A very short while ago, before the age of all digital releases was a reality upon us, it seemed like video game hobbyists were abreast the dawn of cheaper and easier to access video games. Consoles increased their storage capacity with each generation and the size, style and scope of games became increasingly varied. Steam, an all digital service, emerged victorious as the preferred platform for PC gamers in this new era. Their regular sales, bundles and all-inclusive DRM created a haven for multiplayer video game consumers. Quality curation and a controlled number of releases meant Valve could showcase their groundbreaking catalog while taking a cut from others who’d wish to be included on their store. Valve and their Steam platform became the most prosperous trendsetter among online gaming stores. Who could keep up? Certainly not retail: GameStop and other shops have been slowly dying a brutal and bloody death for year. Thier consumer exploitative pre-orders are absolutely the only reason anyone gives them physical copies to sell anymore. Amazon helped drive the knife into brick-and-mortar stores further, offering huge discounts for pre-orders. As a dedicated and passionate gamer in 2017 my options for buying any given ‘new release’ are frustrating as fuck.
Some games are free to try, pay to play, free to play until it becomes unplayable, free with micro-transactions, free but features pop-up ads. Hey? Remember when trying a game was always free? It was called a goddamn demo. Video game publishers are so desperate to have their games played in a crowded marketplace that all platform specific markets have now begun to resemble the chaotic hellscape that is the Apple App Store and now the PC/console markets are taking it to a whole new level. Some games have “season passes” which feature regular releases of new content at a 150% price increase. You’ll buy a $59.99 game when it is released, add up to $39.99 for the season pass and most people who play end up investing over a hundred bucks for popular multi-player games like Call of Duty, Battlefield and those sorts of ingrained iterations. This all developed from the original form of “DLC” aka game changing expansion packs. Blizzard could put out a polished first draft of a game like Warcraft III or Diablo II and then follow it up with a pricey expansion pack that cleaned up and expanded the original game while also including new content or mechanics. DLC became a ‘thing’ as games went online, it started out as cheap additional content that many developers put out for free as a thank you to fans. Greed took over as games began leaving out content just for the sake of selling it as DLC later so that gamers would feel like they’d get an incomplete experience unless they bought it, too. The marketing went from fan-service and expansion to exploitative “splitting” of games into pieces that could be parsed out over time. The problem? Video game culture so readily accepted DLC and bought so heartily into crowdfunding that it has now become completely mainstream to pay for games that are unfinished or “in progress” before they are a shipped and quality-checked product. This is a terrible mistake and it has done irreparable damage to the rights of video game consumers.
At this point in history the average gamer has incredibly low standards for the art form itself, and the idea of “fun” in terms of video games has been blurred to an abominable low. The awkward an slow emergence of eSports as a gigantic multi-contintental billion dollar business has inspired a constant consumer race for Early Access, Alpha builds, Beta builds, and the lowest of the low, the dreaded: Unfinished crowd-funded multiplayer video game. A video game in 2017 does not ever have to be a complete product, in fact these types of games often stay in a ‘Beta’ state for more than three years on average. Publishers are getting fully on board with the new business reality of the perpetually hellish long-con that is ‘Games as a Service.’ Investing in a new IP means committing to continuous tweaking and reshaping of their game, projecting its extended development cycle while considering pre-release and post-release while draining maximum amounts of consumer cash. The pay-off is incredible when it does hit but so few games become big, profitable and established that a lot of trashy exploitative garbage games are coming out with a central philosophy that is anti-artistic, damaging to consumers and the video game as a concept. It isn’t all hot garbage and trash games, though. There are plenty of examples of studios like Rockstar Games that have smartly curated and refined video game art in creating games like Grand Theft Auto V but they didn’t stop there. They wisely invested hard into their adjacent Online product and made billions more on a mode that has nearly eclipsed the profits from the story-based portion of the game. There are big bucks in micro-transactions in online competition and it baffles me that other gamers have led us down this path with irresponsible spending of credit and disposable income. The pay off is nonexistent.
If Manet had kept adding to his paintings over the course of his life they’d all be a horrendous blur of brown and grey. A tortured, ruined painting is no less tragic than an ever-evolving video game that exists only to please players enough to convince them to stuff it full of money. The video game as a complete artistic statement had only just begun to ramp up these last ten years. Presentation in story based video games had reached such a fine apex in quality that it seems graphics couldn’t possibly get any better. Games became more daring, more experimental and poignant and just as quickly it appears that movement seems to have died with the distrust of crowd-funded independent game developers. What is a sure thing anymore? Well, while old school developers like Square Enix and Sony pump out half-funded risky story based games while just hoping that something sticks… it appears everyone else is moving towards ‘games as a service’ regardless of style. DLC season passes are limited run games-as-a-service. These games often continue to be tweaked and refined to please their online/multi-player contingencies. The result is lost artistic vision when artfully grandiose games like Nioh or Dark Souls III end up as an entirely different polished up turds after a year of player-pleasing patches/tweaks. No game is ‘finished’ at release anymore and this wasn’t a huge, scary beast on my radar until I saw what games like Rust, DayZ, H1Z1, and the like were doing with extended beta release schedules. It is hilarious that the game at the center of my fury is an unfinished spinoff of an unfinished spinoff that was made into two separate games. Yes, the true straw that broke this camel’s back was in fact PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) an unfinished, simplistic video game that has sold over 10 million copies at $29.99 a pop.
“PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is the Kim Kardashian of video games. There is no justification for its popularity considering its generally low quality.”
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a team-based competitive shooter that pits 100 players against each other on an island map that is taken almost directly from Arma III. The game has a litany of bugs and issues, it has a bug report list ten times longer than your average Todd Howard game. The planned fixes aren’t coming out as fast as the micro-transaction options, the deals with Microsoft, and the hilariously bad eSports logos and ‘meme art’ that now appear cartoonish in the otherwise gritty game. The game has become a darling for streamers, video game pundits, and YouTubers. The gaming community has largely turned a blind eye to the sinister implications of its popularity simply because they’re having fun with their friends and people have fun watching the game. Those things are acceptable: Giant Bomb’s Murder Island and similar shows on Polygon, Waypoint, Eurogamer, PewDiePie, etc. are good fun. What irks me is that these publications continue to tout this shoddy, thoughtless cash-cow of a game without ever having to truly review the game as a product. There is no true quality curator responsibility for PUBG because it is Early Access and Unfinished. Nobody wants to point out faults that could potentially be rebuked post-release. No journalist wants to date themselves negatively in critique of a game that could be historical, trendwise. I mean, we’d all hate to be that guy who gave The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time a 6/10, right? Consumers need to know each and every problem, detractor, flaw, bug, etc. at the time of purchase. The time a game is “finished” and released is no longer a concrete thing at all. For the sake of the consumer: As long as you can buy a game with real money it can be criticized in full. Don’t get me wrong! Consumers are absolutely and almost solely responsible for the horrendous clusterfuck that is the video game marketplace in 2017 because we’ve all allowed games to go unpunished for being incomplete and exploitative. But I’ll be damn sure to keep pointing fingers at idiotic YouTubers and ex-journalists turned ‘pundit’ who hype the shit out of unfinished low-rent games with their influence. The rush to be the loudest voice, the first on the scene, and the most popular gamer has lead to widespread acceptance of low-quality video games and sub-par experiences. PUBG has done very little to earn its popularity. It is a shallow experience that has no true competitive angle. Seriously go watch the competitions they’ve held so far it is a massive drag to watch the cowardly circle-hugging hilarity of competitive PUBG. The game isn’t finished and remains so clearly ‘cheesable’ that it takes a truly broken mind to even think sponsored competition is worth money.
But PUBG isn’t the entire problem, it is an expanding phenomenon that only makes the development and publishing industry that much more risk averse to greenlight projects that are different or new experiences. Remember Mass Effect: Andromeda? It sucked for good reason, the team was forced to push out a game before it was finished. This should have bigger implications considering what I’ve written so far: Games take a long time to finish and the creators generally know when a game is finished. Publisher deadlines have meant nothing over the last decade. Game releases are regularly pushed back time after time for not meeting quality standards as they’re rushed into the quality assurance and testing stage. When a large redesign is needed in those phases of testing publishers are often left out of the loop on purpose, as to avoid the game being canceled for meeting quality assurance standards for release. It is more than a failure of leadership to release an unfinished game, it can often lead to closure of entire studios at the loss of hundreds of jobs. It was no surprise that EA and BioWare dropped Andromeda like a sack of shit after their final patch, there’s nothing more undesirable than a buggy, unfinished game, right? No? Well what about No Man’s Sky? What a risk that was, hyping a game beyond its capabilities before it was even close to finished. Charging $59.99 for a game that was maybe worth $19.99 on a good day if you’re a Sci-Fi/indie game junky. It was promised too soon and it probably missed too much. Sony knowingly forced out a half-digested turd of a game that didn’t meet its own purported high expectations. Well, hey?! They’re still working on it, right? Yes, I actually bought it when the Atlas Shrugged patch came out and reportedly fixed a lot of bugs and contained huge renovations to the graphics, art, and extended the story a great deal. It was truly an expansion pack and it was free. Time to buy? No! After an hour of playing the game I experienced three separate-yet-common game breaking bugs that forced me to restart my playthrough. No Man’s Sky is still not finished, it will likely never deliver upon the idea they’d initially sold.
All signs are pointing to doom and disorder as two more massively popular multi-player games hit the market this year. Ark: Survival Evolved has been in development for years already and was in early access seemingly forever. You could have bought it for $29.99 unfinished! Now it is $59.99 and appearing on consoles soon. Ark is a clone of a clone-ass survival game (Rust) and save for a few cyborg dinosaur options it is an overly complicated version of Minecraft full of micro-transaction exploitation and player fleecing strategies. I’d like to know how many journalists played that game in the Beta phase and could point out how it has been changed drastically beyond visual polish. The core game has not changed and the only real additions are literally DLC packs sold for $19.99 a piece before the game is even fucking out! I’m not sure if Fortnite is an even more egregious offender as it is now on retail store shelves posing as a finished game before it is finished. Would you pay $59.99 for a Beta of an unfinished game with the hopes it’ll be supported by players long enough to finish development? I paid $59.99 for a copy of Battleborn, how did that work out for me? At this point developers and publishers have become heinously and blatantly anti-consumer in their desperate and greedy practices. Publishers have no trust in their artists and developers, they’re so risk averse to investment that they’ll only stay on board if they’re funding micro-transaction flooded monstrosities of deception and exploitation. You are being exploited as a consumer, if you haven’t read the word exploitation enough. You fools! Ehh, us fools! Dedicated gamers are being lied to, scammed into paying for unfinished products with no guarantee that they’ll ever get the finished product. I’ve never felt so stupid as when I paid for early Beta access for Paragon, a great third person MOBA that is just a fun on consoles. The founder’s pack that I bought gave me tons of cool stuff. I played the game day after day on my PC and PS4 interchangeably and once the Beta was over all of my rewards and points and stats were erased. I had no idea this was going to happen. I paid $39.99 for four months of a demo for a free to play game. I’m an idiot, but I knew I was right there with millions of other idiots making that same mistake. You might argue that paying for early Beta access is smart because I had an edge up on my competition when the game went into open Beta and release, but when paid early access becomes necessary in competitive games isn’t that essentially long-form pay-to-win? It really boils down to consumer entrapment, base exploitation, and users should not find this acceptable. You’re literally throwing your money away on these games for the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO).
Why doesn’t slighting and straight up using dedicated video gamers worry companies in the long run? Developers are in the business to make money, short-term greed in the form of long-con games-as-a-service is simply following trends made acceptable by rabid iPhone game consumers. Sure, we’re all eventually victims of horrendous marketing practices, lies and fleecing but the consumer is at fault for giving in to these practices. As a long-term player of any games-as-a-service model, you need to realize that you’re only paying for reputation among other players, you have no advantage and you’re likely paying more than the average purchaser of the final product. By paying more and adopting games earlier you’re made the fool, buying into a product that will change drastically from the time of purchase to the time of release. The big money for these business models isn’t the dedicated fan, the hardcore player, either. The most revenue in a hype-based market comes from new players making new purchases as they enter into a sort of ‘honeymoon’ phase with the game for the first time. They spend the most before realizing how repetitive and soul-sucking it is going to be to stick with the game until it is ‘finished’. As Jeff Gerstmann pointed out on Giant Bombcast 497: All games change over time now. They’re all updating frequently as a business model and almost none of them are truly finished when they come out. The game makers of the world are no longer willing to stand behind their products, instead they bend to the will of the vocal majority and continue to ‘refine’ games with constant tweaks and updates. Once their broken, unfinished game is perceived as ‘fixed’ and better by video game journalists it will be perceived again as purchasable. So, for the record this is bullshit and there has never been a worse time to be into video games. Stop buying unfinished video games, you’re making the world a far less fun place to play in.