I have written a handful of stories this year, praising 2014 as one of the most exciting times in video game history. Within the last year, Sony and Microsoft released their latest consoles, ushering in an era where games finally feel every bit as massive and exciting as they always were meant to be.
The problem that I see now, however, is that for as many great things as this year has brought video game fans, it has also been a period punctuated by some glaring disappointments.
Numerous times throughout 2014, massive, highly anticipated ‘AAA’ titles have finally been released, much to the chagrin of the video game hungry masses. The issue that has reared its head all too often, unfortunately, is that some of the biggest and brightest stars in the game world have felt unfinished, rushed and even downright bad.
While it is undeniably unreasonable to assume that every video game released will be absolutely perfect the second it hits store shelves, this year’s biggest video game hiccups have been made by some of the largest studios in the industry. This trend is inexcusable and is potentially indicative of a dark direction for the games world.
Watch Dogs, released in May of this year, is the first example of the unfortunate trend. Developed and published by Ubisoft, Watch Dogs was billed to be the next big entry into the open-world sandbox genre popularized by Grand Theft Auto. In terms of sheer marketing and hype, Ubisoft went above and beyond normal industry standards, ensuring that anyone who owned a console was aware of the game’s existence, even going so far as to declare that ‘two months are enough to visit Los Santos’. Shortly after this ad ran, Watch Dogs was delayed, raising the first red flag indicator.
When Watch Dogs finally saw its release (sans Wii U version), the collective excitement of the gaming world was near palpable. Fans who had been awaiting the game were more eager than ever to dive into the game’s vision of a hyper-connected Chicago and experience the much touted hacking mechanics of the game. What players encountered when the game was finally in their hands, however, was a reality much more grim than the dystopian city presented in the game. Watch Dogs was quickly found not only to be a buggy mess of a game, but also one that was remarkably underwhelming. The unlimited potential of Watch Dogs that the publisher attempted so hard to capitalize on was nowhere to be found, resulting in millions of players left with a bad taste in their mouth.
Ubisoft’s recently released Assassin’s Creed Unity is another example of the exact same issues arising once more. Since the release of the first Assassin’s Creed title, Ubisoft has released a veritable deluge of new entries in the franchise yearly, both establishing the game as a mainstay in the video game industry and fatiguing weary consumers. Unity, by all accounts, was to be a fresh start for the series. Developed exclusively for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, Ubisoft planned for Unity to showcase the capabilities of the now current-generation hardware while reinventing the series with an emphasis on cooperative play.
Throughout the last year, Ubisoft released countless videos showcasing the impressive visuals and inspired gameplay of Unity, quickly establishing it as one of the ‘must-have’ titles of 2014. The version of Assassin’s Creed Unity that purchasers got was one far from what they anticipated. Suffering from major technical issues, Ubisoft’s supposed franchise defining title was one riddled with game-crippling bugs, frame rate problems across platforms and myriad other issues. Since the game’s release last week, Ubisoft has been hard at work releasing new patches to fix these issues, but one cannot help but feel as though this is a little behind the curve.
Ubisoft is not the only culprit in the disappointing release sphere, of course. In September, Bungie and Activision unleashed Destiny, arguably the most awaited video game release of all time. The former Halo developer had been hard at work creating a science-fiction fist-person shooter set in a persistent online multiplayer world. Thanks to the massive development budget allotted for Destiny, all signs pointed to the collective hopes and dreams of the gaming world being realized.
Destiny famously left gamers scratching their heads upon release. Despite Bungie’s best efforts, the title felt unfinished – even for a game with content planned for years following its release. A nonsensical story, poor loot system and lackluster gameplay design hampered Destiny immediately, ostracizing the countless players who expected a life-changing experience. Since the game’s release, Bungie has been working tirelessly in order to improve the Destiny experience, but in many regards the damage to the game’s player base has already been done.
The last major example of a AAA game’s false start came last month with Sony’s PlayStation 4 exclusive Driveclub. Originally planned for a full release, as well as a PlayStation Plus exclusive version free for service subscribers, Driveclub looked to be a racing title that could potentially revitalize the genre. Upon release, Driveclub faltered, with the developers citing massive server issues, causing them to delay the PlayStation Plus version of the game. The issue’s resolution still remains in limbo, with Sony stating that the Plus edition of Driveclub will be postponed indefinitely.
The examples found above are all very unfortunate instances of highly anticipated games falling drastically short of their lofty expectations. But what, if anything, does this say about the games industry? There is no denying that games are attempting to get bigger, better looking and more immersive with each passing month, but often at the cost of major technical and design issues. In an era where gamers have loftier expectations than ever for new releases, the constant pang of disappointment is one we are becoming all too familiar with.
How then, does one deal with these increasingly frequent poor releases? Is there a way to infer a game’s quality before it hits store shelves?
The likely culprit is the increased emphasis on pre-orders. The last few years has seen the rise of publishers pandering to getting the consumer’s money as early as possible. Incentives are pushed on those who buy early, incentivizing the action and ultimately bolstering sales figures. More people than ever are playing video games and more people than ever are pre-ordering titles. This culture has apparently led to increased pressure from publishers to get games out the door as quickly as possible, with delays as infrequent as manageable. As such, many titles are being rushed more than they should be, which leads to the types of issues many of this year’s biggest video game releases have seen. It’s an unfortunate cycle, but one that has become a new standard in the video game industry.
These issues are easily among the most problematic in the games world currently. The technology available in today’s society is impressive, but until every game can perform to its expected potential, perhaps the new golden age of video games will be one that continues to feel unsatisfactory.
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Image Via [GameSpot]