This generation there have been a lot of shady business practices sneaking into gaming. We have things like Online Passes, Day One DLC, Season Passes for DLC that hasn't even been announced yet, and Pay2Win schemes ruining game balance. All of these things, though, I can understand and even accept from a business perspective. The Pay2Win is an awful way to design a game, but if there is a market for it then go for it. The others are just ways to try to stay in business in a field without much margin for error. Over the past couple of weeks, though, two games have done something I just don't agree on, on any level. Medal of Honor: Warfighter, and Assassin's Creed 3, both shipped incomplete. Both games featured numerous game breaking bugs in the code on the disk. The majority of these bugs (though not all) were fixed with a day one patch. Now I find this to be a disgusting thing for a company to do. As a designer and the founder of a game company, I would be utterly ashamed to release a game that was so broken on so many levels. It just is a terrible way to do business.
Now I understand the reasoning behind it. Ubisoft and EA each spent tens of millions of dollars marketing these games, so delaying the release date would be financially devastating in that way, and it might also move the games out of the all important Holiday season. The quarterly profits of either of these companies would plummet without the release of these games. But I just have to wonder, are the results of one quarter more important than the reputation of a major franchise? Especially in Medal of Honor's case, it is hard to imagine the franchise rebounding from this game anytime soon. EA had an uphill battle already convincing gamers that Medal of Honor was as worthy a game as Battlefield. Even if the game had been great it still wouldn't have done remotely as well as Battlefield 3. But if the game had shipped without bugs, and if the game itself had just been given more time to fully explore Danger Close's vision, then EA would have earned itself its share of fans. And those core players might have convinced their friends to get Medal of Honor 3 instead of Black Ops 3 in two years. And if that process repeated a couple more times you could easily see Medal of Honor selling 10+ million units in four or five years. Now that chance is gone. Rebounding from this game will be all but impossible. Medal of Honor has failed. So, yea, EA will probably sell a couple million copies of this Medal of Honor, but the chance for franchise growth has been substantially limited by releasing a game that wasn't ready.
Assassin's Creed 3 is in a better spot. That is partially because the core game is simply better than Medal of Honor would ever have been, and partially because the previous entries in the series were much better received than recent Medal of Honor games. Still, AC3 was supposed to be the next big jump in the series, akin to AC2. And while it is supposed to be a pretty great game, the presence of numerous bugs definitely hurts the experience. And those without the day one patch might experience some pretty serious bugs.
And that brings me to maybe the major point of this blog. Is it okay to assume that everyone who wants to play AC or MoH have both an Internet connection and a harddrive to store these patches on? On PS3 this is probably a pretty safe assumption. All models contain harddrives and built in Wi-Fi. But for the 360 the same isn't true. Pre-Slim models have no built in Wi-Fi and a fair number had no built in hard drive. Those that did had a very small harddrive that might be pretty full at this point. So I think it is fair to say that for many 360 owners, playing AC3 or MoH will be a significantly gimped experience. These people will not be able to play the game that the developers intended. They will be stuck playing a buggy and partially broken mess. That just isn't fair. It isn't right that a portion of paying customers will not get the finished version of the game, although neither game is technically "finished" even with the patches. That just isn't right and no business argument will make that right. If I as a company manager fail to finish my game on time then I should be the one to suffer for it, not the gamers who buy my game. That is called taking responsibility for your failures as a developer.
I've been there. In fact I'm there right now. Things don't go as planned. Just recently my company launched a Kickstarter for our game Broken. The Kickstarter was unsuccessful for a number of reasons, but one of those reasons was that we didn't launch the Kickstarter on the day we had advertised for weeks in advance. Why? We were releasing a demo of the game day and date with the Kickstarter. Now part of the problem was that we had some issues with Kickstarter that delayed the release no matter what, but the other part was that our demo simply wasn't up to our quality standards. There was a major game breaking bug in the game that I simply would not let appear in the demo. We literally were working on this bug until mere minutes before the Kickstarter launched. This delay, among numerous other reasons, caused us significant financial hardship, but none of us were willing to release a broken product to gamers, even just in demo form.
Now I don't have any shareholders to answer to when my game doesn't ship on time. But that shouldn't change anything. Developers should finish a game and then ship it, not the other way around. It is a matter of artistic and corporate integrity and it should not be sacrificed for anything, including financial gain.
What do you guys think? Is it important for a developer to finish a game before they ship it? Do you mind downloading day one patches? Are you ever going to give Medal of Honor another chance? What do you think the next game will be to follow in this disturbing trend?