly did not get their money’s worth… have we truly reached a point where it is criminal? Could it be considered theft by deception? I’m not talking having people from Dambuster arrested (man that’d make for a great news day) I’m talking about criminal in the sense of a class action lawsuit. Maybe along the lines of failing to provide promised goods or services.

Obviously, as you mentioned above this is not an isolated issue. This isn’t just the little guys, this involves big studios, big developers and AAA games to varying degree. It’s not acceptable and should never be an accepted practice to buy a game and wait for an update or two to make it playable. These developers need to be held accountable for the products they are releasing. When was the last time you heard of a game being recalled because it didn’t work, or the server connections were horrid? Never. Almost any other product would be held to a higher standard, why are game companies allowed to not play by the same rules of other businesses? It will only take one developer being held accountable by a lawsuit before the others take heed. I’d guess things would change pretty damn quick don’t you?

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Nicholas: For me (maybe because I’m not American) my thoughts don’t go first to legal action, but I definitely believe that gamers are entitled to a refund of the product. I don’t have an understanding of American consumer laws, but here, regardless of a seller’s policies, if a product does not work as advertised then you’re legally entitled to a refund – not store credit, not another item, a refund. That’s what struck me as odd when you mentioned that some stores might give you credit if an employee’s willing to break the rules – to me, this isn’t a rule to break, it’s what you should be entitled to.

The thing with this entire topic however is that I’ve essentially never been affected by a game that doesn’t work. I never purchased Battlefield 4 so that was never an issue. Assassin’s Creed Unity worked fine for me too – the occasional glitch sure, but not game-breaking. So for me it’s hard to speak from experience. On that note, I wanted to flip this back to you. On what I said in the paragraph above, why don’t gamers use that more often as a way to recuperate what they spent? Is it because they simply don’t know that’s an option? If stores’ don’t refund gamers, what’s their reasoning? Do they use a loophole that because not all gamers are having the issue that the product isn’t technically broken? We’re so quick to be vocal about problems online, why do we never carry that passion and determination any further when it actually matters?

So on that note, I wonder why this isn’t just an option that gamers discuss more often? Is it a case of gamers just not knowing, or do you think there’s some kind of loophole that because not everyone might experience the issues as other gamers, that the product isn’t faulty?

Andy: See the thing is though, I had never thought about using the legal system for something like this. At the end of the day it’s $60 – more so in Australia – I guess it’s more about the message it sends. Be responsible for what you sell and produce. If you happen to produce crap, then you need to be prepared for returns/refunds. You can’t have the best of both worlds and screw gamers over twice. In the States retailers just say “Once it’s opened you can’t return it because it’s considered media and we don’t know if you copied it or anything.” If you complain enough you can usually get store credit, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a full out refund though.

For me the biggest take away I have with this issue of releasing games that are broken is that it just seems like the developers/publishers don’t care. If they cared as much about the gamer as they do about hitting their precious release deadline we wouldn’t have these issues. I would rather have really stringent quality control and wait a little bit longer for the game, than buying it on Day One and not being about to play it for two weeks or more. Doing that just creates distrust and apprehension among gamers. In fact this is one of the reasons I don’t rush out and get most games on release anymore. That and the fact that if you wait two or three weeks it seems like the game is on sale.

One thing that we haven’t talked about yet is release dates. Publishers set these release dates and it’s up to the developer to hit them. When it gets to crunch time things get rushed and it would be my guess that’s where a lot of these bugs appear. With E3 approaching soon, we will no doubt hear about games that are in the pipeline. In the rush to announce their games and get them in front of gamers it seems that – at times – they lose track of the thing that matters and that’s quality. You mentioned No Man’s Sky and that’s a great example of respect from a developer. They want it to be the best game they can make so they are willing to push it back until it matches their vision. Instead of sending death threats to the developer gamers should be saying thank-you. Maybe they should do what Bethesda did with Fallout 4 and announce it when it was already almost completed.

As we close on yet another article I wanted to get your opinion on what I mentioned above. Publishers can push a game back if they want to. A release date is not set in stone, while it may inconvenient for them to push it back, but if a game is broken it’s the right thing to do. Developers, and publishers, need to move past the idea that gamers are just numbers and we’ll always be there. I respect the time, effort and talent of those who make the games. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they respect me as a gamer and customer, and deliver on the things they promise and ship games that actually work. That’s not too much to ask is it?

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Nicholas: I think it’s completely fair to be honest. Let’s remind ourselves that gamers essentially hold all the power when it comes to what games get made. If it sells well then there’s a good chance it can spawn a sequel (just consider Call of Duty). Similarly, if gamers didn’t like the original Homefront then this sequel wouldn’t have been possible. On that, it’s a giant slap in the face for a developer to talk about their product as a ‘labour of love’ only to release it in a half-working (if that) state. If something’s meant to be a labour of love it’s meant to reflect the passion that goes into it. A game that freezes every few minutes doesn’t fit that bill, does it?

Last week we spoke about reviews and it made me question what relevance reviews really have in the community, but this week’s discussion is a perfect example to why they are important. It’s reviews that let gamers know what they can expect, and in the case of Homefront, they serve as a reminder to not spend $60 of your hard-earned cash on a faulty product. You mentioned release dates and E3 above, and I think it’s going to be a much smarter move if developers are vague with their release dates going forward. There’s no reason why “releasing Spring 2016” isn’t as good in generating hype as “20th September 2016”. Having an exact launch date helps certainly as the release date looms, but a year out, hell, even six months out, it isn’t really necessary.

Ultimately though, I’m keen to see the sales figures of Homefront once this dust settles. My hope is that it bombs and serves as a reminder that the gaming community isn’t here to be shafted and robbed. Make us wait a few days, weeks or months for your product, once a vocal minority quit their whining, I can guarantee you that the rest of us will be appreciative.

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.