This article is not yet ready for PC

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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?

Nicholas: Cast your minds back to when you were in school. Think about your English class and remember how there was always that one kid who seemed a little… special. He wasn’t a delinquent, but he always had trouble paying attention. Every once in a while the teacher would notice the student wasn’t doing his work so he’d yell from across the room. The student would wake up, go back to doing their work, but low and behold, it was only a matter of time until he was back to daydreaming again.

The reason I say this is because it accurately describes the gaming industry, and as much as you want to talk about Fallout and as much as I want to talk about Need For Speed, there’s a certain other franchise and developer that I think we should cover this week.

A few months ago we discussed the disastrous launch that was Assassin’s Creed: Unity. While its issues didn’t affect everyone, it was widespread enough to prompt Ubisoft to issue a global apology and offer gamers both free DLC and games. It sparked a large conversation about whether titles were being released too early and without adequate testing, and what followed was a spate of delays in numerous games from multiple publishers in the industry.

It had therefore seemed like the industry had solved it’s problem as quickly as it arose, until Batman: Arkham Knight launched last week. While Xbox One and PS4 owners reported no issues, purists of the PC Master Race noticed a range of issues with the Dark Knight’s latest instalment. Within a week Warner Bros. acknowledged there were problems and went as far as to suspend all PC sales of Arkham Knight until the issue could be solved (which, at the time of writing are still on-going). So to kick things off this week I wanted to ask what your thoughts are on this whole Arkham Knight launch fiasco?

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Andy: To be honest I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often with PC games. Only for the fact that when a developer makes a game for consoles they know exactly what the systems hardware will be. There is no guessing or taking into account multiple variables. With a PC game there are literally thousands of possibilities that the developer has to take into account. From graphics cards, processors to RAM. I’m not even a tech guy and thinking about all those possibilities makes my head hurt. I’m really more amazed that it doesn’t happen more often.

With as big and complex as most games have become and all the moving parts of code to makes things happen, I’m not surprised when things pop up like this. I have only played a little bit of Batman: Arkham Knight on my Xbox One so far and only have one minor AR Challenge that seems to be borked. I’m sure it will be fixed at some point, but I’m not stressing out over it. I have seen some video of the issues PC players have been having and I can see why they are upset. In some instances it’s nearly unplayable, but at the same time I have a friend who has it on his PC and it plays just fine. It’s much like other game bugs, even on consoles, where some users get issues while others don’t.

That doesn’t make it OK, but I can at least see how it happens. So, we have to ask ourselves, what the solution is going forward? Games are huge, gamers are demanding expansive open worlds with tons of stuff to do and interact with. The more options developers give players, the higher the chances of things going wrong will be. In my opinion, one of the biggest issues is how tight the release schedule is. Developers are pumping out code, creating content and trying to get it to the Quality and Assurance people. Here’s the thing though, let’s say they have 20 QA people depending on their play style and how they go about trying to break the game – because that’s what a good QA person should do– there is little chance that those 20 people will do everything they can in the game. Heck, I’ve seen tweets from developers a week before a game is supposed to be released saying “We’ve went gold!” Meaning they just sent the game off to be pressed to a disc and packaged to the consumer.

There is no real regulatory oversight for video games to say that each game needs to be tested for X number of hours by QA. Nor are a lot of games tested out of house, most are done by a team from the developer. What do you think though, is it a case of games being too big? Is it a case of a tight publishing deadline? Lackadaisical QA people? Before we can find a solution, we need to find the cause(s) do we not?

Nicholas: I think it can boil down to three main factors. First, I was told by a friend that the team porting the game from consoles to PC was made up of only eight people. Secondly, it’s clearly obvious that the game wasn’t tested enough, or at the least that they identified the issues and did nothing about it. Third, Warner Bros. wanted to stick to the same release date. Of all the issues, I think it’s the third one that’s the most impactful. The team working on the port might be small compared to those making the game itself, but nothing results in a game being released half-completed or semi-broken than when publishers push the developers to meet a deadline that just isn’t realistic.

I wanted though to talk about the reactions that some gamers had towards the acknowledgement from Warner Bros. that the game wasn’t ready for PC. Of course there was the PC community who were furious that the game they paid money for wasn’t working as advertised and that many lost the access to be able to play it. Then there was the console community who were unaffected and didn’t care. Finally, there were those who praised WB for admitting the game wasn’t ready and for taking it away from online stores until it could be sorted. What are your thoughts on this? Is it a ‘good’ thing that Warner admitted the mistake  and it should be taken as a sign of trust, or are they simply doing what any company should have? Alternatively, is it worse because they knowingly (assumption made there) released a broken port and tried to get money out of their fan base before word spread of its issues?

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Andy: Well, I don’t know if it’s necessarily a “good thing” that WB admitted to what was going on, instead I think it was a necessity that they had to acknowledge there were issues. Instead of selling more PC copies and disappointing more gamers they put it on the shelf to properly address the issues. That to me is the smart move, I would assume they will offer some type of compensation to PC gamers who can’t play the game and they wanted to try and limit that compensation to a more manageable number. One thing to remember though, Steam recently introduced a refund policy for games, gamers can always use that to get out from having a game that is unplayable.

I don’t think WB deserves praise though. I mean do we really want to sit back and say “Hey WB, thanks for pulling a game from Steam that was an unplayable mess so that more gamers didn’t make the mistake of buying it.” That’s akin to praising Mazda for recalling a car that has a starter switch that can cause the car to blow up, not that anyone drives a Mazda but you see my point. It boggles my mind that people would praise a company for fixing a product that doesn’t work. We essentially lose sight of the broken product that was sold and instead focus on the PR part of the issue. There are some developers that no matter what they do fans will give them the benefit of the doubt, and there are other developers/publishers that no matter what they do gamers will find a way to complain about.

The more I have thought about this week’s topic the more something keeps coming to mind, so I feel the need to bring it up. With the tight schedules that developers are under to make a game, test it and get it to print, it seems many of them have shifted some of that QA to gamers. Not so much actual testing of the game and fine tuning things, but more so “Hey, here’s the game on release day and we’ll patch whatever breaks in a week or so.” We are seeing massive Day One patches, I think Batman was a 3.8GB patch on Xbox One. We are also seeing a steady stream of additional patches in the weeks following release as well. I fully understand that sandbox games are difficult to fully test from a QA standpoint, but the cynic in me sees some of the issues and thinks “Man, they didn’t test that aspect at all.” It seems to me that developers are relying more and more on patches and hot fixes to address a myriad of issues. It’s almost like they have the mentality “Get the game out the door and we’ll fix whatever pops up.” What do you think? Is that accurate?

Nicholas: It’s an interesting question. Undoubtedly games are getting larger and with that brings the greater likelihood of glitches and issues, but it does seem like there’s a lot more issues that we notice in modern games that we didn’t in games in previous generations. Yes, the demand for larger levels, greater variety and better graphics brings with it a lot more work to create these games, but at the same time, the same should be said for testing them too. You shouldn’t just upgrade the turbo in your car and forget to put bigger brakes in too. A car that can’t stop is as useful as a game that doesn’t play. I’ve been playing The Witcher 3 for the last few weeks and every time I play I’ll notice an NPC floating in the air or cutscenes where swords are floating inside someone’s body, etc. It doesn’t ruin my gameplay experience but there’s a part of me that doesn’t think it’s acceptable that a game can have so many instances of these ‘issues’ happening.

You mentioned above about compensation, and I wanted to touch on that a little further. So a game like Batman Arkham Knight is released for all platforms, and it turns out that PC games are particularly susceptible to bugs that make it unplayable.  Warner Bros. admits to the problem and announce that all PC sales are suspended until they are able to resolve the issue. You already mentioned that services like Steam allow you to refund the purchase and get your money back. Apart from a refund, which I personally think is fair given the game essentially doesn’t work in its current state, what other compensation (if any) do you think gamers should be entitled to? Is it wrong that gamers almost expect some kind of compensation in instances like this beyond just a refund? What is the point of this compensation to begin with?

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Andy: Compensation in regards to when games don’t work correctly is an interesting thing. On the black and white side of things developers don’t “owe” gamers anything when a game turns out to be a steaming pile of shit. Developers don’t “owe” gamers anything either when a game turns out to be unplayable due to bugs and glitches. Now, realistically, some developers will just take their money and run with it, others will fall on the sword, admit their mistakes and offer a peace offering to gamers. Sure a peace offering in terms of a small DLC, some skins or what have you won’t please every gamer – but it will give those fans who stick with it a “well at least they did something” type of feeling. Let’s face it though, some people no matter the outcome will still find a reason to complain.

I am somewhat shocked that the team of people porting over the game to PC was so small, and from what I have read it sounds like it wasn’t even done in-house at Rocksteady. For a game of this scope, a game that has a pretty significant fan base, it’s surprising that it wasn’t handled in a much more controlled manner. I don’t know who it is that ported the game to PC but I imagine they are taking some serious heat from Rocksteady and WB for what is going on. I think the issue of porting and what it actually is, is something that most console gamers don’t really think of all that much and maybe some PC gamers as well. We see a game, it has the EA, Activision or Ubisoft logo on it and we play it. We assume that the latest Call of Duty game that we’re playing on the 360 is the one made by Infinity Ward. In some cases that’s a correct assumption, but in others, it’s completely wrong and only careful looking at the back of the cover will point that out.

Maybe that contributes to part of the problem too? Granted it’s not always the case, but when you buy a game don’t you want to know who was involved in getting it to the platform of your choice? Should we be asking that all the studios involved be credited front and centre in print big enough that we can read it, and preferably we know ahead of time? A perfect example I can think of is Deus Ex: Human Revolution – a great game, except for the boss fights. They seemed oddly paced, and had a different overall feel that the rest of the game. Only after the game was out for a while was it revealed that a separate company did the boss battles. Shouldn’t things like that be made more readily available to help gamers make their game choices? Or is it merely caveat emptor?

Nicholas: I’ll be honest, I don’t think it would make a difference, and I don’t think it would be a good idea either. For starters, and I apologise if this makes me sound like a horrible person, but I’m not too interested in knowing who’s behind a game. Sure, there are times when certain developers might give me some reason for concern (e.g. EA Blackbox in recent years) but ultimately I’ve never looked at a game and made a purchasing decision based on who was behind it. I also think it’s a bad thing if a game is now given a less of a chance just because a certain developer is working on it. It instantly assumes that they haven’t learned from their mistakes (if they’ve made some before).

Further to this, and perhaps my greatest reason for my reservation, it’s because it allows a publisher to place blame if things don’t work out as well as they should have. In the case of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it’s not right for the publisher to say, “forgive us for the fact the boss battles were average, it was developer-X’s fault”. The publisher has the responsibility to overlook the entire project and ensure what each team is working on comes together to provide the complete package. In much the same way as Batman: Arkham Knight, Warner Bros. should have been in constant communication with the PC port team to know what’s going on. If it wasn’t working as planned then they should have asked for more resources or delayed the release for that platform. Just to say, “it’s the PC port team’s fault” isn’t fair at all.

To wrap up this week’s article there’s one question that I think is fitting to end on. Put yourself in Warner Bros. position. Assume you were told a few weeks ago by the team leader working on the PC port of Arkham Knight that the game wasn’t going to be ready for release with the Xbox One or PS4 editions. What would you do? Exactly what decisions would you make and how would you handle the PR side of your decision too?

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Andy: It’s funny that you word it that way, because the moment I read your last couple of sentences I thought of one thing in particular. It actually pertains to Batman: Arkham Knight as well as Warner Bros. That being how little notice they gave gamers that their super collector’s edition with the Batmobile had been scraped all together. It was a week before the release day that WB essentially pulled the rug out from under its most supportive fans, those who were willing to drop quite a bit of money for the Batmobile edition. It had a double sting to those fans because by the time they found out all of the other special editions were sold out. That left them with just a copy of the base game and a nicely worded apology from WB.

Maybe I am being naïve here, but one has to think that WB knew before merely a week out that the Batmobile edition was in dire trouble due to whatever was wrong with it. That they waited until literally the last minute to inform fans. Even though I wasn’t one of those who pre-ordered that edition I have a couple friends that did, and let me tell you they had some well-placed anger and frustration. It’s one of the few times where I can understand the frustration from gamers.  So, it’s a double whammy for those who pre-ordered the Batmobile edition, and got it on PC.

If I was in charge and I knew the PC edition was in that bad of shape, to the point where I would have to suspend further sales of it, I would have made the decision to push it back on PC. It’s not the decision that shareholders want, it may lose a couple of sales, but at the end of the day it’s about delivering a quality product. I also think that Rocksteady, as a developer, has earned understanding from gamers over their quality of games they release. If they would have come out and said something to the effect of “We’re are extremely sorry, but the PC version of Arkham Knight has been delayed. It’s not a decision we made lightly, but at the end of the day we want to ensure that we deliver the quality game that gamers have come to expect from us.” Doing it this way acknowledges that there is something not right with the game, it reinforces that we are looking at quality and ensuring that gamers get the experience they were expecting. By releasing the PC version and then having to scramble for damage control to the point of removing it from Steam it could have been handled so much better in my opinion.

We have seen several developers push games back within the last year or so. It’s not as big of a deal as it used to be. I think the vast majority of gamers would much rather wait a couple weeks to have an amazing experience, than to struggle for a month trying to get a game they bought to work properly. If gamers are going to continue to look for these huge open worlds, with tons of things to do, then we also have to accept the fact that – at times – games may be delayed. As long as we continue to get that top notch quality and a great experience then we don’t really have much to complain about. But, developers need to be on notice that releasing games that aren’t finished is not acceptable. Especially in today’s video game market when there are always other games to play. No developer should take gamers for granted, and that’s how I feel WB did with the PC gaming crowd on this one, which is a shame.

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.