The Future of Video Games Is… Buggy?

Steam Assassin's Creed Unity

Source: Hikaru via Steam

Picture this: While playing Assassin’s Creed Unity, you’re astonished by the beauty and grandeur of the game’s depiction of 18th century Paris — but when a cutscene begins, your companion’s face looks like a terrifying mess of shards. When you try to scale a building to get a look at the city, you fall through the environment, into a gray void, where you float for several moments before the game tells you you’ve died.

Or picture this: The kids are asleep. Your wife just turned in for the night. You finally have an hour of free time to devote to The Witcher 3, a game you’ve been looking forward to playing all week. When you turn the game on, however, it refuses to load. You reset your Xbox One and try again, but the same thing happens. You waste 20 minutes trying to figure out what’s wrong before giving up and going to bed disappointed.

These are real examples of recent big-budget games launching with major, fun-sucking bugs. And these games are not alone. Driveclub has suffered major multiplayer issues since it came out in October. Matches in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare have been plagued by lag and latency. Even the major 2.0 firmware update for PlayStation 4 was riddled with problems.

Polygon ended up lowering its review score for Halo: The Master Chief Collection when it launched, saying the game’s “multiplayer component is broken. Users have reported extended wait times to access matches in every playlist… Polygon editors have had similar difficulties, and today I was unable to access a single match of any kind, encountering various error messages or endless queues, and even one full game crash to the Xbox One dashboard.”

Welcome to the future of gaming. It’s buggy.

Surely it’s not asking too much for modern games to be playable when they come out. Surely this is only a fluke, and not something we need to get used to. Right?

Source: halowaypoint.com

Source: Halowaypoint.com

It’s a tough question to answer with any certainty. Many of the issues revolve around the online components of games — and games nowadays are focusing on online features more and more, which doesn’t bode well for these problems going away anytime soon.

Recent games with no online multiplayer, like Alien Isolation and The Evil Within, have come off without a hitch.

That still doesn’t excuse Assassin’s Creed Unity, a game whose bugs and glitches are more than happy to flare up in single-player mode. But Unity, along with most of the other titles mentioned above, did come out at a very particular time of year. Any publisher releasing a game in Q4 wants it on shelves in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Even if a game isn’t quite ready, the publisher may push it out the door, figuring they can patch the issues over the next couple of months.

Which brings us to how these issues have all been resolved. Patching games is standard practice now for all big companies. This is great in many ways, because no one can catch every bug in software as complex as modern games.

But the prevalence of patches and updates also leads to a “ship it now, fix it later” mentality. This is a particularly discouraging trend because it affects the games’ biggest fans the most. Those people playing games on launch day? They’re the core group of fans. Release a sub-par product at launch, and publishers risk losing their most passionate customers.

Source: Activision

Source: Activision

Issues like the ones mentioned above eventually do get solved. Ubisoft launched a blog to let fans know when the updates would roll out for Assassin’s Creed Unity. 343 Industries, the makers of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, eventually fixed the matchmaking issues and gave players affected by it a free copy of Halo 3: ODST.

The question now is whether we should simply accept that modern games will suffer issues at launch, or if the future will be brighter. The answer should come during Q4 of this year, when we’ll see a whole new batch of games released on rigid deadlines. If those games have smoother launches, it will mean modern gamers aren’t doomed to play buggy software until fixes come out. If, on the other hand, they do suffer similar issues, we’re probably looking at a few years in which you’d be better served buying games a month or two after launch — which would be a depressing state of affairs.

In the meantime, the best advice is to look at forums and social media to see if new games are buggy, and to read reviews before buying. In the meantime, if you’re considering playing hooky to binge on an online game on launch day, chances are you’ll be disappointed.

Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed

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