“A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”
– Shigeru Miyamoto
Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto spoke these words of wisdom around the time of the Nintendo 64 launch. The release of the console was delayed by three months so Miyamoto and his team were able to complete their work on the launch title Super Mario 64. The game contributed a lot to the successful launch of the Nintendo 64 and turned out to be the best selling Nintendo 64 title of all-time with over 11 million copies sold by May 2003.
Given Miyamoto’s fame it should come as no surprise that he has been quoted many times by players and developers alike. The quote above is perhaps Miyamoto’s most well-known one, frequently mentioned by players on forums and developers in their blog posts. But while the quote accurately describes the development philosophy of your average game studio, the quote has lost some of its truthfulness over time.
The quote stems from a time where game consoles were still by far the dominant gaming platform and where NSA wasn’t spying our every move on the internet yet. Back then, video games were developed, released, and then never touched again. Simply because there was no way to change anything in a game once it had shipped. Games ran directly from the cartridge or disk and consoles had either little or no storage capabilities at all. On top of that, consoles did not have internet support (with the exception of the Dreamcast, but we know how that one turned out). In any case, the situation back then was simple: You make a game, you test it, you refine it, you test it some more, you refine it some more, and then you ship it. Once you shipped the game, it was done and there was nothing a developer could do anymore. There were no ways to ‘patch’ a game, no way to iron out bugs that were discovered after launch. No ability to do a day one patch in order to boost performance. Nothing. Back then you literally had to delay the game in order to make it better, or hack the remainder of the game together in time for release. And it should come as no surprise that the latter is how most bad games have come to be.
However, today that scenario is somewhat outdated. The PC market has grown a lot, with a lot of credit to Steam and other digital distribution services, and consoles these days are expected to be connected to the internet. This change to connected environment allows developers to patch their games after release in order to squash bugs or refine unpolished areas. This means games have moved away from the traditional business model of movies. Movies are created, shipped to retail, and sold as a complete product to the consumer. But games have been moving more and more towards a product that is being sold and subsequently maintained by the developers. Sometimes for additional payment, sometimes not.
Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve.
And this is in line with the message that Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve, has been pushing in the past few years. Back in 2010 at the Sony E3 press conference he said: “As an industry we are going through a transition. From entertainment as a product, to entertainment as a service. And because of that the needs of game players and game developers are evolving.” And this is something that both developers and players need to understand. As a developer you are not just making a product, selling it, and then be done with it. No, you will need to support your game after its release. Development doesn’t stop when your game hits the market. You will need to fix bugs, optimise performance, balance the game, and possibly implement new features. And you will need to do some of that for ‘free’, because players expect that kind of service when they buy your game.
At the same time, players also need to understand that they are not buying a product, but a service. And this means that even if a game has bugs at release, or the balance is a bit off in multiplayer, these problems are most likely going to be fixed. The game may have felt a bit rushed at release, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll be that way forever.
In just the past few years there have been many games that were considered to be bad at launch. Some of them were hampered by repetitive gameplay, some by bugs, and others by technical difficulties. Anyone remember Diablo III’s error 37, or the connection errors of SimCity? Both of these games were heavily criticised because of the connection problems around their release, but those problems have long since been solved. Let’s take a look at some other examples.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. The succesor to the orignal Final Fantasy XIV.
Final Fantasy XIV was not received well at its initial release with a 49/100 on Metacritic. On top of being plagued by bugs and glitches, the game was widely considered as unenjoyable and incomplete. However, Square Enix recognised their mistakes and decided to suspend the monthly subscription payments for all players while they worked on generating and improving content for the game. In addition, they had formed a new team to create Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Square Enix promised that they would address all the problems of the original in this new game, and they succeeded. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was well-received and has a solid 83/100 on Metacritic. The subscription model is back and players are fine with paying the monthly fee for the game. So despite its rough start, the game has become a lot better than it was at launch.
A more recent debacle has been the Assassin’s Creed: Unity launch. The game suffered heavily from bugs and technical issues at release. But a few patches later a lot of these issues have been resolved, and because of this the game is a lot better than it was a launch. And as a bonus, players affected by the issues received the first DLC campaign of Assassin’s Creed: Unity for free. Holders of a season pass also received the option of downloading one of six Ubisoft games for free (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, The Crew, Far Cry 4, Just Dance 2015, Rayman Legends, or Watch Dogs). It should be noted that claiming the game did mean relinquishing your right to sue Ubisoft over the issues surrounding the Assassin’s Creed: Unity release, but that shouldn’t be too surprising. All things considered, I’d say that it is a pretty fair service that Ubisoft has offered.
There are many more examples out there of games that had severe problems at launch, but which were solved because the developers provided good service to their customers. But there are other reasons why a game doesn’t have to be bad forever. Because the industry is going through a transition the needs of players and game developers alike are evolving. Games are not just changing from a product to a service. They are changing in other areas as well, such as technology, marketing, revenue model, and development process. And we will be looking at some of those areas in future articles. But for now, remember that while a delayed game may be good at release, a rushed game does not have to be bad forever.