GWJ Conference Call Episode 212

Conference Call

Fable 3, Rock Band 3, Force Unleashed 2,Vanquish, Fallout: New Vegas, Special Guests Russ Pitts and Justin McElroy Join Us to Talk About Broken Games, Your Emails and more!

This week Shawn and Elysium are joined by Joystiq's Justin McElroy and The Escapist's Russ Pitts! They don't even throw down in a dance fight. Instead, they join us in talking about loads of games and why so many of them are broken these days.

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined. You can also submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563!

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Comments

kyrieee wrote:

What is acceptable is dictated by the market, not by discussion.

That's one problem with buying on day one and embargoed reviews, you're buying blind (marketing isn't going to cover quality) so by the time they've got your money it's too late, and there's no returns for 'faulty' goods.

Of course, but that will only delay the market reaction. Like someone on the show pointed out, if people get burnt enough times on buggy games they can't return then they'll stop buying games blindly or maybe stop buying games altogether. Either way there won't be a market (long term) for products people don't like.

This is not a very postitive way of looking at it but it's a realistic one. Writing articles and having discussions is fun, but expecting change to stem from it is idealistic.

One way I was thinking about the situation was whether the involved parties are being deceptive.

How far is it reasonable to expect them to test with many configurations and "we didn't have any problems at our end before launch" (which I think falls under "talk is cheap"). I can understand obscure bugs in a game such as Fallout, because frankly players do some weird things, but with with the history of their engine and the widespread bugs reported in the wild I think it's a plausible theory that a company would brush issues under the carpet for good sales at launch.

The other thing would be that in a forum like this, we're reasonably informed about who makes games, with what technology, and reputations. Most people don't keep track, and it's likely "The RPG in nuked Las Vegas"

Trusting the market works better when you have a highly efficient market with well informed parties on both sides of the transactions.

kyrieee wrote:

This is not a very postitive way of looking at it but it's a realistic one. Writing articles and having discussions is fun, but expecting change to stem from it is idealistic.

I don't think that is true at all. For games that I am not sure about, I trust this community far more than I trust reviewers - and it is precisely the discussions that happen on this board that dictate whether or not I give an unknown quantity a chance. My market dollars are affected by the discussion, i.e. whether I buy day one at full price, week 19 when on sale, or used - and that isn't idealistic at all.

Great show guys and thanks for sticking up for the consumer. Sometimes it feels like your the crazy one when you are pissed that the game you just bought on two platforms is borked. Buyer beware is becoming the mantra lately, but I expect a certain level of quality from a multi-million dollar endeavor. I don't get pissed when I buy a game that sucks, but I do get incensed when I buy a game that fails to run properly. I don't think it is too much to ask that a game at least work as intended.

Another kick in the pants is that you cannot get a refund on a broken game. You can trade-in or sell a console disc, but if you bought the game on Steam, you have no recourse except to hope they fix the problem.

It makes sense to follow a wait and see attitude when a game releases, that is the smart move, but when gaming is your main hobby and something you are passionate about, you want to be there day 1 playing the game you have anticipated for months. Why should we be punished for being such good loyal customers?

The

heavyfeul wrote:

Buyer beware is becoming the mantra lately, but I expect a certain level of quality from a multi-million dollar endeavor. I don't get pissed when I buy a game that sucks, but I do get incensed when I buy a game that fails to run properly. I don't think it is too much to ask that a game at least work as intended.

The thing about "buyer beware" is that it's not just effective to protect the 60 dollars in their pocket, it's what actually will drive developers/publishers not to release broken games in the first place. It's all well and good to complain about it on the internet - god knows it's good fun - but until consumers start punishing companies for releasing broken products by reading reviews and NOT buying blindly on day one (or pre-ordering, don't get me started on that), companies will have absolutely zero incentive to change. In a free market economy, if we continue to demand crappy games by buying them, producers will continue to supply them. The responsibility lies just as much with us as it does with them.

I'm personally happy I waited on New Vegas as I was well aware of Obsidian's reputation, and am happily re-playing through a fully patched, nicely modded, flawlessly running Fallout 3 instead.

This is now making me think that one of the 'blights on the industry', second hand games (or sales months after release if you're on PC) is a good thing, if it promotes better quality, in addition to being a better price.

Thinking about it, there's possibly a bit of a paradox in there.

I don't know about anyone else, but I certainly DON'T buy many games on Day One for precisely this reason. I knew that New Vegas was a game made by a developer known for bugginess on an engine known for same, so despite how excited I was about it, I elected to wait for reviews and word-of-mouth, and I've been rewarded for doing so by sparing myself the headaches I'm constantly hearing about.

I certainly hope that they eventually get it patched up to the point where it's reasonably stable/playable, and if they do I'll probably check it out then-- and I'll probably be buying it used for a song, so Obsidian and Bethesda will be missing out on at least one new $60 sale right there.

You can place the blame for a broken game like New Vegas on Obsidian for making it or on Bethesda / Zenimax for dictating a hard release date and/or not budgeting enough for QA or on Microsoft and Sony for their cert processes and/or different SKUs and firmwares, but at some point I don't care WHOSE fault it is, $60 is too much for me to pay for a broken game, period. There is too much awesome stuff coming out all the time for me to waste my time and money and patience. If one company can't get it right, another will, and I'll be over here playing their game.

Dysplastic wrote:

The

heavyfeul wrote:

Buyer beware is becoming the mantra lately, but I expect a certain level of quality from a multi-million dollar endeavor. I don't get pissed when I buy a game that sucks, but I do get incensed when I buy a game that fails to run properly. I don't think it is too much to ask that a game at least work as intended.

The thing about "buyer beware" is that it's not just effective to protect the 60 dollars in their pocket, it's what actually will drive developers/publishers not to release broken games in the first place. It's all well and good to complain about it on the internet - god knows it's good fun - but until consumers start punishing companies for releasing broken products by reading reviews and NOT buying blindly on day one (or pre-ordering, don't get me started on that), companies will have absolutely zero incentive to change...

Not true. Any market hit the industry takes because of decreasing quality, which they may not even recognize as the reason their sales are declining, will not be met with reform. It is naive to think that a dispersed, unorganized, group of consumers can unify under a boycott to the extent necessary to cause sales to decline. It just never happens.

Remember how well the the Call of Duty (PC) boycott went? There were even quite a few people on this board itself who were pissed. Ultimately, it had zero effect. Things don't change until a major crash. The industry doesn't seem to be in danger of that any time soon.

So, if consumer have the power to change things here, how do you propose we do that? Because I feel the best route is for reviewers, posters, twitterers, facebookers, whatever, to get on the horn and start taking the publishers and developers to task.

It seems like you support the idea of love it or leave it.

So...If I buy a bottle of some new brand of aspirin, that has been approved by the FDA, and is recommended by doctors, but it has chemical defect that makes me ill, I am at fault, because I should have known better?

The reason we have warranties, and FDA, certification boards, OSHA, etc., etc. is because you need something more that just free market economics to protect consumers from harm.

If the free market idea is going to work then I must be allowed to return games, no matter what the medium, for a refund if they have a defect. Period.

Dysplastic wrote:

The

heavyfeul wrote:

Buyer beware is becoming the mantra lately, but I expect a certain level of quality from a multi-million dollar endeavor. I don't get pissed when I buy a game that sucks, but I do get incensed when I buy a game that fails to run properly. I don't think it is too much to ask that a game at least work as intended.

The thing about "buyer beware" is that it's not just effective to protect the 60 dollars in their pocket, it's what actually will drive developers/publishers not to release broken games in the first place. It's all well and good to complain about it on the internet - god knows it's good fun - but until consumers start punishing companies for releasing broken products by reading reviews and NOT buying blindly on day one (or pre-ordering, don't get me started on that), companies will have absolutely zero incentive to change. In a free market economy, if we continue to demand crappy games by buying them, producers will continue to supply them. The responsibility lies just as much with us as it does with them.

But ... but my MEDIA BLACKOUT!

wordsmythe wrote:

But ... but my MEDIA BLACKOUT!

My Bioshock Infinite media blackout scoffs at whatever your media blackout is. Haven't looked at a single screenshot or watched the trailer. Nyah! :p

I think there's other reasons that could cause a 'collapse' before quality is a factor, cost of production being number one on my list. Whether that's what the companies actually blame in public is another issue.

That said, I'm not sure it's possible to have a collapse, at least not on the current 'generation'. I think a likely time would be when switching to a new 'generation' or soon after, with the development budgets even higher than they are today. I think it would be limited to companies that rely heavily on the console side though, as owing to it's nature the PC is almost invulnerable to a collapse.

I beat my Ion kit like it owes me money. The thing has held up like a champ for two solid years. I'd recommend getting real drum sticks.

Rat Boy wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

But ... but my MEDIA BLACKOUT!

My Bioshock Infinite media blackout scoffs at whatever your media blackout is. Haven't looked at a single screenshot or watched the trailer. Nyah! :p

That's great, so long as you realize you're taking it on faith that Levine will deliver a solid and relatively complete game.

How much have sky scrapers changed since the empire state building was finished.

If games are as good now as they ever need to be, the AI doesn't need to be better, the interface is solved, online interactions need no improvement, physics systems are perfectly correct, if the interaction of objects in the world are already complex enough that we need not think about adding newer ways to do it then you can hold them to the same standard as couches and buildings which have not had a new functional requirement in a very long time.

If a game with mechanics that work but have few bugs are what you want surely you should all have been raving about force unleashed 2 and FF XIII.

If as consumers we stop buying ambitious games all we will get is clones of existing successes. That sounds like a worse future than one with day 1 patches. I will not be sad if another gears/god of war, COD, Halo game never gets made but minecraft is buggy as hell and I would really miss that.

That said there is a point where it becomes ridiculous and I didn't know Obsidian were Troika people but given that history those guys need to change their process.

Why is it so hard to get gamers to agree they want quality games that function well? I just don't understand why some gamers have become so acclimated to the current state of affairs that the victims of these unprofessional practices are somehow to blame.

I am more than a little amazed and a little ashamed, to be honest, because I feel like this is something everybody should agree on. Apparently, solidarity is hard to come by in the gaming community. I think the game companies are safe for now, because any time some portion of the community makes a stink, the other portion jumps down their throat for being spoilers.

"All you have to do is drop this .dll here, change this .ini file, backup your saves periodically, turn this setting off, disconnect from the internet when you here a high pitched beep, spin around three times while whistling Dixie and it will work fine! What's the big deal?

"Oh...your on a console? Well sucks to be you. You should have got it on the PC. Noob!"

superslug wrote:

If as consumers we stop buying ambitious games all we will get is clones of existing successes.

Again: Fallout New Vegas. Not exactly an ambitious game in the sense you mean, and yet they STILL couldn't make it work.

I'm fine dealing with the occasional bug in a game that's big and ambitious enough that it's worth overlooking. But we're not talking about an "occasional" bug and we're not talking about groundbreaking games that are doing things nobody's ever done before. We're talking about common, game-breaking problems in games that are largely rehashes of technology that was used to better, more polished effect two years ago. I don't think there's anything wrong with expecting that after years of iteration and improvement, they should be able to do better instead of worse.

heavyfeul wrote:

Why is it so hard to get gamers to agree they want quality games that function well? I just don't understand why some gamers have become so acclimated to the current state of affairs that the victims of these unprofessional practices are somehow to blame.

Gamers can agree they want quality games that function well. The problem is gamers will still buy poor quality games that don't function well, so it's still profitable to make those games.

Just to shed a bit of optimism on the doom and gloom we've seen so far - up until very recently, console games DID almost all work at an acceptable bug free level. This is one of the (many) reasons for the decline of PC gaming in favor of console gaming - they just worked. The technical problems along the lines of Fable 2 and Fallout: NV are very recent. So, until very recently, console gamers had no reason to question whether, on day one, their game would work. The games just did.

I'm optimistic that now that mainstream console gamers are given reason to doubt whether games will work or not (something they've never had to do before), they might look it up or avoid certain franchises with bad reputations. If the next Fable or Fallout game sells like crap on console, it might give publishers pause and wonder why. I don't see how video games are any different than any other industry in this regard.

If we're looking at practical solutions, I would recommend trying to create a culture where reviewers heavily punish games for such problems. Not just dropping it one point out of ten, but several. Given how often we've heard it said that metacritic matters, pushing down a metacritic score heavily because of these bugs could make a difference.

heavyfeul wrote:

So...If I buy a bottle of some new brand of aspirin, that has been approved by the FDA, and is recommended by doctors, but it has chemical defect that makes me ill, I am at fault, because I should have known better?

The reason we have warranties, and FDA, certification boards, OSHA, etc., etc. is because you need something more that just free market economics to protect consumers from harm.

If the free market idea is going to work then I must be allowed to return games, no matter what the medium, for a refund if they have a defect. Period.

Are warranties actually required by any form of regulation, or are they just a way to get consumers to buy your product over the competition?

As far as I'm aware, regulation of the FDA variety is designed to protect consumers from actual physical harm, not just wasting their money.

hbi2k wrote:

When you've got common, reproducible problems that are experienced by the majority of users, we're not talking about "emergent behavior" that's "untestable by definition" because the systems are so complex that a few edge cases might experience problems that didn't show up during debugging. We're talking about a serious failure of QA.

When you've got common, reproducible problems that are experienced by the majority of users, we're not talking about "emergent behavior" that's "untestable by definition" because the systems are so complex that a few edge cases might experience problems that didn't show up during debugging. We're talking about a serious failure of QA.

Well, to start with, I dispute that Fallout 3 runs on a reliable engine, a friend of mine recently purchased the GOTY version for a brand new stock computer and is having terrible crashing issues, (and is still loving the game.) I am also skeptical that it isn’t technically ambitious by modern standards. Graphically, maybe not especially, but from a QA point of view, I suspect it is still highly complex.

But I was being general for two reasons. First of all, I haven’t played through Fable 3 or New Vegas, so I don’t really have much to add to that conversation. It seems entirely plausible to me that QA dropped the ball or that corners were cut. But more importantly I was being general because Russ Pitts made the decision to be general rather than to criticize specific games, and I was mainly responding to his argument.

kyrieee wrote:

I couldn't help but think that the two guests on this show are a bit naïve, "why can't the games just be bug free?". Games being hard to make isn't an excuse, it's a reality ...

I believe their point is that the consumer is naive, or ought to be. Joe Console Gamer doesn’t care how hard games are to make, why should he? He plopped down $60 bucks and won’t cotton crashes. The problem gets hairy when Joe Console Gamer demands more sophistication from his games, and hasn’t developed the emotional toolset to deal with software crashes. When the markets were more segregated between simple console games and complex PC games, this was less of an issue, because people in the PC market developed the tools to deal with the pitfalls of complexity (some of them over-reacted and decided to major in Computer Science.)

The solution discussed by the guests on the podcast seemed to be that developers shouldn’t attempt to do anything technical that they don’t already know how to do perfectly. The rationale is that buggy games hurt the industry as a whole, and that the existence of rough games are turning people off of gaming in general.

I think that the better approach would be to focus on educating consumers to a higher degree. People mostly figure out what sort of movies they like and what sort of actors they like. Is it so much to ask that they invest some amount in learning about company reputations and reading an occasional game review? It made me sad during the podcast to hear that Russ’ friends quit gaming because they didn’t know if the game they were paying for would meet an acceptable quality standard. If personal friends of the editor of a highly esteemed video game journal can’t get a good recommendation for a game, what does that say about the state of video games journalism?

hbi2k wrote:

Again: Fallout New Vegas. Not exactly an ambitious game in the sense you mean, and yet they STILL couldn't make it work

I didn't think the conversation was restricted to one game though. The level of bugs in Obsidian and Troika games is higher than average, that may also be a product of their game style. I don't make games but if I were to guess the relationship between player freedom and design and testing complexity is exponential. As soon as you try to give a player a lot of freedom in a large world you are going to have a lot of problems no matter how mature the tech.

If consumers only wanted small worlds with freedom or large linear worlds then we can have bug free games and everyone can keep doing the things we know how to do well already.

The answer to the main topic is obvious to anyone who has ever been involved in a large scale software or engineering project. Budget. When the budget runs out you ship the game or go bankrupt. Being that a significantly larger portion of the budget in the "HD era" is going to art, sound, and writing, much less is available for the less glorious polishing stage at the end. A small studio like Obsidian with a mixed track record on sales is not going to get the same budget that Blizzard gets. Obviously management also plays a role: if you are a studio on a limited budget than you need to scale back the game significantly in order to achieve polished perfection. But that reality is that features are far more important in selling a game than polish is. If consumers valued polish more than features, we would have more polished games. Obviously they do not.

And comparing a bridge or a tower to video game is the height of extreme ignorance. If a bridge falls down the company that made it would be sued out of existence. Therefore making it not fall down is the main concern, not attracting consumers at Best Buy.

and we have been building bridges for a few thousand years.

Alexpkeaton wrote:

The answer to the main topic is obvious to anyone who has ever been involved in a large scale software or engineering project. Budget. When the budget runs out you ship the game or go bankrupt.

Fair enough. I wouldn't mind in the slightest if enough of the buying public refused to buy broken games (and I'm not talking mostly-polished games with a few bugs, but the most egregious offenders, games with predictable, reproducible, identifiable and gamebreaking bugs that the devs clearly knew about) that the decision becomes "finish your damn game before shipping it or nobody will buy it and you'll go bankrupt anyway."

The business realities of game development are harsh? Well, tough. Spending $60 on a game that doesn't work is harsh too, which is why I don't do it if I can possibly avoid it.

Alexpkeaton wrote:

The answer to the main topic is obvious to anyone who has ever been involved in a large scale software or engineering project. Budget. When the budget runs out you ship the game or go bankrupt.

Well, obviously. And if you don't have the budget for a project of the scope, you decrease your scope.

If a developer consistently finds making games too hard and are incapable of releasing a buggy mess without going over budget or running out of time, as Elysium said, 'Making burgers is easy.'

As the point was made several times during the podcast, the challenges of the industry are largely irrelevant to the end consumer who has to hand over a chunk of cash for a product that is not refundable.

No discussion about the complicty of gamers in buying products that are fundamentally broken can be had without discussing the fact that Microsoft put out a hardware platform with a 25-30% failure rate (or higher) and still leads in overall "hard core gamer" market share, at least in the U.S.

I'm pretty sure most or all of the members of the podcast team have even had their xbox replaced.

If that's the bar for quality, is there any surprise that people will ship buggy video games in the hope that they can keep the revenue stream coming in while they patch them up?

Edit: If you want to buy video games that have a high probability of not being buggy on day 1, buy only from Valve, Blizzard, and Popcap.

psu_13 wrote:

Edit: If you want to buy video games that have a high probability of not being buggy on day 1, buy only from Valve, Blizzard, and Popcap.

And Nintendo, and probably quite a few others that I can't think of at the moment.

Yeah. I was thinking primarily on the PC for whatever reason. On consoles I've in general had OK luck with the bigger devs, but I avoided the latest crapshow with Vegas and Fable.

Certainly the Japanese devs on the PS3 do OK too. Along with Insomniac.