July 3, 2022

The Waiting Game (of Gen8)

So, Batman: Arkham Knight on PC is still a bit of a fluster-buster. Can we just accept it always will be and move on now?

Last week saw Batman: Arkham Knight return to the Steam Store, after seeing it pulled months ago for being an absolute technical shambles of a product. Almost immediately, people pointed out that the ‘new’ PC version is… an absolute technical shambles of a product, but at least now you can BUY DLC AND MICROTRANSACTIONS! Oh yes, WB Interactive sure got that part right if nothing else. And by that, I mean it was the only thing they got right.

As hard as it is to point this out, the reality is that the PC Version – farmed out on the cheap and low to a fourth-party developer on what has in the last few months transpired to be a minuscule budget – is never going to be the best version. As someone pointed out, the only way to save the PC version is to scrap the whole engine and all the work done and rebuild the whole game from the ground up. A noble endeavour if only WB Interactive had the money and time to actually do so. Which, by cramming business into the broken product, suggests they certainly don’t have the money and with a new console due to be unveiled in the coming year, they sure as hell don’t have the time right now either.

One thing has become abundantly clear in video games this generation, and that is the “Shut up, give us your money and WAIT!” ethos of the business.

Whether it’s pre-orders months or years before an actual release (like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided), KickStarters and IndieGoGo campaigns (Shenmue 3, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Yooka-Laylee and so on) or just sitting around waiting for that nice £50/$65 game you just bought to actually be fixed to an acceptable standard of play (Still waiting, Bloodborne!), this entire generation has been built around one thing – getting your money before a thing is proven to be worth buying.

As gamers, we’re used to delays – as I said some time ago, the Zelda franchise is notorious for delays and I think we all accept now that that awesome-looking Anime-styled Zelda U game is going to be re-branded Zelda NX by this point. Delays have been the bane of the games industry since the early 90’s (and likely, even before that, though I was probably too young to care). It’s even led to Shigeru Miyamoto’s famous line; “A delayed game can eventually be good; a bad game will always be a bad game.”

But in the past, a game had to work out of the box. We had no such thing as day-one patches, let alone anything as large as those dumped on The Witcher 3. The advent of high-speed broadband and its somewhat more widespread availability (although not everywhere yet) has given Carte-Blanche to developers getting an unfinished product onto disc with the hope that by the time the release date arrives, all they have to do is get the purchaser to download a several Gigabyte patch, often leaving some people waiting hours before they can actually play the game they have bought. The advent of crowd-funding means that games too can be funded on name and promise before anything so much as a demo is put out for public consumption, leading to some very awkward moments in the last few years when the end-product turns out to be… well, kind of meh, actually. Broken Age, Godus and the drama-llama that is Star Citizen (well over $90 million so far and the game is – if we’re being gentle here – running a little behind schedule…).

The message is simple. We give them our money. And they deliver a product… when it’s ready. And as we’ve seen, sometimes a product will never truly be ready. So they have your money and you, my dear reader, are $/£X out of pocket. But better luck next time, right?

There’s no point differentiating indie from triple-A and middle-market either. They’re all as bad as each other. At least with things like Early Access, you can get a functioning product in your hands but even then so many are abandoned or just cloned from free assets on Unity and UnrealEngine that the handful that do work – Ziggurat, Hand of Fate and Darkest Dungeon to name a few – are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things which don’t work and will never be finished. The end result? Well, you’re out of pocket again. Better luck next time.

Years ago, on Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson and I think it was Richard Hammond were joking about their lightweight Supercar test. And the joke was that despite having LESS – less features, less comfort, less luxuries and so forth – the cars for some reason cost exponentially more, leading to Clarkson remarking about the Porsche, “One day you’ll just need to walk past a Porsche showroom and they’ll charge you a million pounds!”

But we’re already doing just that. Rather than asking, they put up pretty pictures and we give them our money instead, often without question or rational thought.

There is something curiously amusing and yet also terrifying that in an age where we will yell at our Internet Provider if our cable network goes out for fifteen minutes, furiously yell in traffic at anyone who gets in our way (which is everyone), watch people have a personal meltdown when Twitter and Facebook go down for an hour and have the heinous First World Problem of “Buffer Face”, that for all our impatience we’ll somehow quite willingly throw good money and sit around, arms crossed, going, ‘This’ll be worth it, I know it, just have to be patient!’

Some would call it hypocrisy. But I wonder if it is something we’ve just been conditioned to. Delays have always happened, so what is the difference between a developer delaying a launch date and self-imposed delayed gratification? The line is now a hairs width and almost indistinguishable.

For me though, I can no longer wait around. If something comes, then it comes and great I can buy it if it’s any good. To me, that’s how consumer models work. Money can be exchanged for goods and services. WOO-HOO! But why should I give money to companies or developers for a product now that I may not have in my hands for years (Shenmue)? And why would I buy a full release on its launch now when it takes weeks and sometimes even months to iron out many of the technical problems that plague so many modern releases? Those who continue to pay money for these products will always be (mostly) disappointed with what they get; quality was always a reason to buy a game on release (because people don’t want to buy a broken game), but now they can get your money without that detail… well, you pays your money and you takes your chances, right?

I have no time nor any interest in waiting any longer. If the games industry wants my money, they’ll have to start releasing games on the market worth buying. Arkham Knight was a game I hoped they’d fix. Really, it would have been great to see that happen. But it won’t. They’ve made it very clear that its continued existence as it is now is to just make a bit of money before the next big games release from the company. And that would be sad, if it were somehow unique in the industry, a bar set low. It isn’t unique though. It’s becoming the norm. The games industry has pulled a fast one; they’ve found a way to get our money without even so much as a glimpse of an actual saleable product. An industry founded on vapourware.

I can’t sit around waiting forever. The industry seems to think we’re all going to wait for their big games and their grand entrance… but if that entrance is 7am and everyone is already face-down in pools of their own champaign-induced vomit, it doesn’t really have the same impact, does it?

Most of us will be in bed, playing repeats of the things we liked in the past. Sure, they’re not new – but at least we can actually play then…


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