PCP Against: Should Companies Update Products Periodically?

Donovan Maudsley - 3A Mechanical
Posted on: June 4, 2016

Releasing a product before it’s finished is a slap in the face to anyone that buys it, but is becoming more and more the norm in the software industry, specifically in gaming. I can name numerous products from the last few years that have fallen victim to this trap. Assassin’s Creed Unity, from November 2014, is one of the most well known. At the time of its release it was plagued with a glitch that’s become known as the “face glitch,” where the games graphics engine was not generating the characters’ faces. It led to some of the funniest cut scene videos ever seen. This is in stark contrast to the earlier Assassin’s Creed games, that had a much more relaxed release schedule and very few release issues. One glaring counter to this is that content was very deliberately left out of Assassin’s Creed 2 to ensure a timely release. At one point, the game literally skips a section of the story, which was released later as downloadable content.

Having errors like this present in a game can significantly affect the retail sales numbers of a product. Two very recent games, which are both part of large and successful franchises, had very similar issues. Star Wars Battlefront, released last November, and Street Fighter V, released February of this year, both had a significant amount of single player content cut from the final game. Battlefront’s designer DICE has been criticized in mainstream and social media for their decision to cut Battlefront’s campaign in order to release it ahead of the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. DICE has even reacted to this and is planning on releasing more single player content for free once it is complete. While Battlefront was a commercial success, the number of players who have  stayed interested is far below what DICE was hoping for.

The Street Fighter series by Capcom is an entirely different animal, but ran into essentially the same problem. Released with only two offline modes and the promise of an extensive story mode to be released later, the critical reception of the game was less than desirable. Some reviewers declined to score the game, concluding that the studio rushed the release to meet a financial deadline. Street Fighter V is expected to sell about 2 million copies within its first year of release. Mortal Kombat X, a complete product in direct competition with Street Fighter V, sold around 4 million copies in its first year of release.

Releasing content in chunks has become a norm in the modern gaming market. Commonly known as downloadable content, companies charge sometimes upwards of fifteen dollars for content that would have been included with the release ten years ago. One of my favourite things about Super Smash Brothers Melee was unlocking characters by completing challenges and tasks in the game; in today’s market these are characters you need to buy. The inclusion of downloadable content in this manner is simply a way for the studios to increase their profits, not a way to augment the users’ experience.

Companies typically don’t like to admit that they’ve done anything wrong, but one glaring admission of guilt is the concept of a “day one” patch. On release of their product many studios prepare a large patch of last minute fixes, admitting that they sent their code away for physical pressing before they had finished thoroughly testing it. Corporate timelines overpower artistic integrity.

Content patches like this can lead to more harm than good. Encompassed bugs are software bugs that are side effects of a main software patch. These encompassed bugs will require even more content patches, often referred to as hot fixes, where the server for the product is updated, but never brought online. These encompassed bugs can lead to vulnerabilities in the code structure for opportunistic hackers to exploit. There is no way to tell how a bug fix will react to the larger world of the server, so there is no way to predict these encompassed bugs.

Replacing your content on a yearly basis is also a poor way to keep the market interested. Microsoft’s Office programs are a terrific example of this. Compare the amount of the population uses Office on a daily or weekly basis to the amount of the population that owns Office 2016. I myself use Office 2007, and have never had any issues with compatibility or features. I find the newer versions that I’ve used on the school’s servers to be too flashy and crowded with redundant functions. Word is Word, and Excel is Excel. By spending money to create new editions of this every year I believe that Microsoft is wasting valuable resources.

A studio that is taking the right path, and reaping the rewards, is CD Projekt Red. Their most recent game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, won many Game of the Year awards and was almost universally recognized as a masterpiece. Instead of releasing costumes or different weapons as downloadable content, the studio released 2 full campaigns, each taking days of playing time to complete fully. They’ve begun work on their next project and instead of citing a date or year for its release have simply stated that it’s coming “when it’s ready.” This studio respects their hard won audience and knows that they will be expected to reproduce the high level of quality they’ve delivered previously. This is how every company should view their products.