Dear Game Developers and Publishers,
Let me start off by saying that I appreciate all the work you do. Making games is hard, and the only experience I’ve had is some game design classes in university. So thanks for everything you’ve done in making amazing experiences that we as gamers bond over and cherish. However, despite all that hard work you do, it seems like we’ve hit some problems lately. These “problems” tend to come in form of bugs. These range from minor nuisances to game-breaking catastrophes. If you look at just the last year, there were some pretty big examples of games with these kind of problems. Assassin’s Creed: Unity had some terrifying missing faces on its characters, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection‘s Matchmaking system was horribly broken and has since required numerous patches to resolve the issue. These are just some of the examples of games last year that launched with significant problems. In addition to updates to resolve the issues, you’ve had to offer consolations such as free DLC to make sure that we don’t hurry to seek refunds or credit for our purchases. You’d think after this fiasco most of us would have learned our lesson. I thought you had, that is until last week.
The state of the PC version for Batman: Arkham Knight is disastrous to say the least. I’ve watched some clips of frame-rate issues that plague the platform; especially in the segments with the Batmobile, and it is painful to watch. What’s striking about the issue is that the Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions aren’t experiencing any issues of the sort. The situation with Batman: Arkham Knight is so dire that the PC version has been withdrawn from sale until the optimization problems are resolved. Like I said, you’d think we learned our lesson.
But obviously things aren’t so simple. Making games is incredibly difficult, especially with blockbuster titles. For one reason or another things do go wrong. But it’s that we learn from our mistakes, that’s what matters. In light of recent events and my occupation as QA for a startup, I’d like to propose some suggestions as how to avoid events like this in future.
For a start, the PC version should never have been released. To bring up examples from last year, it’s one thing to release a feature such as online matchmaking; as you really can’t test that without a live user base, it’s another to release an issue such as say “missing faces” that is clearly present in development. It’s been reported that the PC version was outsourced to another developer, which goes to show that there wasn’t much quality control on the PC version. It is understandable why you might use an outside party to make sure a game gets released on time, but the fact that this was allowed to slip through the cracks is embarrassing. It is imperative that you always perform final tests, to at least to make sure that there is some standard that can verify that the game is playable. A lot of very enjoyable games ship with bugs, but they’re minor and sometimes fun to experience. Game-breaking stutters are not. But, how can you get that testing done if you have a release date to meet?
This brings me to my next suggestion: delay your games if they’re not ready. Yes, your fans will be a bit upset if they have to wait longer. But that’s nothing compared to the outrage they’ll feel if they get something and they can’t even play it. I can understand that there’s pressure to get things done by deadlines, I experience that myself on a fairly regular basis in my line of work. But a number of publishers and developers have often chosen to delay releases to bring their works to a standard that we as gamers can enjoy. In fact they’ll announce it in the news to be transparent with fans.
Which brings me to my final point, be more transparent with your audience. If you’re going to make certain decisions with regards to the performance of your title, you need to let gamers know. As we found out with Watch Dogs, it doesn’t do you much good to not be honest with your players. While you can defend you choices all you want, it doesn’t change that this decision was made without us our knowing. It’s no fun for anyone.
Video games are unique in where both the business and the consumer have sway in the future of titles. I hope that these mishaps in releases will show that more needs to be done both on the QA side of development as well as knowing when something is actually ready for launch. To paraphrase what Nintendo said after their most recent E3 event, “We are listening to fans”. I hope you all are as well.
QA Developer and Gamer