Many of the releases this generation come with huge day one patches. This means even once the game goes gold and is put to print, the developers still continue to make changes and, hopefully, improvements. These can take place right up to the shipping date and then continue on for months after. Sometimes, games still experience updates for more than a year after launch.
This brings me to my somewhat disappointing realisation: I may have to stop playing launch day games.
Over the years, there is nothing better than getting a launch day title and bashing those buttons until the “wee hours of the mornin'”. A badge of honour or a childish tic, who can say? With that said, I have become increasingly frustrated with the whole process.
You buy a physical version of a game at launch, in store, online via download, or online then wait with bated breath for the post to arrive on the release day. Then, if you’ve bought the physical version, you get to experience the sweet tear of the cellophane wrapping as it slides off. The smell of the game booklet, countless advertisements, DLC offers, followed by the snap as you pop the disc from its housing. All of this is part and parcel of the gaming experience, especially when playing a brand new game.
You insert the game and wait impatiently… BOOM! 12GB day one update required.
This is a fairly normal occurrence these days but is still, from my perspective, no less frustrating. I know the update is coming but can’t help but feel a sense of disappointment. Some would argue I am missing a trick in this respect, as you can buy digital and the game will download, along with any patches straight to your console or PC, ready for the moment of release. You would be right that is, of course, an easier way to experience a launch title but I, at least for this generation, prefer a physical copy. There is something special about owning the physical game. Not just the box art – the whole feel and the sense of pride it gives you when it sits along the many other game experiences good and bad that you have taken on over time. It’s a listing of memories in someway. Each game coincides with time periods in my life and if they were all stored digitally, I wouldn’t really have that visual option to take in and enjoy.
The fact that some games release today in some terrible states (and yes, I’m looking at you Fallout 76) is a testament to the times we are experiencing this generation. This will not change, at least I don’t think it will. Deadlines will always be something business will need to adhere to, and gaming is no different. However, timescales may need to altering moving further down the line as games take a very long time to create. Optimising and testing is also taking longer which eats into development time.
I look back at all the titles I’ve played since picking up my PS4 at launch 5 years ago and without doubt most of the games have needed fairly hefty day one patches. It was, and is, a very rare occurrence that a game will not need a patch of more than 5GB upon sliding that disc into its housing.
Once you boot up the game, you are sometimes faced with a buggy mess. Optimisation issues appear, disconnections from servers, skins and textures taking forever to load, sound issues, facial animation issues. The list can be endless.
Moving forward I am undecided whether getting a launch day copy of a game is the way to go. I obviously want to play the game as soon as it’s released but, on the flip side to that, I also want to experience the best version of the game.
In recent months I have sampled some games that have undergone what the online community would consider a rocky or even dismal launch. Mass Effect Andromeda, Fallout 76, Anthem, and Days Gone all released with technical issues. Having played these games on day one, or at least having witnessed the bugs on offer, it is refreshing that months later they actually are, for the most part, stable and enjoyable games. Personal preference will come into this but the games themselves are better versions of what they were previously, of this there is no doubt.
I suppose the next question I asked myself was, do I consider my launch experiences poor because of technical issues? I would put forward that, yes, there have been poor experiences normally within one or two particular facets. For example, I enjoyed Days Gone as an overall experience. The fact the game ran like a sluggish, wheezy mess at launch hindered my initial experience. However, as the updates took hold, the game became more stable and my annoyance and frustration subsided.
Should I have waited until a month or two later? Would my experience have been much more positive? Probably, yes, is the answer to both.
That said, I am far from letting the game developers, and possibly more so the publishers, off the hook here. A poor review due to technical issues can be the kiss of death for a game launch and is something developers and publishers will probably have to put more thought into moving forward. Anthem and Fallout 76 performed relatively well in terms of sales at launch but should have been much stronger. The technical issues coupled with others held them back. With respect to publishers, they are expecting a good return on their publishing duties; they are expecting a product that is polished and ready for launch. The timescales to create many games around today are vast, with some taking 5+ years. When a game takes this long, there has to be a realisation that they will need extra time, especially when you are dealing with the culmination of hundreds, possibly thousands of people’s efforts over an extended period.
I realise this sounds a little preachy and I have no experience as a game developer or publisher. However, I have my suspicions from time to time, normally after hearing some cryptic interview with a game developer, that PR is a huge part, and that everything is timed to PR and account department timelines and deadlines. If you don’t meet those deadlines, as long as the game can run, albeit poorly, it is released regardless. They then factor in that hit into their bottom line and possible reputational damage. If this is the way things are then, I for one would definitely stay away from launch titles from this point onwards.
Will I stay away from launch titles? Will I be able to hold off on picking up that shiny new game? I am undecided. Games, like a lot of media, can be hard to resist. The one thing I can definitively say is that I will put a lot more thought into this moving forward and I hope I have stirred up some thoughts on your part too.