Believe it or not, there was a time when games would not start in faulty states. Just about any game you picked up off the shelves at your local GameStop would run perfectly fine without any performance issues. Today, it is almost rare to see titles without bugs and performance issues at launch.
Developers are more willing than ever to release titles in completely unplayable states, a problem that has skyrocketed in recent years. Brands we’ve come to expect quality titles from are releasing unplayable messes at launch, only to launch an apology message saying they’ll “patch it in the next few months.” This problem has many complex layers, as it is not just a superficial level. To fully dissect and understand how this practice began, we’ll first dive into its origins.
The origins of software updates
The earliest origins of console games were due to ROM cartridges, which had to be finalized forever before shipping. Companies couldn’t change anything about these once they were shipped, which means there were never any updates. The game was what the game was, and that was it. When the PlayStation 1 came to town in 1994, it transitioned the gaming world to CDs after decades of cartridge-based gaming. Our problem didn’t start here, but this opened up the possibility of the inevitable.
Until the point of the Sega Dreamcast, the Internet had no relation to video games. The consoles couldn’t connect and the multiplayer games were all local. However, the Dreamcast changed that by adding the ability to connect to the Internet and play online games. This forever changed the gaming landscape, as we all know, and boosted the ability to aura on Microsoft’s Xbox to consolidate online gaming forever.
With the Internet came the ability to transfer data from point A to point B. Naturally, this eventually led to the ability to push software to consoles for already released titles. unreal championship on Xbox was the first game to receive a downloadable update on a console. This patch fixed some performance issues that were occurring with the game. This new revelation allowed companies to modify their software after it was released, which had never been possible before with cartridges or physical discs.
The feature was used on all consoles in the future, especially with PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 systems. However, compared to today, their use of this feature was different. The developers used software updates to fix bugs or issues that slipped through quality control or add new features for free. This ability to update titles was not used as an excuse to release games that were not playable at full price. No update was meant to completely transform a game, as going Gold and shipping the game meant finality. I can’t even remember any title that launched disastrously and resorted to updates this generation. The problem started showing up in the PlayStation 4/Xbox One era.
Broken pitches begin
This generation of PS4/XBO had a few games that were completely broken at launch. The most notorious one that is still talked about to this day is no man’s sky. There are dozens of reasons for what happened there that would span thousands of words, so I’ll just stick to the fact that the game was a disaster on launch and gained credibility with each update.
The other top titles that were notorious for poor releases were assassin’s creed unit, Anthem, Fallout 76, final fantasy XIVand Halo Master Chief Collection. These titles came and went, each receiving many updates to bring the title up to speed and where it should have been at launch. The thing about these games is that they didn’t cause a broken pitch drop effect. Sure, they existed; however, other developers did not follow in their footsteps. We weren’t seeing bad pitches across the board like we are now.
This all changed when cyberpunk 2077 was released, opening up to one of the worst video game launches ever. It all starts with the iconic yellow apology graphic.
The cyberpunk effect
December 2020 was a crazy time for video games if you had any remote knowledge of CD PROJEKT cyberpunk 2077. This game was being praised as the best game of all time and a true “benchmark” months before its release. This all changed on launch day, when the world learned the truth about cyberpunk playable state.
The game was only playable on high-end PCs, with anything but a buggy RTX 2080. Also, the console releases of the game were completely broken and legitimately unplayable. We have seen this type of problem occur before; However, considering that 13 million players bought the game on launch day, how do you handle this kind of situation? The response was a yellow PNG with a written apology from the heads of the studio.
As of now, the game is running smoothly and is loved by fans all over the world. derivatives like cyberpunk edge runners they were extremely beloved and successful, and a new DLC expansion starring Idris Elba is coming out this year. It might have worked in the end, but why release it in the state they did?
This single moment would cause countless apology charts to be released over the last three years, and apparently there was a massive increase, especially recently. From cyberpunk was able to sell so many copies despite being unplayable, other studio executives have taken this as the green light to go ahead and put out broken titles. It’s no longer common to have smooth, error-free pitches; instead, we find ourselves with messes that take months to clean up. Why did it get to this point?
Game releases in 2023
2023 has been a wild and jam-packed year for gaming thus far. We got dozens of massive titles, with many more on the way for the second half of the year. Within these, dozens of games have been released completely and utterly broken. This week, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum it was thrown at some who claimed it was “easily the worst game of the year”. Why is this? Because the game is broken and looks nothing like the pictures shown above. Digital Trends couldn’t even review the game because it was “too broken.” Take a look at the variety of statements we’ve received regarding the release statuses of AAA titles this year alone.
We saw Jedi: Survivor and The Last of Us Part I Completely unplayable release on PC, with only an apology message posted that “they’ll fix it.” How did we get to the point of releasing games in this state?
The reason for the bad game releases could be attributed to quite a few issues, but it all stemmed from the cyberpunk situation years ago. This has led to praise for games that are released in a good state. More recently, Nintendo released Tears of the Kingdom earlier this month. After six years, the sequel to one of the most praised games in history was absolutely flawless and free of bugs. I have yet to come across a bug in the dozens of hours I’ve explored. Since launch, dozens have taken to Twitter to thank Nintendo for releasing a playable game at launch. This also goes for resident evil 4, dead island 2and Dead space, which were released this year by Capcom, Deep Silver, and EA Motive, respectively.
I have seen countless people praise these titles and developers as saints simply because the game launched without bugs. And honestly? It is a sad sight. We didn’t have to praise the developers for releasing playable games earlier as most of the games had quality performance and minimal bugs. Nowadays, it’s almost standard to release a game with issues that will be resolved after release.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t celebrate developers releasing quality games with minimal issues at launch, we should. These developers produced a quality product that ought be the standard. 2023 has led many to expect every game to break at launch. Unfortunately, we’ve come to this point, but the practice of releasing a playable game with a minimum of bugs at launch should always be more important than anything else. However, that begs the question: what are Nintendo, Capcom and others doing to prevent these disastrous releases?
The answer is simply to give developers the time they need while maintaining an excellent QA system. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom it was nearly finished in March 2022 when it was pushed back to spring 2023. Why push it back then? Simple: polish. The developers at Nintendo EPD took a year to polish and fix all the bugs with the game’s incredibly innovative and unrealistic physics engine. Today’s publishers get ahead of themselves and commit to publishing dates that developers won’t be able to properly meet. This stems from management in most cases, often from not caring or understanding the true length of game development. Nintendo is a rare case, as the “Seal of Quality” still lives on.
The unfortunate reality of this whole situation is that many developers can’t afford to let a team polish off another year like Nintendo. The cost of development has skyrocketed in the last five years and it won’t stop anytime soon. Most smaller companies don’t have the financial capacity to delay the release of broken games, leading them to rush out the door. However, these situations are not acceptable for developers like Sony, EA and other big companies.
The only way to stop this practice is to not support broken or unplayable titles at launch. Money is the only influence we have, which is both good and bad, as seen with cyberpunk 2077. We know that it is possible to release games in good playable condition on all platforms. While it may take more time and resources than some companies want to give, hard-working developers deserve to release their titles in good shape, just like the players who spend their money on these games.
It’s really sad to see the state of game releases today, and I hope this practice stops soon. Enough is enough. While it may not be likely, all anyone can do is not support the practice and continue to call out companies that choose to release their games this way, especially since most games cost $70.