Opinion Piece

The Year of the Glitches

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A “Known Shippable” is a term used within the Q&A industry  to refer to known glitches or problems not deemed serious enough to fix before shipping a game. It seems that in 2014 the term “Known Shippable” was probably seen a lot of Q&A reports as us gamers were treated to a year of issues. They even managed to screw up Tetris, if you can believe it. IN return publishers and developers got more complaints than ever, but it seems that the attitude of these companies still isn’t anti-consumer enough for gamers to really say no more.

It truly began toward the very end of 2013 when we saw Battlefield 4 arrive in a messy state. To my own surprise looking back around the review period and even for a few weeks after I was largely unaffected, but then one day I logged on to play and everything seemed to hit and once. Patches began rolling out and didn’t stop until September of 2014 when the game was deemed decent, if still problematic. That’s a lot of patching, and demonstrates that Battlefield 4 was far from being in a good enough shape to put into the hands of gamers, and yet it was.  2014 was also the year of Assassin’s Creed: Unity. The Crew and Far Cry 4, all Ubisoft titles which had various issues across the board, sometimes universal and sometimes platform specific. The Xbox One version of Far Cry 4, for example, is actually pretty solid, but on PC a lot of users have issues with stuttering. The Xbox 360 port of San Andreas had numerous bugs, Dragon Age: Inquisition seemed reasonable until people began discovering a glitch which killed party banter and the loading times drove everyone insane. LittleBig Planet 3 had game-breaking problems and the Master Chief Collection, a package with quite a lot of emphasis on multiplayer, launched with a problem that stopped seemingly everyone from actually playing online. And then in December  a new version of Tetris was launched on PS4 with severe framerate problems which stemmed from having a large friends list. Just how the in the name of Hades’ do you fuck up Tetris, exactly? It’s Tetris! It’s blocks falling from the sky!

On the surface the causes actually may seem obvious. 2014 was the year of the Xbox One and PS4, a time in which developers were getting to grips with new technology. In fact it’s probably fair to say that many gamers actually went into 2014 with a forgiving attitude, expecting and understanding that there would likely be more problems than normal as the developers wrestled with the new technology. But nobody expected the sheer amount of problems we were faced with, a horrific array of glitches and bugs and stupid issues that should never have existed. Numerous games should have been delayed for further polishing, and indeed in many cases just outright should not have been given a set release date. More than ever we were treated with an indifferent attitude and a patch it later business model.

Of course these aren’t new problems. No, game-breaking problems have been around since the start of the industry, it’s just that we didn’t hear about it so much. Read through interviews of developers chatting about old games and you’ll discover many, many horror stories of titles shipped with problems that actually made them unbeatable. There was no way to patch them back in the day, either. But back then such issues were kept quiet because there wasn’t massive social media sites and news outlets ready to spread the word. Nowadays a problem, even a small one, is dragged kicking and screaming into the light and shown to the world. In many ways it’s detrimental as we’ve become a culture focused with what was done wrong rather than right. A small wall glitch which affects very few people becomes a huge issue while the beautiful writing or ingenious new mechanic goes unnoticed. Largely this is due to news websites who utilise glitches to draw in more traffic and earn more in ad revenue, revelling in often pointless pieces of writing.

None of this is an excuse. If we take the amount of problems per game back in the 80’s or 90’s and worked out an average then compare it to today it’s hard to say if it would be more or less, obviously accounting for the fact that vastly more games are made now. There’s no official stats to go by, either, so this is purely speculative. As technology grows and complexity rises mistakes happen, and if we still average out at around the same amount of glitches then that’s both impressive and worrying. With experience one would imagine the number would go down, yet with complexity it would not be surprising if it has indeed gone up.

There’s no end in sight because it is now a vicious cycle driven by us, the publishers and the shareholders. As consumers we have an insatiable appetite for yearly releases, soaking up the latest Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed,  and an inability to learn from our own mistakes, vowing never to buy another game from X company due to glitches before forgiving them in time for the next big release. In turn shareholders demand new games in franchises every year in order to meet their predicted numbers, and their method of increasing “quality” is actually to impose absurd deadlines which publishers must enforce. In turn developers struggle to keep up, especially if developing for new and unfamiliar consoles, and have to put in excessive crunch time, meaning less time for Q&A and little time to fix problems. Meanwhile publishers sink huge quantities of money into creating ridiculous levels of artificial hype in order to sell the next big thing, creating a level of expectation which can never be truly met. Step forth WatchDogs and Titanfall, as examples.

As development costs of new triple A titles soars it’s interesting to see that we now tend to see a far greater level of polish with the indie industry. We’ve now reached a strange point where publishers are bitterly complaining that games with even 5-million sold copies to their names are a failure, and that games have to be expensive to buy and have to have immense budgets for their creation. They are ultimately creating their own problems, though; with such absurd budgets, expectations and deadlines developers are being forced to release shoddy products, whereas in the indie industry developers work with a tighter focus, honing their craft and putting out more polished titles. Meanwhile games like Payday 2 perfectly prove that with a well judged budget, good marketing plan and a good product profit can be raked in. The developers of Payday 2 knew what their market was and how much to spend, and made it a success. Sadly it seems that the big companies on the block aren’t willing to see much reason, and so we’re seeing more annual releases, more problems, more dodgy practices and more angry gamers. As we come into 2015 and move into 2016 we should hopefully see a decline in glitches again as everybody gets a handle on the new console architecture, but at best it is likely we’ll just return to the usual state of affairs.

As consumers we do hold the power to end the cycle by simply refusing to buy into it all. Rather than rushing out to put in pointless pre-orders to net DLC or items which should have been included in the game anyway we can opt to wait until after launch to read reviews and gather opinions. We can uphold our vows and refuse to buy a company’s work until said company proves that they’ve put out a quality product. We can do these things, but instead we bicker on the Internet and then grovel at the feet of the publishers, soaking up their marketing and slapping down pre-orders, granting money and numbers used to please shareholders and drive the deadline culture.

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