Friday, January 30, 2015

2014: The Year Video Games Broke My Heart Part 1 - Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Halo: The Master Chief Collection for Xbox One was the final straw, the game that broke my heart, and confirmed 2014 as an extremely disappointing year in video games. Halo was the series I fell in love with way back when the Xbox Classic came out. I pre-orderded Halo: The Master Chief Collection as soon as it was announced. I fully expected the same high quality game that 343 Industries, the studio now in charge of all things Halo for Microsoft, delivered with Halo 4. But was I and every other sucker that bought this game so wrong. What we got on release day was a beta, no other way to describe it. Fatally, multiplayer matchmaking just flat out didn’t work.

I’m done paying to be a beta tester and I’m not pre-ordering anymore.

Just Keep Patching

Halo: MCC was released on November 11, 2014. Matchmaking was completely broken. I wasn’t able to play a single multiplayer match until December 7, 2014, only just barely. Single player was more playable, but the forums and patch notes where filled with people encountering numerous bugs. Just look at the number of patches released and apology blog posts:

  1. November 14, 2014
  2. November 20, 2014
  3. November 24, 2014 - Apology Post from 343 Studio Head Bonnie Ross
  4. November 26, 2014
  5. December 3, 2014
  6. December 7, 2014 - Multiplayer matchmatching sort of works
  7. December 15, 2014 - Multiplayer is usable
  8. December 19, 2014 - Reparations as Thank Yous from 343 Studio Head Bonnie Ross & FAQ
  9. December 22, 2014
  10. January 19, 2015

8 patches and 2 apologies, one with “don’t sue us” make goods:

  • 1 free month of Xbox Live Gold (which I have received)
  • Halo: ODST Ported to Xbox One, upgraded to HD, and added to Halo: MCC for “free” sometime in 2015

The New Normal?

Polygon called attention to the issue of broken games that ship in the opinion piece Broken video games are the new norm, what developers need to do to fix that.

From the article, here’s the money quote on games that shipped significantly broken:

That includes games like Halo: The Master Chief CollectionDriveClub and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Even games that launched relatively smoothly, like DestinyGrand Theft Auto 5 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, ended up with early patches to fix problems big and small.

I’d add to this list Alien: Isolation whose forums where loaded with complaints of game breaking bugs and required a number of large patches.

In October 2013, Batman: Arkham Origins had so many game breaking bugs I couldn’t play the game without risking losing all progress. Those weren’t addressed until early 2014, and the studio publicly said it wouldn’t produce any more patches to focus on DLC! See the Technical Issues section of its Wikipedia article.

With Arkham Origins, shipping a really broken game seemed like an outlier. But the quality problems of 2014 makes it pretty clear that game studios and publishers have decided there’s no penalty for shipping broken games.

They’ll already know to some degree how much they are going to get paid through pre-orders, they know a large part of the audience for AAA is going to buy on opening day, and they control the time and conditions under which sites get to review the game.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection was initially reviewed by Polygon as a 9.5, which I’d say is what most people expected based on the package. It wasn’t until 5 days later that the game was re-reviewed to an 8.0, which I’d say is overly generous because of this quote:

The Master Chief Collection's campaign element appears to be fully functional, so players aren't totally locked out of the experience the game is offering.

In practice, there were so many things wrong with the various campaigns, many players would be wasting time to play the game at that point. Checkpoints worked, except when they didn’t, losing players progress.

Screen Shot 2015 01 23 at 8 20 53 AM

None of this means Microsoft & 343 didn’t want to ship a higher quality game, but with Day 1 & beyond patches accepted by players with complaints but no change in buying behavior, obviously the decision to ship was made and to sort out the bugs later.

The only way shipping wildly broken games doesn’t become the new normal: you have to hit them in the wallet!

No more pre-orders. No more Day 1 purchases. If enough gamers change, developers and their publishers will ship higher quality games on Day 1.

Ironic that Halo: MCC was looked at by many to embarrass Bungie with largely high quality port of their previous defining work when Destiny, the most hyped game of 2014, shipped to resounding bafflement that one of the best developers in the business could make a game so…average.

Next: Game Review Sites Strike Back!