I’m going to come right out of the gate with my hands up and say that I have zero personal experience in game development. From the concept stages all the way out to shipping, there isn’t a single place where you could point out a spot where I’d know what to do beyond playing the actual product. That said, there’s a simple truth that any purveyor of passionate gaming can attest to, and that’s the consistently inconsistent nature of contemporary game development.
Now there’s a lot to be said on this topic, and while some of its more contentious facets can be, and will be, debated over the next decade, I’m going to lead with the obvious stuff first. Namely, that regarding studios’ insistence on setting time constraints that aren’t feasible. Starfield is the timely example here: Bethesda’s soon to be (presumably) released title that has been pushed back from November of 2022 all the way to sometime, anytime, in 2023.
There’s absolutely no issue with a studio pushing a date back to make their product better. I’m all for it. What I’m not for is this being a standard that studios lean on to garner early hype for their release, and that’s exactly what AAA devs have begun doing. After Cyberpunk 2077’s abysmal release (which saw great commercial success), the powers at be noticed that you can create an almost artificial stream of hype trains by lying your ass off when it comes to how realistic the buyer’s time expectations could be. That is, when gamers are told a game is to be released in 2022, studios have an interest in breaking that promise to create free advertising through the click-bait sites who will jump at the opportunity to include some SEO titles in their diet.
“Game delayed once again, click here in disappointment!”
And we do. We always click. And we do it because our brains are hardwired to see this news as something that is unexpected, dramatic, and might have some wild story behind it. Are the developers looking out for their clientele by making their product better, or is this delay a story of devs who are in over their heads and are desperate to make contact with some form of the game they promised? The reality today is that this is a false dichotomy: Bethesda Studios, with all of their experience, knows one year in advance whether or not they can have a finished Starfield that they’ve been planning for the last five, developing for three.
The pessimistic nature of this argument might look manufactured or at least tilted at a glance, but once you entertain the concept of a studio listing a release date that they are more than likely to beat then you see how silly it is that nearly every major release features a date that is almost assuredly going to be delayed. In what way would setting a release date that gives developers an extra 6 months to a year beyond “standard measurements” ruin the product? Some might say it would make the product better in most cases, but maybe you think that the devs will just work slower and eat into profits more.
Of course this isn’t an argument genuinely worth considering since studios (or, more accurately, the private holders of the studios) know in advance that they will be delaying their title. But pretending that isn’t the case, there isn’t a reason that these studios can’t set internal product dates to attempt to beat their aforementioned release ahead of time. A title slated to release in December of 2024 that announces a 6 month early release in January of 2024 isn’t one that isn’t worth picking up, its actually one that you can put the most money on as being a well made, completed product.
But again, money is what talks here, and gamers themselves are the ones pouring out extra cash for pre-orders and goodies before playing the fucking game. So I can’t really be too critical on the devs, their studio, or the studio’s shareholders because they are just following the statistics. I’m almost tempted to change the name of this article to “YOUR standards need to change” since it would probably be more accurate, more to the point, but alas, much like the studios referenced here, I realize that accuracy isn’t the best measure for success.
As for the more common talking points, there are the pre-orders, micro-transactions, 70 dollar price tags, and pay to win schemes. It may surprise you to know that I don’t actually have a problem with micro-transactions at all. Nor do I have an issue with 70 dollar price tags. The gaming industry has done a really good job of keeping the cost of owning a AAA title down to 60 dollars for a very, very long time and I see no problem with them trying to find ways of including in-game content to personalize a gamer’s experience if they are willing to pay for it or simply adding 10 dollars to huge releases as a means of keeping up with increasing costs of development. Games are expensive, and games can bomb on the market. When you have a good release, you need to make the most of it and I’m not a person who hates money, so go for it, I say.
As for pay-to-win, there are obviously issues with AAA titles releasing content that gives players advantages after they’ve already shelled out over 50 bucks to own the title, but in the majority of cases these schemes rely on “whales”, or people who are willing to shell out disgusting amounts of cash to get their hits of dopamine. And when I say disgusting, I don’t mean 50 bucks over the course of three years, I mean hundreds of dollars per month or more on a game that is only feasibly playable by spending money. This is a problem, but its more a problem of gambling addiction and a general loss of purpose in life than it is a problem of game development: and these are topics that are far more important and extend beyond the grasp of this article.
When it comes to the infamous pre-order, I am totally against them. Buy micro-transactions, spend 70 bucks on a game, but do not, ever, under any circumstance pre-order a game. In fact, don’t pre-order anything except for food by necessity. Buying a game before its been released, before its been tested, reviewed, and picked apart by casuals and experts alike, is not only a bad investment of time and money for you, but it sets a poor precedent for the studios behind the product.
Obviously this is a point that’s just about fifteen years too late, but the pre-order culture is such a strange phenomenon because we live in a time where you don’t need to stand in line to get the game you want. Your title awaits you via online purchases and downloads and is in infinite supply: you don’t need to save your slot, I promise! And yet, AAA studios manage to suck in the potential customers early by offering small care packages with the purchase. Like selling toys for a franchise you like, but you’d have to buy a ticket to see the movie before getting access to them, and the ticket costs 60 dollars to boot. Like, stop. Stop pre-ordering games. You have ZERO clue if the game will be good, if you will like it, or if you even have the time to play it before finishing the other five games sitting in your library that you bought on sale two months ago. Just stop it, please.
The only way the consumer can punish the developer is with their money, and if you give up your cash early, the developer has zero impetus to release a finished, high quality product instead of just patching it into “reasonable” over time. Just look at the Battlefront remakes: tons of talent behind their production, and terrible quality control on release. EA Games, pre-order everything.
The development culture of today needs to be reminded that beta testing happens before release, not during. It also needs to stop leaning on false release dates and promises to generate artificial hype. And the only way that will happen is if enthusiasts learn to vote with their cash again. So, yeah, that shit is never gunna happen, thanks for reading.