There was a time where games didn’t get patches, hot fixes, or anything like that. Games were never updated and there was no DLC (Downloadable Content). I’m not saying this was a better time, it was just a time that existed before the internet. The game that shipped was the game you got, and if a game shipped broken you got a broken game.
If the game froze every time you went left in a certain room, then you would learn to not go left in that room anymore. You couldn’t tweet to anyone to fix the problem. And many games had serious bugs and problems, but with no social media no one could share the problems they were facing with the entire gaming world. Finding a bug was sort of like finding an accidental Easter egg back then.
The good thing about the old days was that developers were done with the game once it shipped. They were free to move onto making the next game, not stuck on perfecting the last one. If there was a problem or bug in a game, it would eventually be discovered by a gamer… or maybe not.
This made the developers more aware of their problems and mistakes. The game makers had to work harder on quality control making sure to ship a finished game that actually worked. Games used to be completely finished before printing and shipping took place.
Today, once a game goes “Gold” (aka Ready for Consumers) the devs begin working on the “Day One Patch” which will fix bugs and problems they find from that point until it reaches the consumer. No matter if you buy physical or digital any game can be patched now thanks to the power of the internet.
This is great for the consumer, but not always great for the developer. Sure, sometimes they are able to bring a problematic game back from the dead (No Man’s Sky, Destiny, Star Wars: Battlefront II and possibly Cyberpunk 2077 later this year). This makes games much easier to fix and improve, but also keeps the developers working on it until the end of time.
There are certain games that feel like they need to download a new update every time you try to play (Fortnite). This can discourage me from playing the game altogether. I’ve jumped onto my PS4 ready to play a certain game, then seen there’s a 20+ minute update and I just go with a different game and forget about my original plan.
So, in today’s world is the best time to buy a game at release or wait until all of the patches and fixes are applied? Some games you can’t wait to play and you want them day one, bugs and all. When you can wait it’s always better to wait for the “Game of the Year” edition or the totally finished version with the entire collection of updates, DLC and more. You may even save some money.
Now, games are never finished being perfected. We also have “Early Access,” which is basically just releasing an unfinished game, sometimes for a bit cheaper. Most of the time “Early Access” is used to get the game tested by the community who can provide valuable feedback. Other times, games are put in Early Access and stay there for years and years (like Pam and Roy’s engagement in The Office).
So, how did Cyberpunk 2077 ship so messed up? CD Projekt totally knew there were massive problems on current-gen consoles (PS4 and X-Box One). If they didn’t know they would have also given out console codes for review, instead of just PC codes (where the game ran best). That was definitely on purpose.
Another reason could be that they were lazy. The industry may be at a place where some developers, publishers or even shareholders believe that it’s fine to release a half-finished game and continue working on it. I’m sure they didn’t think it would be as problem-ridden as it was, but they didn’t mind tricking consumers.
This came back to bite them in the end. Gamers demanded refunds and got them, people were posting videos of bugs and terrible glitches online, and CD Projekt lost any goodwill they had with their consumers from their previous games (The Witcher series). I still believe they will pull it together and fix this game. Later this year most people will be in love with Cyberpunk 2077, and we’ll jokingly talk about it’s horrible release since everything will be fine.
It’s great that game makers can use the internet to issue updates and patches and add new content to their games. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is frequently releasing new seasonal updates to keep us coming back to our islands. But the internet can also be a bad thing when it makes some of the companies that are creating these games get lazy. It’s not good when the mentality is “release the game now, we can patch it up later.”
Game makers should go back to the higher standards of the old days when they aimed to ship finished games. Updates, DLC, new content and all of that is great. A Day One Patch is fine too, if it’s not too crazy. We all have to watch our storage on our devices. A game may ship stating it will only take 20GB of storage, while a day one patch and updates start adding more and more gigs to your hard drive.
I know the games of today are 100s of times more demanding to create. There are tons of more problems you can run into while creating them too. But, I still think the game makers can learn from how games used to be made. Or at least the part where you finished the game before sending it out to the public.