Ironic to see this given our recent debates over Fallout: New Vegas, and worthy of discussion: The Escapist’s Editor-in-Chief Russ Pitts has written an open letter to the makers of games, asking them to stop making broken ones. I quote:
How many of you know your history? How many of you know that the videogame industry, often considered “recession proof” once suffered a major crash, in the 1980s during the last great economic recession? How many of you know the reason the industry suffered so badly was because you (or your predecessors) were making bad games?
Brief rant follows.
Russ is a pretty awesome guy and one of the greatest writers in the business. If you haven’t followed his work, you owe it to yourself to take part of the day and read some of his older stuff, watch Game Dogs, and appreciate the goodness of the universe that someone like him is in a position of power like EIC at The Escapist. The core of his open letter isn’t a lecture to game developers, it’s a reminder of how it feels when someone who adores games has his heart broken, again and again, by the very thing he loves. I think he thinks that developers often don’t consider that, and I think he’s right.
It goes without saying that I agree with Russ – we can’t return games, and many of them come either broken or full of flaws that are unconscionable in this day and age. Alpha Protocol is a recent example; contrary to what some have been saying I do not feel the same way about New Vegas. I just haven’t had many problems with it. There are far more egregious offenders out there, up to and including tier-one titles like Civilization V, which include actual honest to god game-breaking bugs that haven’t been patched yet (and an annoying opening movie that’s great once or twice, but that you can’t skip without editing a .ini file). So this isn’t another New Vegas post.
The only issue with which I diverge from Russ is the pragmatic one: in my opinion, most developers aren’t interested in making bad or broken games. But to understand why they do, you need to understand the developer/publisher relationship. The fact is, games often ship when the money runs out, or in time for Christmas, or when the publisher says so. It’s very rare for a publisher to accept the argument that a game is just not ready yet, that it needs six or eight more months, that a little more money will be the difference between a broken game and a successful one. It’s not like developers don’t make those arguments; publishers just don’t listen.
Why? Because publishers know what we all know: that games are not returnable commodities. That once we buy a broken one we’re stuck with it. And they take advantage of that.
Developers tend to love games – or at least love making games – as much as gamers love games. I haven’t talked to Chris Avellone since Alpha Protocol shipped, but he did mention something about telling me the “whole story” of the delay at some point in the future. “You’ll probably laugh,” he said. “I’ll just nod and drink heavily.” That in mind I suspect he’s as embarrassed by Alpha Protocol as anyone. But the fact is, developers are not often masters of their own destinies. The ones who are – like Valve and Blizzard – they can take all the time they want, and though it’s often years between games, what finally arrives is usually perfect.
The key point that Russ makes, however, kind of destroys the argument that it’s all publishers’ fault:
I know that some of you work overtime on this. I know you lose money. I know it sucks for you. And yet, I don’t care. The point at which you have to turn in overtime to create a patch that will fix a playability issue in a game that’s been released and sold to the public is the point at which you will have sold a defective product. If you’ve sold me a game that I cannot play, then I have lost money. It is only fair that you lose some too, in making it right.
Troika expatriates are still patching Vampire Bloodlines, even though their company has been out of business for years. Russ is basically saying that yeah, publishers may force your hand, but your name is on it. Even if it’s not your fault, even if the publisher doesn’t give you the money to fix it, your name is on it. You have a responsibility to fix it. End of discussion.
Unless you don’t care.
And if that’s the case… well, we saw what happened in 1983, the last time all the major developers stopped caring if they made quality products. Let’s not have a repeat of that. What else would I have to do?
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