Do missing game features include a working game at launch?
By now, the controversy has just begun to die down. Hammerpoint Interactive recently released their open world zombie survival game The War Z on Steam. Naturally, being released ahead of the more hotly anticipated The Day Z, and because of gamers wanting their fill of zombie stomping mayhem across a vast open world setting, it rose to the top of the charts. However, there was a problem: Hammerpoint wasn’t necessarily delivering on what it had promised for the game. But this wasn’t a matter of announcing features and then leaving them out later. Rather, Hammerpoint stated that indeed the game did support 100 players per server, skill trees, private servers, and several vast areas for play.
This was confirmed in the original description of the game on Steam (which has since changed), and when Gamespy interviewed Sergey Titov of Hammerpoint on the same issue, he stated that “online games are [a] living breathing GAME SERVICE. This is not a boxed product that you buy one time. It’s evolving product that will have more and more features and content coming it”. While this isn’t all that wrong, it wasn’t really the issue at hand, which was that Hammerpoint had effectively gamed – and exposed – Steam’s under-administration in accepting such titles for its benefit.
Such a scenario reminds me of Ben Affleck’s film Argo to be honest. It’s a movie about making a movie, as Tony Mendez and his team readied a script, storyboards, actors, a public reading, a registered production company, even office space and set off to Iran for location scouting.
The catch? “Argo” was fake, its existence simply created to evacuate 5 United States Embassy employees who had been caught in the crossfire of a rather violent revolution that was occurring. But it served its purpose, and all 5 hostages were returned safely to the United States. It’s hard to blame the Iranians – the farce was that deftly crafted.
However, it affords a lesson that not only The War Z but the entire gaming industry exemplifies. It reminds us about the severe lack of a quality assurance and administration authority within the industry.
Titles, be they indie games or AAA blockbusters, are left to the scrutiny of the developers and publishers when it comes to releasing them to the public. Do you delay the game and polish it further (read: fix all the unfixed bugs) or release it and follow it up with patches? Do you take a temporary hit in credibility by having the hype of the game’s release overshadow any game-breaking bugs? Do you issue public apologies when gamers are unsatisfied?
Did Ubisoft apologise for the numerous issues plaguing the release of Assassin’s Creed 3? Did Activision apologise for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 failing to run properly on the Playstation 3 and PC – something which the original Black Ops suffered from as well? Did we get any apologies from Vigil Games or United Front Games for the little bugs and frame rate issues in Darksiders 2 and Sleeping Dogs respectively?
We sure as hell didn’t get any apology from Square Enix when Final Fantasy XIII showed up sans any open world, compelling story or actual fun gameplay (it’s rather doubtful they respond to any kind of feedback other than sales figures, truth be told. Hence FFXIII-2 and Lightning Returns).
One could make a case that none of these games promised features and then ended up not delivering them. But isn’t one of the prerequisites of a game to function normally? Aren’t we buying games with the knowledge that they won’t glitch out on us, or suddenly crash, or just fail to play at all?
Alas, these are the current curses of the current gaming industry. Wherever you are, it’s important to either be there first or be there on time. Overtake a similar property and cash in before it does, or meet the deadline being hyped by the enormous PR campaign surrounding title.
After three months of patching, who’ll be complaining in a year when the next sequel comes along? When Gamespy’s interview was published, Hammerpoint had confirmed that 100 players per server was now possible in The War Z. Would anyone who hadn’t heard of the controversy and decided to pick the game up in the next few months have cared if it were missing a few features at launch? Are they really wrong for claiming one thing, and then delivering slightly less when the entire industry is making money hand over fist with the same practice?
It’s an elaborate ruse, a risk that consumers take with each game, and really, it’s tough for systems like Steam to pick up on them immediately (it’s not even like they were looking for this particular group of Embassy hostages or droids or hobbits or what have you). Any system will have cracks for miscreants to slip through – it’s just that the size and scope of some screenplays makes them harder to catch. And when The War Z is committing the same crime as many developers have been for years – many which still do today – then should the zombie equivalent of “Argo f**k yourself” really make us seek reparations?