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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Buying An Unfinished Game: What Are You Really Paying For?

In the PC gaming market of today, developers and publishers are under more and more pressure to not only deliver great games, but deliver them as quickly as they can. But when speed of development comes at the price of quality and polish, is it fair to charge players for the game initially with the promise that the game will be completed (through post-release updates) down the road?

 One of the really nice things about today’s internet-driven world is that, even after a game is released to the public, it still isn’t technically “finished.” New innovations such as post-release patches, updates, expansion packs, and DLC help add longevity to many games long after their respective release dates. Post-release support can also help solve technical issues such as bugs and glitches that weren’t found during the game’s testing phase. However, this same innovation can also lead developers to sometimes cut corners or delay promised features under the justification that they’ll just add them after the game goes live.

Now, this isn’t to say game developers have gotten lazy or sloppy, there’s a whole myriad of reasons why a game could be released in the less-than-complete manner that was originally promised. But is paying full-price for an incomplete product something that game publishers can continue asking gamers to do? In essence, players are paying for the promise that the game they’re buying will one day in the near future be the complete product the developer advertised; a promise the developer has no obligation to keep since they already have the player’s money.

Again I don’t mean to paint game developers and publishers as money-swindling crooks, many developers who were forced to release unfinished games often fulfill their promises to support the game with post-release updates and sometimes even go above and beyond their promises. 
When Spiral Games Studios’ Orion: Dino Beatdown was released to the public last year, it was far from the amazing co-op action/adventure that the studio promised it would be. Rather than chock it up to a loss, Spiral Games took all the criticism garnered from Orion’s disastrous launch to heart, completely retooled and revamped the game’s format and features, and re-released it as Orion: Dino Horde. The game’s rebirth has been met with near universal positive reception and also includes features that weren’t even in the original design concept of Dino Beatdown. Even better, as a gesture of good faith, Spiral Games gave everyone who purchased Dino Beatdown free upgrades to Dino Horde.

Despite the redemption story of Orion: Dino Horde, I’m hoping the trend of charging gamers full-price for half-baked games and flimsy promises doesn’t become more prevalent than it already has. Take, for example, Dark Vale Games’ recent release Forge; a fun yet flawed PvP-focused medieval/fantasy brawler. Despite being advertised as a game that contains “the best aspects of MMO and FPS class-based combat”, as of this writing Forge has roughly five different playable classes, a handful of different maps and game modes, and, as always, the ever-present promise of “more to come.”

Other examples such as EA’s disastrous SimCity reboot, the spectacular train wreck that was Gearbox’s Aliens: Colonial Marines, even the promised PvP features of Blizzard’s Diablo III prove that even major developers and publishers aren’t above using the “promise now, deliver later” formula. If game companies expect gamers to keep shelling out $40, $50, even $60 for their products, they have to start doing a better job of making sure what we’re paying for is a complete product; not just an unfinished game and a string of promises. 

In a day and age when the fields of game development and innovation should be moving forward by leaps and bounds, sadly it seems many companies and studios are content with letting them slip in the opposite direction. 

Follow me on Twitter at @NateHohl and be sure to check out my other work here at "Inner Thoughts of a Quiet Gamer" and over at VGU.TV.

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