2014’s Fall deluge of games is upon us. Stuff is coming out left and right and gamers around the world are super excited to be jumping into a whole pile of new titles and finally justifying their purchases of next-gen machines. Actually no, that’s not what’s happening at all. In a week chalk full of big releases, we’ve had just as many stories about said big releases being horrible messes, locking consumers into purchases of $60 products that don’t work as advertised or in some cases, don’t bloody work at all. This combined with my Xbox One woes this week and a really depressing story about a mobile developer daring to ask for money for something has made it time for a good old rant.
For several years leading up to now, a lot of people in the press and otherwise were questioning if this new generation of consoles and the AAA games that come with them had any chance at all. The mobile boom was in full swing and lots of clueless analysts were talking about how iPads were already as powerful as the last-gen consoles (hint for those geniuses: they still aren’t) and that no one was going to buy the new machines and everyone would be playing everything on tablets in five years. Indeed, I’ve been reading that many big publishers thought similarly and one of the reasons we don’t have as many titles as we’d like on the new machines is that a bunch of new projects weren’t greenlit until these publishers knew if anyone was going to be there to buy them. Once again, I was right and the people who said consoles were over were dead wrong. They’re selling better than the last generation did and supposedly, a bunch of new games are in development. For now though, we had to make due with mostly familiar stuff and I was OK with that but it seems this industry is doing everything it can to shoot itself in the foot right after showing that it was still wanted.
I’ve been an ardent Assassin’s Creed fan since the series launched. I’ve played and beaten every single game in the series except the one on the PSP. I even liked ones people weren’t fond of like Revelations (though I also thought 3 was pretty lame.) I think the stories are pretty dumb but love to explore and run around the incredible worlds they make. I pre-ordered Assassin’s Creed: Unity as I loved Black Flag and was stoked to get the first of these games built from the ground up for the next generation (the old consoles are getting one too but in the form of Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, a totally different game that’s basically more Black Flag.) Well, it turns out Unity is a fucking disaster. Massive performance problems on all platforms, a bad story (even by series standards), no new game play innovation like Black Flag and oh yeah, they filled the game was scummy microtransactions that they purposefully left disabled before launch so reviewers couldn’t know about them. Like Watch Dogs before it, the final product also doesn’t look nearly as good as it was shown in trailers. From what I’ve been told, Rogue (the game built on old tech for old systems) is actually a much better game. As usual, the press is being gentle to Unity and giving it good scores with one side of their mouths while screaming about its issues with the other side.
My copy is still in the shrink wrap and it’s going back to Best Buy for a refund tomorrow.
Congratulations Ubisoft, you’ve taken someone who enthusiastically played every Assassin’s Creed game at launch and turned me into someone who will at best, wait for a 50% off sale on Steam and even then, will only buy the game if you get your shit together and make it run worth a damn. I’m lucky in that I read and watched this coverage before I opened it. Plenty more didn’t and since you can’t return games once they’re opened (even if they don’t work properly), a lot of people are now stuck with a sub-par product at full price. Ubisoft’s many blunders this year are already getting them called The New EA by some people and not unfairly I don’t think.
Their insistence on making a massive open-world game an annual franchise (Hell, a double release this year no less) is clearly something they’re not up to, even with their army of worldwide studios. Say what you will about Call of Duty and I can say plenty but this year’s game runs like a top on every platform. Yet, Assassin’s Creed: Unity was still shoved out the door basically unfinished to hit their date anyway, with scummy embargoes to ensure they kept their precious pre-orders by gagging the press from talking about it until 12 hours after it was out. It’s a complete and total lack of respect for their customers, yet they did it anyway assuming that people will have forgotten by next year.
To follow that, we have Halo: The Master Chief Collection, an exclusive to Xbox One (obviously.) That game came out the same day and at time of writing, some people under certain circumstances might be able to get into multiplayer games. Matchmaking for this title shipped completely broken and though they claim to have been updating it all week, it’s still not properly functional. Sure, you can still play the remastered campaigns but most people bought this (and downloaded the 20 gigabyte day one update) for multiplayer and they can’t. Unfortunately, I stupidly cracked the plastic on this one so I’m stuck with it. I’ve no doubt Microsoft will get matchmaking in order and progress seems to be getting made every day but this is still unacceptable. A full price game was released with a key component broken and once again, the burden was placed solely on the customers, while the developer issues a PR-laden apology and swears they’ll get your product working.
Then there’s my experience getting Master Chief Collection even bloody installed, one which neatly fits in with the fuckups listed above. I bought an Xbox One about two weeks ago, just shy of the platform’s first full year on the market. One of the things I like about it over PS4 is that you can suspend a game you’re playing, turn the console off and when you come back, jump right back in where you left off without having to boot up fresh. PS4 promised this feature for its launch and we’re still waiting for it. Also, the Xbox One is supposed to do game installations from disc and patch downloads in the background, even while the machine is sleeping. After playing some Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare the other night, I put the Master Chief Collection in the drive, hoping to have it install and download the massive patch overnight. I put the disc in, started the install and update process, shut everything off and went to bed hearing the Blu-ray drive whirring away. The next day, I turn the console on, pop out the disc to put Call of Duty back in and see “Installation stopped.” It turns out it didn’t do the install or download the update in the background like it was supposed to. I checked online and a ton of people have this problem with the Xbox One on a regular basis, with no rhyme or reason to it. Microsoft keeps saying it will get fixed in new firmware updates and it never does. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I tried it again last night and it seemed to finish a chunk of the install but tonight, still wasn’t finished and I had to just leave the machine on to complete it. That’s also not including how when I put Call of Duty back in yesterday, it wanted to download an update for that game and froze the whole console after installing it.
These new consoles have been out for a whole year and they’re still riddled with stupid problems. The PS4 just fixed a major bug in the 2.0 firmware that rendered Standby Mode unusable for many (myself included) and my Xbox One still in many ways, feels like a machine in the beta stage. Beyond that, $60 (or $70 in Canada now) AAA games shipping in states many would consider unfinished seems to be becoming the rule rather than the exception. Only a couple of years ago, people said consoles were dead and largely, the console makers proved them wrong but they’re quickly stamping out any good will they still had with consumers. I’m a hardcore gamer and more tolerant of this stuff than many but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people who bought a new machine, saved up and bought Assassin’s Creed: Unity or Master Chief Collection are considering putting their consoles up for sale right about now. It used to be that the PC is where you went if you wanted a high-end experience but needed to tinker but for all its problems, Steam looks like perfection compared to what these “easy” consoles have been.
Maybe Ubisoft finally needs to realise that it’s not realistic to make massive open-world games on a yearly basis. Maybe the Assassin’s Creed teams should be given a year off to get their tech straight and get a chance to write a decent story and maybe they should think about not filling the games with more and more bloated features that no one asked for, take a lesson from Shadow of Mordor and learn how to make a great open-world experience with tighter constraints. If Unity is the best they can do with their current formula and new hardware, they need to do something else. In Microsoft’s case, you can’t afford to have a tent pole release by the company who makes the bloody console be such a broken mess when your system is in a very distant second place. The Xbox One needs to catch up and this isn’t how you do it. Personally, I think everyone who has Master Chief Collection registered on their accounts should get a free month of Xbox Live for their patience but that’s just talking crazy.
On the other side, we have the Monument Valley story. I’m on record as saying that I think most mobile games are creatively bankrupt crap (and they are) but though I haven’t played Monument Valley, it was apparently a bright spot in the mobile cesspool. It’s a pretty puzzle game that apparently has a touching story as well. It came out for $2.99 which on its own, makes it an outlier in the mobile space because almost no one succeeds charging more than $0.99 for mobile games any more. The developers announced an expansion that no one expected was on the way with a bunch of new content and they were going to charge $1.99 for it. Sounds more than reasonable to me. Well, I’m apparently in the minority as a bunch of people took to the app store and bombed the game with 1-star reviews, basically saying that the developers were greedy, they sold the base game with content held back to charge more for it later and how dare they charge more money for more stuff! The developers have been quite upset by it and are apparently now reconsidering their stance. EDIT: It’s since come to my attention that the supposed “review bombing” of Monument Valley consisted of a couple hundred 1-star reviews on a game with thousands of positive ones, something that had little impact on its overall score. Touch Arcade, Giant Bomb and a couple of other sites used a single tweet of the developers mentioning this as a reason to run clickbait stories about poor indies being treated like crap. I should have researched more but my core points made as a result of this story I still think are relevant. The people who wrote stories framing this as a huge deal should be ashamed of themselves and I for one expected a lot better out of Patrick Klepek.
This infuriates me for two reasons. Firstly, that most mobile game consumers’ priorities are so messed up that they will lose their minds about buying a $2 expansion (cheaper than a fancy coffee) for an incredible $4 game that they’re going to play on a $500 tablet that they replace every year or two. Secondly, that the mobile game industry complains about people considering anything that costs more than $0.99 to be a “premium product” when the industry itself made people think this way.
No one saw the rise of mobile games coming. When Apple opened up the iPhone to third-party applications with Android following shortly after, a whole new industry was birthed overnight. People started putting out games on these phones for fun and didn’t think of it as a business really so they didn’t charge much for them. Yet, as the games got more complicated and the technical capabilities of the devices increased, no one thought that maybe they should start charging real money for real products. Instead, they found ways to keep the games cheap but make the money elsewhere, largely through scummy microtransactions. Games that were about creativity first and didn’t want to fund themselves with nefarious micropayments were essentially pushed out of the market and made pariahs by consumers who went “How dare you think to charge money for your game when this other one is free!” Never mind that the free games are largely skinner box trash, casual game consumers don’t know enough to see the difference. It’s gotten so bad that many creative game developers are leaving mobile for PC or even consoles in some cases because on those places, people are used to paying money up front for a good product.
Yet still, this is a problem the industry made for itself and it’s almost the polar opposite of what’s happening in AAA. In mobile, the industry has made it so no one will buy good games for money. In AAA, the industry has people happily willing to shell out $60 or more for complete games but those games ship broken, underdelivering what they promised and in some cases, being filled with the same scummy practices the popular mobile games are! It’s something you almost never see in any other industry. They’ve actually managed to fuck up two complete polar opposites of the spectrum in different ways.
The industry as a whole needs to get its head out of its ass and start thinking about consumers first again. People are getting wiser than ever before and this isn’t going to get tolerated forever. Many have said for years that a new game industry crash was coming and it was mobile that was going to crash consoles. I don’t think that’s the case at all but I think both ends of the industry have got themselves in precarious positions right now. Consumers are wiser to this kind of crap than they’ve ever been and there’s only so much of this kind of corporate abuse they’re going to be willing to take. There are more ways to be entertained than ever before and there are a lot of people out there who play games but would just as soon do something else if gaming becomes too much of a chore for them. Us hardcore gamers like to think that we’re what sustains the industry but we really aren’t. We may be influential tastemakers and we may put more money into the industry per capita than others but it’s the massive army of “casual” players that sustain publishers and console manufacturers. You lose them, you lose everything. At one time, it looked like they were abandoning consoles for phones. It turns out that wasn’t true but right now, the industry is having to lie in the bed its made on two different fronts. They’re different beds, they’re made in different ways but they’re both really uncomfortable.
I’m very thankful that at least for now, I’m in a privileged position that allows me to be able to buy basically all the games I want. However, I feel for people who can only afford maybe a few games a year and got stuck with one of these broken stinkers. Those are the people the industry can’t afford to lose and yet, it seems to not care about making sure they’re happy. These people aren’t guaranteed customers for you, game industry. You need to continue to earn their business and just based on this last week, you’re failing miserably.
A crash could still come. Get your shit together and maybe, just maybe, you won’t be the ones who actually cause it.
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