Preordering. Season passes. Early access. These are all commonalities in the contemporary gaming world. Phenomena that encourage gamers to open their wallets before what they really want is actually delivered. There are obvious cons that far outweigh the pros: shortage of physical copies isn’t a thing anymore, DLC is usually an unknown quantity until it’s completed, and only when the game they expect is complete should a savvy consumer be more than happy to fork over the cost of entry. The advantages? Well, you get to “support” the developer and/or publisher responsible for said game. In this case that’s a fancy way of saying “Give a company money before getting anything in return.”
It’s like beginning payments on a loan three months before the bank sends you a check, and many gamers love doing it. They can’t help but feel that a ritual with literally no upside for them somehow validates their interest in a particular product. Perhaps they subconsciously believe that it allows for a more poignant perspective when shooting the proverbial shit on internet forums, where people go to wonder aloud what the game or DLC they already paid for will be like when they actually get to play it.Maybe this is all old hat though. Don’t preorder, season passes aren’t worth it, blah blah blah. Enough with the shtick. Okay, how about this: publishers are blatantly releasing incomplete games. All right I admit that’s not breaking news either, but what if I add in a little twist: the gaming community has justified this behavior all by themselves. That brings me to the sentence I’ve been teasing for three paragraphs:
“It may be rough around the edges now, but I’ll be interested to see what the game looks like in six months to a year.”
It’s a mantra gamers have been chanting for the past year or so and it’s also a courtesy that had never been extended to any game until just recently. The likes of Destiny, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Overwatch, and now No Man’s Sky have directly benefited from this community-created safety net. Obviously some of the aforementioned games needed such a fail safe more than others, but it all boils down to the same notion: don’t worry if a game doesn’t meet your expectations or validate your purchase, because it MIGHT be better a year from now.
Such a statement implies that it’s okay for developers to miss the mark and still get your money. The message it sends to publishers is that suspense, the great unknown, and what could be are worth more to gamers than a substantial release. To put it another way, it puts marketing dollars on the same level as developer quality and creativity. Make a great game and you’ll turn a nice profit. Make a game with discernible flaws or omissions and it can still achieve a great bottom line if accompanied by a large marketing push.In essence gamers have created an alternative route to success for publishers. Before their only option was to make the best game they could possibly make. Now, failure to do so can still mean financial success, and we’ve done it to ourselves. We are willing to make concessions for games that we’re ultimately not happy with. Instead of expressing disappointment any time certain game aspects fall short, we now make excuses. Maybe there will be a patch. Maybe we haven’t seen everything this game has to offer. Those are points worth making before release, but are complete leaps of faith after your money’s been spent. They’re positive spins on the idea that you may be stuck with a game you’re not totally happy with.
There are a lot of games that follow this model but come with other advantages to the player: a cheaper price point or even starting out as free but with microtransactions built in. This “pay as you go” method doesn’t hurt anyone. You get to try a game. If you like that game enough, you’ll pay money. If the developers tuned the game properly, they’ll make money. Unfortunately some publishers feel their games are above this very reasonable exchange. Whether the reason be pedigree and buyer confidence from their past releases or outright greed, there is still no justification to charge full or anywhere close to retail price when a company has yet to deliver everything promised or implied. We don’t tolerate this for any other product type. We don’t buy a refrigerator if its freezer won’t work until there’s a fix. We don’t buy cars missing their passenger seat, to be installed at a later date. Why do we tolerate it with games?