Hey everybody, Ultimate Oddball here. Today I’m going to discuss the current trend of AAA companies showing very little concern when it comes to releasing buggy games and breaking games with updates. I’ll also be going over the recent controversy which resulted from Ubisoft stating they were looking into punishing players who exploited a bug in their game ‘The Division’ in order to benefit by gaining game items at a much faster rate than would otherwise be possible.
Video games operate in a unique fashion when it comes to new releases in comparison with other industries. It’s very common for a game to be full of bugs when it intially goes on sale. Day one patches are also common and usually involve downloading gigabytes of files. Depending on one’s internet, this may take a considerable amount of time and may even cost the consumer additional money in order to have the game they purchased playable in a relatively functional manner. This is already problematic before you consider that game companies don’t have much financial motivation to spend a lot developing patches. Video game consumers have shown that they will put up with some pretty questionable stuff, like pay to win microtransactions which break the meta of games, or putting the end of a game in downloadable content which costs additional money.
Let’s look at a comparable industry: the movie industry. You may find that statement ridiculous, but in 2013 worldwide box office revenue for the film industry was $35.9 billion. That same year, worldwide revenue for the game industry was $70.4 billion (1). Imagine if you went to the theater, waited for the movie to start, and then it started skipping around and stopped. The usher comes in to tell you they need to update the movie, so if you’ll just wait a bit, you can watch your movie then. Now imagine that happens every time you go to the movies, with the biggest budget movies that there are. The idea of releasing broken buggy products when this much money is at play is, in my view, absolutely ridiculous, and would not be tolerated anywhere else.
I’m not saying that we should expect every bug to be eliminated. The nature of game design and coding means that for every problem you fix, you might create three more. There will always be some issues with games due to the complexity involved. The issue here is that these huge budget games spend a ton of money on marketing, on selling the game based on a presentation of the game which is, at best, a “vertical slice”, to borrow a term used in the industry, and at worst, could be seen as an attempt to utilize false marketing and willfully deceive the consumer. The amount spent on quality assurance, bug testing, patching the game, and other similar things could be increased if developers and publishers were willing to utilize organic marketing through new media rather than just throwing money at standard methods of advertising.
Ubisoft is a game developer which has often courted controversy in the past due to releasing games which could be characterized as broken. ‘Assassin’s Creed: Unity’, part of their flagship series, had so many bugs and received such criticism that Ubisoft spent nearly the first half of their video introducing the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ game which came afterwards admitting that ‘Unity’ was buggy and negatively received, and pledging to do better(2). It seems to me that when you have to start from a position of basically saying “We’ve heard your negative reaction and we will do better.”, it says a lot about how serious the backlash was.
Ubisoft released ‘The Division’ in March of 2016. It had a day one patch of two gigabytes. Despite this, there were many bugs reported online by various individuals even after patching(3). Recently, a mode was added which had been hyped considerably called ‘Incursion’. Many players felt that it did not live up to expectations. More problematic, however, was the existence of a number of bugs which allowed players to go through a wall and win the mission without actually defeating all of the enemies. The reward for completing the mission included a piece of high-end loot, or gear, which the player is able to equip in order to improve their attributes in some way. The exploit in this mission, combined with another bug, allowed players to repeatedly glitch the mission in order to gain said loot. In some games this wouldn’t make a difference in the bigger picture of the game world, but a considerable portion of ‘The Division’ is player versus player fighting in a part of the city known as ‘The Dark Zone’. This effectively broke the game in this area due to a glitch which seems to be entirely the fault of Ubisoft. It required legitimate players to also exploit the bug if they wanted to stay alive in ‘The Dark Zone’, which is a sizable portion of what ‘The Division’ consists of and was a major selling point.
Ubisoft has responded to this in what I would characterize in my personal opinion as the worst possible way you can respond to issues like this in your game. A community manager wrote the following on the game’s official forums: “Obviously it is against our Code of Conduct.. The team is looking into what can be done in terms of punishment for those who have exploited.”(4). Keep in mind that the only reason players feel the game is imbalanced, due to some exploiting the glitch, is because the glitch exists in the first place to exploit, and the glitch exists because Ubisoft released ‘Incursion’ that way, even if it was inadvertently. The idea of punishing players for utilizing a bug which allows others to gain a serious competitive advantage in the only competitive portion of the game seems ridiculous to me. The average player is only trying to maintain their ability to play the game they payed for. Ubisoft responding in this way seems to indicate they will be putting time and resources towards trying to punish players which theoretically could have been put towards making sure there weren’t such apparently problematic bugs in ‘Incursion’ mode in the first place.
A later comment from the same representative, Natchai Stappers, made clear that they are banning what they call “cheaters”. From the Ubisoft forums: “Cheaters is an entirely different subject, and I understand you’re all frustrated with it, but do understand that we are actively dealing with cheaters, we are banning them, permanently as well, but because so far it’s been a decision not to communicate on numbers and the likes, this has gone largely unnoticed and makes it seem like we’re not doing anything.”(5) It’s unclear from the posts which players are considered “cheaters”, and whether everyone who uses the exploit risks being permanently banned for doing so.
My personal opinion is that there are a number of practices in the gaming industry which are inherently anti-consumer. I have a serious issue with the fact that the status quo in the industry is to release games which don’t work out of the box. In what other industry do we accept paying for a product which is broken or buggy right out of the box? As I said earlier, bugs will always occur in some fashion. There will always be issues when it comes to something as complex as coding a huge interactive world like those in many AAA big budget titles. But at some point developers and publishers seem to have mistook our acceptance of this fact of life as a willingness to put up with less than thorough QA testing. Whether the main causes of this are rooted in too short of development cycles, or in a lack of motivation to make sure the game isn’t full of bugs, or whatever the reasons may be, it’s something I personally view as undefendable. I think the consumer deserves better.