Unfinished Sympathy?

Unfinished games are becoming an alarming occurance in the industry today.

It was having a few days in Final Fantasy XIV that made me realise that games often do take time to come good nowadays, and that you can’t always judge a game – or an MMO – solely on its past, or sometimes even its present. Hell, we as gamers should even give Darkfall 2.0 a chance to change our minds.

There are many examples of games of late which are thrust onto the market in a state that don’t always shine with quality – Dead Island, as we all know, is still quite a buggy game. Deus Ex: Human Revolution came with some gaping bugs, Dragon Age 2… well. BioWare barely even bothered with that. There are countless more that often need large day one patches, or serious reworking at some point in their lives – the word on the grapevine is even The Old Republic is going to be pushed out before it is ready for primetime.

But why? Financially, you may indeed want a game to start bringing in the bacon, especially when you look at Final Fantasy XIV – a game that has, it is rumoured, cost more than The Old Republic, and for the last year and a bit, the game has been begrudingly free-to-play for the early adopters, meaning not only have Square-Enix had to spend a lot on the redevelopment (the 2.0 reworking is not due until Fall 2012) but also spend a lot maintaining servers. Financially, the early release of this MMO has likely been devastating.

It’s not just financially thorny either – the public already have the lowdown on what Final Fantasy XIV is like, and as the saying goes; “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Even though the industry is disregarding this saying with the kind of reckless abandon usually seen in stunt shows, the reality is we, the public, don’t tend to take a second look anymore. The market is full of games, and others are on the way, that we don’t take the chance to go back sometimes and see if something has been improved, or fixed, or made better.

But should we feel bad for these games? Not really.

It is true we are impatient, but the industry has years of well-documented public failures and Public Relations scandals to look at, to learn from, and very few of these companies learn from the mistakes of others in the same situation. I’ve said it before, but sometimes common sense is in limited capacity when suited CEOs and financial busybodies get involved, trying to eek out a few more pennies from a project, and inevitably killing it in the process. It is when developers are assumed to not know how to develop a game that things go wrong, and when they go wrong – they often go superbly wrong.

In my world of writing, I make some things quite clear. One – I am the writer, I am the poet, the short prose author, and I know more about it than someone whose job it is to just make sure the paper or magazine is in order. I wouldn’t go in expecting to know how to be an executive, or be on the management team, sometimes we are good at certain things. And the two sides shouldn’t be forced to meet unless there are serious extenuating circumstances.

Likewise, in the games industry, the development team need to be left to do what they do best. They need to be left to make a game as good as it can be, and the suits above need to try to keep themselves out of it. When large chunks of game are cut off to be resold as DLC, when money is withheld because of one lapsed deadline and when a CEO announces a release date that is wholly unrealistic, you end up with an industry that is trying to make money from something that isn’t even able to stand up on its own four limbs, let alone two feet.

We, as gamers, do need to learn to take a second look – we shouldn’t feel sympathy, or sorrow, because many of these projects are pushed out by people who are too stupid to learn, despite the years of private education they’ve had, from the experience that is already avidly documented in the minds of the consumers. But we should be prepared to give things another chance – another go, just because people are working hard to bring these projects and games back from the dead and we should at least have the courtesy sometimes to make 100% sure the horse is dead before we kick it.

As for the suits… the world is run by these people whose worlds in turn are very small. They don’t look outside, they are powered by think tanks and yes-men and generally live in a parallel dimension where things are all running great, even when they are not. In almost every walk of life, it is these people – who have been given power and responsibility that they cannot responsibly handle – who are invariably messing things up for everyone else.

It’s a damned shame really. Common sense isn’t as common as it used to be. And the damage from an early release can be more financially crippling than simply letting people work some more on their project.

I mean, okay, they shouldn’t expect developers to do a 3D Realms “Duke Nukem Forever”. That’d be silly – the extreme example doesn’t need to necessarily apply. But if a developer says “it needs another year”… they know it needs another year…

Release that game early at your own peril, gaming publishers. For the public, as much as I’d want them to, will not forgive a shoddy release lightly. Even when the FFXIV 2.0 notes look as good as they do… many will argue, quite rightly, the damage is already done – and wash their hands of it, regardless of if it suddenly does come good.

And all for the sake of making a few quid back from the public… and hell, if it doesn’t work with Final Fantasy – a brand loved the world over, it’s unlike to work for Blizzards next MMO, or The Old Republic, or Guild Wars… get your games finished before we play them. Rift at least got this right – and it’s why Rift is one of the very FEW brand new MMO licences that has managed to survive. Because the game felt complete – like it had content, and stuff to do, and enjoy.

Is it really that much to ask that when I buy a game, I would prefer it to be a complete product? And that DLC is an addition, not part of the game cut out to make more money?

But on that note, Blizzcon week. And seeing as how bad Cataclysm has been received, I think I’m looking forward to seeing how they dig themselves out of that very big hole they are in…

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