Excusing Bad Behavior
I played the hell out of the online demo. So did most of my friends. We were all going to get the game when it shipped, even expand our clan since we were all getting a bit bored with Halo 2. We were so excited that there was finally going to be an online shooter that, seemingly, rivaled the quality and fun of Halo 2. Then I bought the actual game.
And it was horribly, horribly broken.
I couldn't even get online with it for the first three hours or so because the servers were broken. When I could, I realized that there was no voice messaging, it was impossible to find your friends online because the in-game friends list was broken, and (best of all!) you couldn't set up your own private lobbies or clan matches, though the game featured clan support. How, exactly, is a clan supposed to practice or talk about strategy when they can't even set up their own damn room!? The game's official website forums were clogged with people complaining about these, and other, problems with the game, but none of them were resolved in a timely fashion; in fact, the developer at first even refused to acknowledge that there were problems.
By now you may be thinking "So what? Buggy games come out all the time, what's the problem?" My problem is that buggy games come out all the time. More specifically, however, is the reason why developers keep making buggy games, and that reason is.... well, us. By 'us' I mean gamers in general. Developers have no qualms about making buggy games because they know people will keep buying them. Why should they spend extra time and money on QA when they can make more money by shipping a buggy product and then eventually fixing it? From a business perspective, they shouldn't (though from an ethical/artistic perspective they should care very much about the quality of their product), because in this industry gamers excuse bad behavior by developers all the time, and frankly it's getting tiresome.
Perhaps this is why I've logged over 7,000 matches in Halo 2 - Bungie is one of the few developers left that actually cares about the quality of their franchises, it seems. Their matchmaking system, while imperfect, is leaps and bounds better than anything else you can play online via console, their lobby system is fabulous, and their overall online support of Halo 2 is surpassed by none. What makes that all the more impressive is that Bungie knew that millions upon millions of people would buy Halo 2, buggy or not, yet still took the time to make sure they released a product that was as good as possible. Sure, we were all upset by the multiple delays, but it was certainly worth it in my estimation. Another great example of a company who actually 'gets it' would be Blizzard. As I'm sure you've all read by now, they have indefinitely delayed Starcraft: Ghost because they weren't happy with the product they were developing, and instead of capitalizing on one of the biggest names in gaming (Starcraft is still one of the biggest PC RTS games to this day), they chose quality over profit, and that may just be why Blizzard fans are some of the most fiercely loyal fans you'll ever meet.
I'll admit that a big component in companies not changing their ways when it comes to buggy games is that game journalists simply aren't hard enough on them. When I reviewed Blood Omen 2 for this very outlet, I was way too forgiving on the game's rather glaring bugs. I actually gave Blood Omen 2 the highest score of any accredited game publication, online or off, and to this day I regret it. I also, however, learned a valuable lesson from it, that being that if you are reading my reviews you are trusting me, at least in part, to help you make good buying decisions, and I have an obligation to you to be hard on any given game's flaws. More gaming journalists need to start worrying about their integrity, in my opinion, and that's one reason why I still write for PSXExtreme; this place has integrity, and while the people writing for this site may not always be perfect (including me), we at least care about telling you how it really is when it comes to games.
It's also extremely bothersome that it always seems like the bigger a company gets, and the more capital they have to invest in a quality product, the less likely they will be inclined to do just that. Bungie has but 90 employees (including their testers and secretaries and what have you), and yet they're able to turn out high quality products on a consistent basis, whereas companies with staffs of hundreds and a bankroll in the billions can't even get the basics right. Or perhaps they could, if they tried, but they're not going to until the gaming community gives them reason to.
You may be thinking that a few bugs aren't a big deal, and besides you love Splinter Cell or Burnout, so why should you deprive yourself? Well, I'll tell you why - the sooner you start speaking with your wallet and demanding better quality from game developers, the sooner your favorite franchises are only going to get better. If enough consumers sent the message that this sort of crap doesn't fly anymore, big development studios would most definitely start investing more in the quality of their product. Essentially, any corporation's ethos is shaped by their bottom line; you start hurting that bottom line, and their ethos will change from "we don't give a damn" to "we care about quality because we have to" and how, exactly, does that hurt you, Mr. Joe Gamer?
4/13/2006 Ryan Hartmann