Monday, June 11, 2012

Don't Buy Buggy Products

You know what I hate? I hate double clicking the InstallCoolNewGame.exe or Setup.exe whatever, letting the little progress bar fill up, then immediately crashing to desktop. I should not need to make a Computer Use check to get into your game. The barriers to entry for any product should be insanely low. Minutes to learn, a life time to master, is good design ethos. Minutes to learn, hours to troubleshoot is more a slap in the face.

Remember the Dragon Age: Origins release? How cool was that opening video? Once you got to see it, I mean. Not when the sound and video skipped, looped and crashed for reasons that required a patch.  The worst part though is that it is a pretty decent game. But, somehow, no one in their QA world tried to, you know, run the game to see if it did not work. They will tell you that PCs are hard to design for because you have any variety of conflicts that could crop up; this is something I can understand. I am sympathetic towards that plight. But, guess what? You design games. It behooves you to cross your Ts and dot your Is.

Lots of PC games have this problem; bugs, incompatible hardware issues, driver issues. I have a very simple piece of advice for any one trying to make a game: I want to hit three buttons to get into your game: Install, Start New Game, then whatever the confirm button is for things like character name, etc. This should be your design goal. "Three buttons to fun."

Yes, I understand PCs are powerful tools that let me tweak options however I want. But, you know what? I don't want to have to navigate a variety of menus, a .ini file and then some archaic graphic settings to get something like windowed mode. Also: You should enable windowed mode. Suck it up. Do it.

Some game designers, and we all can think of a few, have been getting shockingly lazy. Some things you can't foresee, I understand. But, if my computer is well above your minimum specs, I should not have to fight for hours to get your game running. Also, make sure your game is actually complete. For example, I'm glad I didn't play Mass Effect 3 yet. The ending, apparently, was such a travesty Bioware is making an apology DLC to make it all better. Look at Star Wars: The Old Republic for a classic example of over-promising and under-delivering.

What's worse, is that shoddy PC design is lowering the bar for other games. It has crept into RPG books and always connected consoles that can download patches and fixes. Look at the math issues in fourth edition skill challenges and the feat tax to not have terrible defenses. Here's a thought: You should not have to errata your base book because you did not run the numbers.

Game companies are getting hit more and more with releasing obvious betas; TV Tropes even has a page for it! But, take a look at some of their examples. This isn't new; Sierra, as the adventure game genre was dying out, was notorious for buggy releases. So, why are we still putting up with this?

If any review tells you a game has game stopping bugs, crashes to desktops, etc., but mitigates it by telling you that there are work arounds, or patches are promised to fix it: Don't buy the game until that happens. Game companies rely on first day and first week sales; the earlier they get your money, the better their sale figures. I should not have to work to play your game. If I keep my drivers up to date, I should not have to engage in archaic technomancy to enjoy the product I paid you for beyond double clicking. Game reviewers: If you have compatibility issues and need to reinstall and fight with your system, the game is not a 10/10, 5/5 or whatever awesome scoring system you use. If a car does not go when you hit the gas, it is broken; if a game does not run when you double click, it is broken.

So, here's my proposal: Don't buy buggy games. If you want them to stop releasing things in unplayable or barely playable states stop buying things in unplayable and barely playable states. Then, write to them, on Twitter, on your blog, on Facebook to say: "I will not buy it till it is fixed."

Then, once they fix the game? Buy the game. Look, they're companies, OK? Companies are more Pavlovian than dogs. Let's lay out for them a nice and simple cause/effect relationship. Release crap that doesn't run out of the box, we won't buy it. Release games with stable builds that we can play, we buy it. It's like Adam Smith's invisible hand slowly strangling every marketing and PR person who suggests to rush something to market and "fix it post release."



Don't use a buggy game as an excuse to pirate. Because, see, then you're never going to be one of their customers, so why should they cater to what you want? If you want to influence the kinds of games people make, you need to pay the Danegold. When your friends buy pizza (Do you have friends? Do they buy pizza? Look, let's assume you do and they do, it makes this analogy flow better. So, OK, assume you have friends, and they buy pizza), if you don't chip in, you don't get to decide what goes on the pizza. Suffer in anchovy purgatory. Well, when the gamer community buys games, if you don't chip in, you don't get to decide what goes in the digital distribution or box.

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